The email had come out of the blue. “I don’t suppose you could come to Higashikawa and experience some of what our area offers to outdoor lovers like you?” Haidee and I were quick to take up Higashikawa Tourism Association’s offer. We’d already been to Higashikawa multiple times on cycle trips and ski touring trips, and were always impressed by how funky the town was. Good coffee, sweets shops very highly rated by Haidee, and overall just a nice vibe to the place.
First on the list for us was to do a canoe trip on Lake Chubetsu. Even before Higashikawa’s offer to come for a trip, I’d scoped the lake out as a possible place for an overnight trip. The lake has roads on both sides of the lake though, so it’s not the best spot for an overnighter. That said, if you were really keen to wild camp, the Bokyo Park pagoda could be a possibility (here). Who knows what the helipad is for…
Joining us on this trip were my parents, who just happened to time their trip to Hokkaido this year right for this trip to Higashikawa. In our rented car, we drove the short 20 minutes to the Chubetsu Dam and did the requisite wander across. Low cloud obscured the million-dollar views across to Asahidake, but it was good to get a first glimpse at this new-ish artificial lake, completed in 2006 (Wikipedia). According to the live digital sign next to the dam, the water level was at 407m, 6m lower than the normal full level of 413m. This doesn’t sound like much, but the empty space between the trees and the lake was quite noticeable. There was very little wind.
We carried on in the car to the Shinsui Park beach to put in and get on our way around the lake in the canoe. From the upper car park, it was about 100m down to the water’s edge via steps and then the artificial beach.
By the time we got onto the water, there was a stiff westerly breeze blowing. We opted to paddle straight into this for the first half of our way around the lake so that we’d have an easier paddle on the way back. From the outset, it was clear that at this water level, Chubetsu Lake was no match for a natural lake. Old tree stumps, exposed to the world, clung to bare rock and dirt, their spindly roots clawing for purchase on the shoreline. These poor beasts were in contrast to a gorgeous emerald green lake, put in relief against a bright orange bare clay and grey bedrock. It was both beautiful and painful at the same time – this lake serves an important purpose for the Asahikawa plains, with the ecosystems below its waters paying the price.
Overall though, as far as artificial lakes go in Hokkaido, this was, so far, a nice one. The water was relatively clear, and there was very little sediment to speak of. A month or so back, we’d paddled Lake Eniwa, which was a bit of a muddy mess at the upper end of the lake. Chubetsu Lake in comparison felt quite pristine.
We kept paddling and soon enough we were at the Chubetsu Dam. Being a gravity dam, it is possible to paddle right up to the dam. Theoretically, from this point we could have seen Asahidake and the Daisetsu Range if it had been clear enough weather. We settled for moody national park forest and the wild remnants of the Chubetsu River.
Along the return paddle on the southern side of the lake, we were treated to some merganser ducks, and more impressive Japanese infrastructure prowess. Less impressive was some considerable section of shoreline oozing what seemed to be the accidental exposure of old buried waste. Sheets of plastic, half embedded in rocks and dirt draped down the exposed shoreline…our reports of this to officials in Higashikawa were met with concern and hasty on-reporting to those responsible for the upkeep of the dam and surrounding areas.
We’d told my parents that we’d be on the lake for about two hours. However, by the time we’d made our leisurely way around the lake, we’d been away for about three hours. I took my dad for a quick paddle, packed the canoe away, and we got on our way. Overall a great lake for a paddle – we hope to visit again in clearer skies!