It had been a scorching August, with more hot weather coming in the weekend. This called for drastic action. But not too much action. Action that would keep us all active but not too active. It was far too hot for too much action. So a quick canoe camping trip was devised, plus a walk in a cool, shady moss grove. If this wasn’t the most perfect antidote to the sweltering mid-summer Hokkaido blues, then nothing was.
We arrived at the Shikotsu Onsen Village upper car park and drove around in circles for a few minutes trying to find the way down to the lower car park. We eventually asked a parking warden. He handed us the key card we needed and pointed us in the right direction. It was already about 9am, and it was shaping up to be a hot day. SUP tour groups and other canoe tours were also getting ready and setting off. We weren’t the only ones happy to be escaping the heat via the cool waters of Lake Shikotsu.
We pushed off and did some quick paddling instruction refreshers for Gerry and Saoka. This was Gerry’s first time in the stern, so we were getting her up to speed on forward strokes coupled with rudder moves. She caught on pretty quick, and then we paddled upstream to the lake. As usual, this area around Shikotsu Onsen Village was a hive of activity. Swan boats wafted on by, as did hordes of SUPers. It was nice to be on the water though, and this section of national park forest between the village and Morappu Campground was its usual green and lush self.
After about two kilometers of paddling, we were finally beyond where most SUP and canoe tours go on their short tours. We were also beyond the glass-bottomed tourist boats’ range too, so we finally had the lake to ourselves. We pulled up on a deserted rocky beach for a break.
When we arrived at Morappu campground, it was before noon. With the campground not open for overnight registration till 1pm, we decided to push on and do our hiking in the moss corridor before setting up camp. With all the time in the world, Haidee decided she wanted a go at stern paddling duties. Before long she had us going in a straight line, but we’d lost a bit of ground between us and the other boat.
We arrived at the entrance to the Moss Corridor (苔の回廊) on the lake shore at around 12:30pm. We sat in the shade for a quick lunch. It appeared that people had stopped here previously – there were footprints in the sand and an old fire ring. Gerry had walked this route before, so led the way up from the lakeside towards the corridor proper. “The last time I was here I wasn’t expecting anything much at all,” she explained. “But once we actually get into the gorge, you’ll realize how amazing it is. I can guarantee that none of you are actually prepared for how awesome it is,” she gushed.
To be clear, the place we were now walking was the Moss Corridor (苔の回廊), not the Moss Tunnel (苔の洞門) further up around the lake. The famous Moss Tunnel is infamously full of sand and gravel right now, due to a massive landslide during a typhoon a number of years ago. That area is officially closed and off-limits. This area, however, seems well traveled and documented, at least in Japanese (see a Google Search here).
After a 30 minute walk, we finally arrived at the corridor. And it was amazing. It grew higher and higher around us as we walked. Massive chunks of volcanic-ash pieces of wall had obviously fallen here and there, adding to the experience a certain edge of risk.
Soon we came to what appeared to be a roped off dead end. “It continues up over this way,” Gerry instructed. We proceeded to haul ourselves up a very steep cliff using ropes permanently attached to trees at the top. The very last push up at the top required a good deal of contortion and effort.
A short track through the woods led us back to the moss corridor, which was now even more spectacular.
We pushed on for another 20 minutes or so, until we came to the end of the mossy gorge. “From here, the trail keeps going up to the trail connecting Tarumae-zan and Fuppushi-dake,” Gerry told us. “When I did it last, it took us almost a whole day!”
The return along the corridor felt just as spectacular as the walk up. We were now seeing the gorge from a different angle, with different light playing in different ways on the green and curves of the gorge walls.
Coming down the steep roped section was once again a thrilling punctuation to a very interesting couple of hours wandering.
Back on the water, we high-tailed it back to Morappu Campground, where we checked in and got our tents set up. Dinner that night was quick and easy yaki-soba. It was an extraordinarily calm night – not even a breath of wind as we sat and cooked on the lakefront.
The next day was always going to be a relaxed one. I got up at around 5am and went for a quiet solo paddle on the lake. “Idyllic” hardly begins to describe this place on a calm morning. The towering Tarumae-zan volcano was dominating the skyline to the south, as I glided across glass-smooth water.
Soon enough, while I was still on the water, the campground started to come to life. The chatter of children started wafting across the water. Campfires were stoked and plumes of sweet-smelling smoke drifted skywards. Once the sun was up and shining on the campground, there was no escape from the sudden heat. When I got back to shore, everyone in our camp was up. “As soon as the sun came up, I was up!” declared Gerry.
She promptly took my place in the canoe and tried her hand at soloing. Part way through she came back to shore to try out the red canoe. I told her “you can really lean over in those canoes, you know.”
The next thing I heard from the water was a great splash. Gerry was already attributing the cause of the capsize. “Rob said I could lean right over and it would be super stable!” she asserted.
Haidee and Saoka also had goes at soloing the canoes. Haidee had her pry down pat, gliding the canoe sideways with ease.
The day was too hot, and the conditions too perfect, not to spend some time practicing self- and team-rescue techniques. We took turns capsizing the canoes, first practicing a t-rescue and then taking turns at dragging canoes back to shore. I also spent some time figuring out if I could right our capsized canoes on my own – jolly hard work.
By the time we’d caused alarm to almost everyone in the campground with our antics, it was about time to pack up and get on our way back to our car at Shikotsu Onsen Village. It was now 11am – time to check out.
The paddle back to the village was again gorgeous. Uneventful, but hopelessly relaxing.
We dodged the swan boats again as we paddled back onto the Chitose River, under the big red bridge, under the gaze of tourists’ eyes and cameras. It was midday, and it was the height of the heat of the day. Time to get packed up and back to the big city of Sapporo, just an hour’s drive away. We were all once again counting our blessings to be living this close to such a pristine lake.
We’d just finished packing up the car, when we saw Naoki, followed by thirty dad-and-kid pairs – 60 people all up. “We’re all going canoeing,” he said, beaming. Naoki’s the lead guide and owner at Guide House Canoa at the Lake Shikotsu Onsen Village, and apparently he’d had a dream of getting a whole bunch of dad’s and their kids from Chitose City to get out onto the water, to challenge each other and experience the outdoors together. I read in a Facebook post of his later, “We’ve finally made it a reality.”