DAY 1 – Sakashita Dam to Kamui Kotan Campground
We arrived at the Kamui Kotan campground at about 10am on the Saturday, with the full intention of starting the down-river trip on Sunday. We booked ourselves into the campground, and started setting up our campsite. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some short-boat kayakers hauling their boats up out of the river. We knew the river had risen considerably the previous day, so I was interested to hear what they thought of the water level. At that point, the river was at 102.87m. I wandered over and asked them how their day had been.
“Absolutely perfect,” one of the kayakers beamed. “Not too much, and not too little,” he continued.
I explained that we were planning on running the river tomorrow.
“If you can, definitely do it today,” he replied. “This is the best I’ve ever run it.”
With that, Haidee and I decided to drop everything and run the upper section from Sakashita Dam to the campground today. We would be starting just after noon, but with only 11km to run, surely we’d have plenty of time.
To save time, we left our bicycles at the campground with the intention to go retrieve the car after we’d finished. When we arrived at the put in location, we were surprised to see the car park packed with cars. Among the cars was one I recognized as a friend’s with whom we’ve paddled with before. This suggested that the mass of cars might belong to members from the Hokkaido Wilderness Canoe Club.
This was the first time we’d paddled the Rekifune River, and we’d heard that this upper section was challenging. We were feeling fairly confident, however, since we were in the mighty two-person packraft (an MRS Barracuda R2 Pro) rather than our open-deck canoe. This packraft is so incredibly stable.
We set off just downstream from the Sakashita Dam under blue skies. We’d heard the Rekifune was known for its crystal clear water, but today was clearly different – it was a post-rain cloudy color.
The first few kilometers of the upper gorge were beautiful. We didn’t really have much time to enjoy the view, as the river was moving so fast. But looking at the photos, it was indeed a nice gorge.
Haidee and I haven’t really spent much time in the packraft. Just before the Gorge Exit Rapids, we were noting how difficult it was to ‘scout from the river’ compared with a canoe – where one can kneel or stand to get a glimpse of the rapids ahead.
“Hmmmm….that looks big,” I mentioned to Haidee just as we’d discussed the difficulty in seeing ahead of us.
In hindsight, we probably should have been more careful and pulled up to the side of the river to scout.
“The left side looks best,” Haidee said to me.
“OK, let’s go,” I replied.
Despite our best efforts, however, before we even made two paddle strokes we were pulled into the center of a set of Class III rapids.
This was the first time we’d paddled the packraft in big water. In a word, it was hilarious. Stable. But hilarious. The whole packraft essentially folds in half in steep holes. Stable. But folds in half.
At the first hole, Haidee’s paddle got pinned under the front of the raft, so that added to the excitement.
Soon after the big set of rapids, we entered the final slalom course at the end of the gorge. In the packraft it was a breeze, weaving our way past holes and boulders. At lower water levels in a canoe, I can see why this is a challenging section of the river.
Beyond the gorge, the river became much less busy, and it felt more like a regular gravel-bed river. The skies widened, and we powered down the river away from the mountains towards the confluence of no less than three rivers.
Just upstream of the Kamui Kotan Campground, there’s a large bridge – the Oda-bashi Bridge. Just upstream of the bridge is the Oda-bashi Rapids. Just upstream of these rapids, the Rekifune River is bolstered by inflow from the Nubinai River and the Naka-no-kawa River. At normal water levels, the Oda-bashi Bridge rapids are apparently boney, but today they were wavy and fun.
We’d made it to the campground unscathed. Thoroughly impressed by the ease and fun of the packraft on the river. For a short sections like this, it was arguably the perfect craft for the job. We were looking forward to the continuation of the trip. We carried the packraft to our tent site, left the packraft there, and made the 30 minute bike ride back to the put in to pick up the car.
DAY 2 – Kamui Kotan Campground TO GRAVEL BAR CAMPSITE
We used the previous day’s evening to set up the shuttle to get the car down to the take out on the coast, and us back up to the put in. With the bicycles attached to the rack on the back of the car we drove to the coast, left the car, and cycled 18km to Taiki Town. It was a gorgeous evening to be cycling. Our first stop in Taiki was the public baths. 200yen for a soak is about as cheap as it gets for public baths in Hokkaido, but they were good enough. Then we had dinner at the very reasonable Akebono restaurant.
We’d considered cycling the last 8km to the campground, but it was dark by the time we got finished with dinner. We locked the bikes up next to the michi-no-eki, and called a taxi (Taiki Hire, 大樹ハイヤー, location, TEL: 0155-86-2070). 20 minutes and 3,500yen later, we were at the campground, with only the packraft as our transport.
It was now the next day, we it was time to pack up and get on the water. Considering we only had less than 20km to paddle to our campspot, we took our time, and were on the water at 10am. It was our first time to pack the MRS Barracuda R2 Pro packraft with gear. I was impressed with the way everything fit into the pontoons, closed up safe with an air-tight T-ZIP.
The highlight of the day were the multiple clay cliffs along the way. The first lot had water streaming down the face of the cliffs, flowing from half way down the cliffs, from inside the cliffs.
Like yesterday, the river was fast today. Easy. Straight forward. There were a few wavy rapids, but nothing difficult if you know what you’re doing. Just good honest fun.
Before we knew it, we were at the spot I’d marked on the map as a good possible campspot. A one meter raised up gravel bar with plenty of driftwood. An old campfire ring in the sand confirmed that this was a spot previously used. Probably by the folk from HokkaiCamp.
It was a gorgeous evening for a wild camp. Hot enough for swimming. And cool enough once the sun went down for a campfire.
DAY 3 – GRAVEL BAR CAMPSITE TO THE PACIFIC OCEAN
We’d heard great things about the Rekifune River mouth. But considering it was only about 10km away, we were in no huge hurry to get away from our idyllic river-bed campsite.
Once we did get away from the campsite, the first challenge of the day was picking our way through the labyrinth of branches of the river leading up to the large Rekifune-bashi Bridge. We’d heard that taking a wrong branch could lead to having to walk canoes along ever-increasingly shallow shoals. With the water level as it was, however, we managed to get through this section relatively unscathed, apart from a few scrapey swifts.
And then just like that, we were at the coast. We pulled up just upstream of the actual river mouth, and stood watching the surf crash on the shore. We’d made it from a rocky, narrow gorge, to the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
Unlike many other river mouths we’ve experienced here in Hokkaido, this one was unadulterated. Free. A clean, beautiful river, flowing unencumbered into the ocean. No concrete to be seen anywhere. What a treat.
The Rekifune had long been on our list of to-do rivers. Now it was firmly on our list of to-do-again rivers.