Chris and I have done four sections on the Shiribetsu River – the upper Kimobetsu Section, this Rafting Course, a short section in Rankoshi, and part of the lower Shiribetsu in early winter. On this day in mid-August 2019, it had been a mild typhoon overnight, meaning that the Shiribetsu was honking. It wasn’t anywhere near any of the flood standby levels, but it was a solid 70cm or so above normal. We were in the two-person MRS Barracuda R2 Pro with full spray-skirts – we’d definitely need them.
Soon after setting off from the put-in, we were busy keeping the packraft pointing downstream, just going with the flow. At this water level, there were no rocks or boulders to dodge. Just straight down the guts of everything.
All the drops and rapids that would, a year later, require Haidee and I carefully pick our lines, were just a matter of heading head-long into. The packraft would scorpion every time we launched ourselves up and over the massive wave-trains.
There was hardly time to get the camera out, so photos are limited to the calmer spots. The biggest rapid, of course, was the famous Futamata Rapid. This too was a straight-forward raging torrent which funneled us straight into the center, and we ran it without scouting or any issues.
The final 5km or so of otherwise flat paddling was fast and easy. We may even have had a tailwind.
While Chris would have killed to have joined us on this repeat of the Rafting Course (in much better weather than last time), travel restrictions have so far prevented him from getting over to Hokkaido this season so far.
We had a nice crew nonetheless, however. Haidee and I were piggy-backing on Mari, Greg, Mibo and Taku’s plan to paddle the Rafting Course in Canadian canoes. Haidee suggested we all camp the night before at the Yotei-zan campground in Makkari, and thus a nice overnight adventure was hatched.
On the Sunday morning, we got away from the campground at just before 9am. Frightfully early by Greg and Mari’s standards, apparently. But this did mean that by the time we’d completed the shuttle of two cars to the end of the route, we were all ready to set off in the boats by 10am. Gaggles of tourists and their rafting guides peeled off in front of us, and we never saw any of them again all day.
Seeing that this was Haidee and I’s first paddling trip for the season, the others mercifully allowed some time to practice ferrying and eddying-in/out at the hydro power station outlet (less scary than it sounds).
“You’re keen to come on this technical route for your first paddle of the season,” quipped Greg.
“Ignorance is bliss,” I replied.
This trip would make it day 10 for Mari and Greg so far this season, and it showed. They were moving gracefully as a well-oiled team in their Esquif Pocket Canyon.
After about 20 minutes playing in the easy, boulder-free outlet, it was time to face the music.
“Shall we keep practicing for a bit longer?” asked Greg.
“The boulder garden will still be there if we do,” I replied, definitely feeling pre-paddling jitters.
So we set off. True to every write-up I’ve read of this section of the Shiribetsu River, the first 1km was a busy – but very engaging – paddle. We bumped into a few submerged boulders along the way, but managed to get down unscathed. The final Class II drop at the end was a thrilling accent to a great start to the route. Albeit requiring some bailing out for the non-spray-decked boats.
The next few kilometers were a relaxed interlude before some more minor rapids on our way towards the crux of the route – the Futamata Rapids. Along the way we passed the first of the two good Yotei-zan viewpoints, but alas the mountain was shrouded in thin bands of cloud.
The tranquility would not last long before we arrived at the top of the famed Futamata Rapids. When Chris and I had paddled this in almost 1m extra water, we couldn’t have scouted this even if we’d wanted to. We careened over it, the packraft almost folding itself in half on the crests of the waves. Today it was much more civilized, with many more only-just-submerged rocks to dodge. We sat by the rapids on the rocks, ate lunch, and talked strategy.
“Last time, Mari and I nipped through that small gap on the left,” proffered Greg.
“It looks like we’d have enough time to get over to the river right side if we go through the middle,” I countered.
In the end, we all followed the same basic line – enter the top of the rapids in the middle, haul the canoe to the river right, duck under the foliage, and hit the wave head-on.
Just as Haidee and I were getting ready for our run, our favourite tall, English, mask-making female Niseko adventure buddy Geraldine appeared out of the bushes with her friends, carrying an inflatable kayak.
“Oh hi you two,” she yelled, waving.
It was a pleasant surprise. We watched with curiosity as they jumped into the kayak and immediately sent themselves hurtling down the rapids. Whereas we’d spent the last 20 minutes agonizing over our line, they were gone in an instant. Oh the joys of being in a vessel that bounces off things.
In the end, out group of six resulted in much less carnage that I’d psyched myself up for. The last report I’d seen of someone canoeing this was from the good folk at HokkaiCamp.com. They’d taken a left-hand line and came in hot into the opposite bank at the bottom of the rapid.
Take a look at that footage below.
Shiribetsu River Rafting Course Footage by HokkaiCamp.com
We had the distinct advantage of having more water in the river, so we all cleared the rapid with narry an issue. Apart from when Mibo and Taku went for a swim, courageously attempting an s-turn at the bottom of the Futamata Rapids (a maneuver Haidee and I chickened out of). They were a little bit early in their upstream lean, and the current tipped them over.
The capsize was a minor one, but it ended up washing Taku and the canoe down the next set of rapids before Mari and Greg were able to nudge the canoe into an eddy. Mibo had managed to clamber up on the opposite bank soon after capsizing, so I threw her a line and she pendulum-ed her way across to us on our side. She picked her way along the shore to the others, and we were a happy troupe of six again. Hardly worse for wear save for some wet clothes.
Being overtaken by some of Geraldine’s friends in the inflatable again…
More epic views of Yotei-zan…
And the gorgeous high clay cliffs, running with spring-water waterfalls.
The final 3km or so of the route were a bit of a chore. We’d decided to take out at the lower take-out point just south of Kutchan township proper. While Chris and I had flown along this lower section in high water, today it was markedly slower going, and we had a headwind. In hindsight, for a playful day out, taking out at the main rafting course take-out is most certainly the better way to go.
Overall a great introduction to the paddling season this year! Many thanks to Greg & Mari and Taku & Mibo for allowing us to come along!