Huge thanks to Shigeo Kobayashi from the Minami-furano Tourist Association for taking photos of the river run!
We were in Minami-furano with Greg and Mari, plus Mibo and Taku, for a three-day Swift Water Rescue Technician Level 1 course (RESCUE-3 SRT-1), held by the Donkoro Outdoor School. Our instructor was the prolific paddler and outdoorsman Kazuya Nino. It was a jam-packed three days of learning, both theoretical, and a lot of work on (and in) the water.
But the sun comes up at 3am in the summer in Hokkaido. Daylight savings is for the weak!
And the venue for the training was the section of river known as the Kokutai Course.
This meant only one thing – we must bring our canoe with us, make a super early morning start to run this bit of river.
You see, last time we were in Minami-furano, Haidee and I chickened out. We’d run the Shisorapuchi River on our own, and our nerves were frayed by the time we got to the confluence of the Sorachi River. We’d psyched ourselves out about the infamous Kokutai Course. We took out just above it and called it a day.
This time around, however, we had emotional and physical support. Mibo and Taku had brought their canoe along to Minami-furano too. Greg and Mari seemed to have forgotten theirs in Sapporo, so they would have to just watch the action from the bridge.
So we arrived at the river at 7am. The sun was low in the sky. Shigeo Kobayashi, the Hokkaido canoe legend, had caught drift of our plans, and was there to document the process.
Naturally, it started with some heated discussions of strategy on what line to take down the first set of rapids.
At this stage it was all procrastination, of course. We’d studied the river ad-infinitum in the preceding days. We’d all watched Takahashi-san’s video over and over.
There was nothing left but to get the show on the road.
We decided that Haidee and I would go first. Mibo and Taku got into position with throw ropes for what felt like the inevitable. Kobayashi-san ran ahead with his camera to capture the action.
“I feel nervous,” said Haidee.
I was feeling the same.
We knew the lines in our heads, but…
This was the first rapid – the Sandan-no-se 三段の瀬. It all felt quite easy. A bit pushy, but good-pushy. The water seemed benevolent. Nudging us in the right direction.
Afterwards, Mibo and Taku nailed it just as well.
We were all bailing water after it though.
Next up was the revered Pachinko-iwa パチンコ岩. Aptly named ‘pachinko’ (pinball) ‘iwa’ (boulders), this is a nice tight weave through two very large boulders in the river. We were determined to do the weave, not chicken out on the river right chicken route.
We entered the slalom hard left against the first large boulder. A cushion of water deflected us off nicely though, as Haidee drew hard to the right. We were a bit wide on the left turn though, and had to work hard to pull ourselves around to avoid the river center boulder. An over-correction here meant that Haidee was drawing for here life (or should that be drawing for the life of the stem of the canoe). We were headed straight for the river left rocky bank, but Haidee’s strong and determined draw saved me a lot of repair work.
Mibo and Taku had a safer line through Pachinko-iwa, scooching in behind the first boulder early, giving them time to breathe.
Next up was the drop we’d all been theorizing and getting excited about. The Togetsu Bridge drop. We’d seen more capsizes on this drop in videos than probably anywhere else on a river in Hokkaido.
The drop is tricky because there’s a large submerged boulder in the very center of it. Paddlers need to hit the drop either far left or far right. Far left is known to be the more gentle drop, but is harder to line up for. Far right is easier to get to, since most of the water is flowing that way, but it’s a higher and more vertical drop.
Who cares about the boat or getting wet?
Pride was at stake.
We had to stick this.
Haidee and I had discussed that we’d go for the left side of the drop. We needed to practically scrape the small rock river left, and sneak in on the left side of the small eddy line in order to line up safely for the drop.
The river left rock spooked us, however, and we ended up far right of the eddy line.
The river was now pushing us directly to the center of the drop…to the boulder.
We pulled as hard as we could to the left. Haidee cross-drawing like a champ, and me drawing as much as I could.
Of course, the power of the water on the stern of the boat was huge, and pushed us sideways.
This was *not* the line we wanted going into the drop.
Once again, however, the river seemed benevolent to us today. Once Haidee was over the lip of the drop, we straightened out. A bit wobbly, but we made it. Right side up.
Mibo and Taku once again got the better line, hugging the river left rock, getting right on top of the eddy line. This lined them up for the drop better, but they came close to capsizing at the bottom of the drop as they hurtled towards the river left bank. They kept their cool though, and also made it through right side up.
All that was left now was the easy two sets of rapids before the take out. Relative calm after the storm. We could now breathe easy and say we’d run the Kokutai Course. I wouldn’t say we ran it clean. But at least we didn’t swim it.
Once again thanks to Kobayashi-san for taking photos of us on the water!