Posted on Feb 4, 2021
Share on facebook
Share on reddit
Share on twitter
Share on google
0

Posted on Feb 4, 2021

Share on facebook
Share on reddit
Share on twitter
Share on google
0
Reading time: 6 min
0.5km

Distance

0.5 day(s)

Time

14 mpk

Gradient

5/5

Water clarity

Class III

Difficulty

May-Oct

Best season

In an open-deck canoe, Sorachi River's Kokutai Course 空知川国体コース is a solid high-stakes Class III run. It requires dropping a pushy set at the outset, followed by threading around two gigantic boulders, finishing with a tricky 1.5m high waterfall. Dumping anywhere en route will likely see paddlers washed down the entirety of the course. It's one of Japan's premier natural canoe slalom courses, made famous by the 1989 National Sports Festival 国民体育大会, as the location for the national slalom event. Now popular among river rafting companies, the area is still a magnet for paddlers from around Japan.

We visited this route on Aug 18, 2020

Many thanks to Kobayashi-san from Minami-furano Town Tourism Association for contributing photos. Thanks to Mibo and Taku for the backup on this trip.

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Intermediate (7.5/10)

Remoteness: 2/5

River Details

This route is on Sorachi-kawa (空知川), or So-rap-chi-pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 194km in total length. This section of the river is between 3m and 15m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 14 mpk (73.92 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Sorachi-kawa

Current water level: a875cdff-ae6b-4132-a87d-5c4c05efe82aRAW!F19m and stable. Warning: River level is very high (flood control on standby). Last updated a875cdff-ae6b-4132-a87d-5c4c05efe82aRAW!S19 (Source | 10min trend data).

Ideal water level: 354.10m
Water level paddled 354.10m
Water level notes: The closest water level measurement station is about 15km downstream (Ikutora Water Station), situated on a very shallow, wide section of river. Take readings with a grain of salt – they may not represent the actual conditions upstream very well.
Location

This short course is situated here in the Ochiai settlement at the very upper end of the Sorachi-gawa River in Minami-furano Town in central Hokkaido. It’s near the confluence of the Shisorapuchi River and Ruomasorappuchi Rivers, where the river officially becomes the Sorachi.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

Put in at the central stairs, here, river right about 200m upstream from the Togetsu Bridge. There’s a large gravel parking area.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

Take out river right at the wide concrete flight of stairs here, after the last set of rapids, about 160m downstream from Togetsu Bridge.

General notes

We’ve touched on this route previously, on our route overview of the Shirorapuchi River. This Kokutai Course is nationally recognized enough that it deserves its own post though. The entire surrounding infrastructure is set up for ‘lapping’ the course, with shuttling on foot. Expect massive wide concrete stairs for easy access to the gorge, and multiple vantage points for spectators along the way.

  • Difficulty: At normal water levels, a confident intermediate paddler will find this a challenging and exciting route. Advanced open-deck paddlers will find it a fun test of their skills. Capsizing even at the top of the course, however, will probably end in boats and/or swimmers being washed most or all of the way down the course. That said, there’s a calm flat section just after the overhead bridge, just after the largest drop of the course. Take care to avoid pinning canoes in the Pachinko-iwa section.
Route description

Put in at the central stairs 200m upstream of the bridge. Take a deep breath hold on for the ride.

  • Sandan-no-se Rapid (三段の瀬, location) – Literally ‘three-step rapid’, this rapid is relatively straight forward – just keep to the middle of the right flow, and “watch out for the flow coming in from the left at the bottom,” writes Hidenori Takahashi (video here).
  • Pachinko-no-se Rapid (パチンコの瀬, location) – What do pachinko balls do? They bounce off things. So do canoes that mess up this rapid. The easy option in decent water flow is the hard right minor flow – not even a Class II. The option for the pros is to cut around the left of Pachinko-iwa boulder (パチンコ岩) in the middle of the river. See Hidenori Takahashi’s video here.
  • Togetsu Bridge Rapid (渡月橋の瀬, location) – This is a pushy drop that’s “easy to capsize when running the right side,” writes Hidenori Takahashi (video here). It’s best to run this drop as close as possible to the left side.
  • Final Class II rapids – Beyond the Togetsu Bridge drop, there’s a couple more easy sets of rapids – keep center.

Take out just after the large rock shoulder on the river right.

Route Timing
Trip time: 0hrs 20min

This short section will be over in the blink of an eye. That said, on a nice warm summer’s day, shuttling by foot for multiple runs is well within the realm of possibility. Take your time and enjoy.

Transport

Public transport:

Google Maps has up-to-date timetabling for the route to Ochiai Station JR train station (here). Due to typhoon damage to the tracks, this station is currently only accessibly by bus as a replacement for the train. From the station, it’s a rather circuitous 950m walk to the put in.

By car: 

There’s plenty of parking at both the put in and take out.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Ochiai (落合) – map no. NK-54-8-6-1

NOTE: The official 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

route safety

This course is best run with backup on the shore at a couple of spots on the river. One on river left below the first rapid (Sandan-no-se) and one below the final large drop below the bridge. Self-rescue is not impossible, but is largely impractical until after the Togetsu Bridge drop, where the river widens and slows for a bit before the last rapid sets. Don’t attempt to stand up in the river – there’s large boulders and occasional rebar debris on the riverbed that will easily cause foot entrapment. Difficulty and risk rises very quickly with higher water levels. Make conservative decisions when the water is high or discolored.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Sorachi-kawa

CampSites

Kanayama Kohan Campground (かなやま湖畔キャンプ場)
Situated on the northern shoreline of the picturesque Lake Kanayama in Minami-furano Town, the Lake Kanayama Campground is a well-maintained campground with large, well maintained grassy areas, as well as bungalows. There’s an expansive artificial beach at the campground, perfect for launching canoes. Just across the road is a nice onsen. Location: 43.15861 N / 142.49112 E | 620 yen per person | Open: May-Sep | Staff hours: 8:30am till 6:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Kanayama-ko Hoyou Center (かなやま湖保養センター) | 410yen | 200km from campground
Onsen nearby

The closest option for a hot soak is the Lake Kanayama Hoyo Center (かなやま湖保養センターlocation, 410yen). This isn’t a natural hot-spring, but it’s still a classic Japanese public bath – light, airy, and gloriously relaxing.

Extra Resources

Pages 64-65 of The Book of Leisurely Hokkaido Rivers by Ishimoto (2009).

Guide Options

If you’d like to paddle this course under the supervision and guidance of an experienced local guide, the following companies in the area can provide English-speaking guides (and booking in English): North River Adventures ([email protected]);  Little Tree ([email protected], TEL: 0167-56-7341); NPO Donkoro Outdoor School ([email protected], TEL: 0167-53-2171); Kawanoko Rafting ([email protected]).

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

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!

Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Sorachi-kawa, or other waterways nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

See More Like this

Hokkaido Wilds Foundation

We’ve got affiliate links on HokkaidoWilds.org to help fund the Hokkaido Wilds foundation.

The Foundation gets a small commission on sales from affiliate links, but we only link to stuff we think is worth checking out for people keen on the outdoors in Hokkaido and Japan.

The Hokkaido Wilds Foundation is a fund where 100% of funds are donated to Hokkaido volunteer groups involved in sustainable, safe, and responsible access to the Hokkaido outdoors.

Learn more here

ADVANCED FILTERS

Filter by location

About Filters

REGION: The general mountain/geographical region the route is in.

BEST MONTH(S): Time of year a route is suited to visiting. Some pop all season, some are more limited.

DIFFICULTY: How strenuous a route is, and how technical it is. Full details here.

FREERIDE/SKITOUR: Very subjective, but is a route more-of-a-walk-than-a-ski or the other way around? Some routes are all about the screaming downhill (freeride), some are more about the hunt for a peak or nice forest (ski-tour). Some are in between. 

MAIN ASPECT: Which cardinal direction the primary consequential slope is facing, that you might encounter on the route. More details here.

ROUTE TAGS: An eclectic picking of other categories that routes might belong to.

SEARCH BY LOCATION: You can find routes near your current location – just click on the crosshairs (). You may need to give permission to HokkaidoWilds.org to know your GPS location (don’t worry, we won’t track you). Or, type in a destination, such as Niseko or Sapporo or Asahikawa etc.

Please let us know how we can make it easier to narrow down your search. Contact Rob at [email protected] with your suggestions.

Sorachi-gawa Kokutai Course Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

D

25

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

D

0

Hazards

D

Navigation

D

Totals

25/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.