We only had one day to spare, and were keen on checking out a new river section we’d not done before. While there’s a great long list of river sections all over Hokkaido we’re still to check out, we were limited in how far we could travel – we were in Sapporo, and were not keen for a majorly long drive. A quick look at the wonder that is HokkaiCamp.com suggested Tobetsu River – only one hour drive from Sapporo City, might be worth a look. The folk at HokkaiCamp.com had run it in 8.15m as measured at the Kabato Measurement Station, and today this measurement station was showing 8.20m. Ever being the optimist, I dismissed HokkaiCamp’s admonitions that this measurement station was downstream from the Tobetsu Dam, so really can’t be relied on much for an accurate indication of the water level above the dam.
In the end, while the water level was not completely untenable, it was certainly a little lower than we would have preferred. The small amount of river walking we had to do, however, was perfectly pleasant.
We drove straight to the put in, and dropped off the canoe.
All hail the epic adventure wagon that is the mighty Elysion – Chris‘s car, which, tragically, he is unlikely able to use this year as it’s next to impossible for non-residents of Japan to get into Japan at the moment.
We then drove back to the take-out, near the Kaiun-bachi Bridge. We unloaded the bikes and started the hopelessly pleasant bike ride shuttle back up to the put-in. We made sure to scout the crux of the route – an old broken weir – from a bridge along the way. While HokkaiCamp report this is runnable in ‘low water’, it seems they haven’t done the route in water this low before. It certainly didn’t look runnable today.
From our bike ride back to the put-in, peeking at the river every now and then, we could see that the water level was low, but it didn’t seem too low. Despite the downstream water level station indicating 5cm more than when the folks at HokkaiCamp had run the river, there was certainly less water than what their photos indicated.
“Looks like that lower water station is not a particularly good indication of water levels up here,” I mentioned to Haidee.
We weren’t on the river for very long before we got our first taste of the wildlife along this section of the river. Haidee pointed out a gorgeous white-tailed eagle soaring above us. Then up on a tree next to a bend was a juvenile white-tailed eagle, watching us calmly.
After floating in an eddy nearby for a few minutes birdwatching, we carried on our way. So far, the water level was perfectly manageable. We had to pick our lines down the swifts carefully to avoid bottoming out, but overall we had avoided any major bumps or scrapes. The river was still narrow and compact, and we were surrounded by thick forest.
A few more paddle-strokes (and one lining-down spot) later, we pulled into an eddy near the spot on the map indicating fossils. We had a leisurely lunch of coffee, sour-dough sandwiches (Haidee’s forte), and sweet convenience store danishes.
I had a wander along the riverbank and soon found a part of a fossil. Or at least my complete lack of knowledge of fossils told me it was a fossil.
This whole section of river was a geological curiosity. Had either of us known more about geology, I’m sure there’d have been much more to look at and swoon over beyond the massive Moeraki-like spherical boulders dotting the side of the river.
With water levels not at all very high, I was half hoping that the old broken weir along the route would have been runnable. Indeed, other reports we’d seen suggested it was definitely runnable in moderate water levels (but not in high water). We approached it carefully, and eddied-in behind it. While the initial drop would have been perfectly runnable, the downstream race was a shallow mess of jagged concrete blocks. We gave it a hard pass. This was awkward, but not impossible in this level of water. In more water, portaging around the weir would probably need to be done on the left, bush-bashing through the under-growth.
Beyond the old weir, there were are couple of nice swifts…
And some more river-walking as the river widened.
With this river being so close to Sapporo, there’s no doubt we’ll be back again some time in higher water.
Overall, despite the low water, we rated this section of the Tobetsu River as a fantastic daytrip, easily attainable from Sapporo City. Great feeling of nature and wildlife, and plenty of curiosities along the way. In higher water, the Class II rapids along the way would be more fun too.