Posted on Oct 7, 2021
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Posted on Oct 7, 2021

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Reading time: 4 min
8.6km

Distance

0.5 day(s)

Time

10 mpk

Gradient

5/5

Water clarity

Class III

Difficulty

May-Oct

Best season

The Chubetsu River 忠別川 flows from the central Daisetsuzan Range down towards Asahikawa City, through the funky town of Higashikawa. With a gradient of 10mpk, you'd be forgiven to think there are a few huge drops here and there. But in reality, this section of the river is essentially just one massive rapid, cascading down beautiful bedrock. The water clarity is impressive too - despite the large dam upstream, it's crystal clear. Wait for around 17 cumecs output from the dam, and you're going to be having an amazing time on this rip-roaring river section. Excellent public transport access too!

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Advanced (8/10)

Remoteness: 2/5
Number of portages: 1
Total portage distance: 75m
Overall portage difficulty: 3/5

River Details

This route is on Chubetsu River (忠別川), or Chup-pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 59.2km in total length. This section of the river is between 20m and 40m wide , with a normal flow rate of around 1m/s to 3m/s. The gradient for this section of river is 10 mpk (52.80 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Chubetsu River

Water level notes: Chubetsu Dam Outflow – click here. The water level on this section of the Chubetsu River is 100% dependent on the outflow from the Chubetsu Dam, about 6km upstream. Ideally, you’ll be looking for around 17m3/s (cumecs) outflow (全放流量). At 15m3/s, we were only just able to enjoy things in our tandem packraft, with most rapids around Class II+. If you see 30-40m3/s coming out of the dam, then expect more or less a 9km-long Class III rapid (source). This is what it looks like at 54m3/s. There is a live camera at the put in at Shibinai Bridge, but it’s difficult to see the river.
Location

The Chubetsu River flows northwest from the northern end of the Daisetsuzan Range, not far from Asahidake, towards Asahikawa City, finally flowing into the mighty Ishikari River near Asahikawa JR train station.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

Paddlers usually put in on river left just below the short set of rapids downstream of Shibinai-bashi Bridge 志比内橋, here. There’s a gravel road down to a parking area just under the bridge. From there, it’s a 50m walk to the river.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

This short 9km upper section of the river finishes at the funky town of Higashikawa, at Higashi-bashi Bridge 東橋, here. The riverside on the river right has convenient stairs to take boats out of the river, and there’s a large car park at the park golf course.

General notes

We were very impressed by the clarity of the water and beautiful bedrock when we paddled this section in August 2021. With higher water, there’ll be less clarity, particularly due to the water coming out of the Chubetsu Dam further upstream. True to its nature, this river section was fairly busy, feeling like one long continuous rapid. We didn’t really notice any ‘crux’ areas – there were no large drops and we didn’t notice any notable strainers or tricky bends. Things will of course be different at higher water levels. Overall though, this is probably a section best suited for upper-intermediate and advanced paddlers with solid self-rescue abilities.

Route description

Put in below the Chubetsu Hydro Station (best access is at the Shibinai Bridge). Paddle downstream. At the 2.5km mark, you’ll enter the bedrock zone. If the water is clear, expect some lovely river scenes. At the 3.5km mark, there’s a large weir. This weir is often open, so you can paddle straight through, but, the outflow is across a large area of concrete blocks – these will not be runnable unless the water is very high. Even if the weir is open and the water is high, make sure to scout this before running. The weir can be portaged on the river right – it’s a bit of a scramble to get up the concrete wall on the far right about 75m upstream of the weir itself (here). About 1km downstream of the weir is Koke-iwa Rapids 苔岩の瀬, the only rapid that is usually marked in guidebooks – the rest of the river just has so many other frequent rapids. Take out river right under Higashi-bashi bridge 東橋 in Higashikawa Town, here.

Route Timing
Trip time: 3hrs 0min

In high water, this paddling course will be over before you know it. But there is one portage to deal with, so it’s best to allow plenty of time. At lower levels, there may be a little bit of river walking involved.

Transport

Public transport:

Public transport access is pretty good on this route, with public buses running from Asahikawa City via Higashikawa Town to a bus stop near the put-in, on its way to Asahidake village. Buses run four times a day – timetable here. If you’re in Higashikawa Town already, then get on the bus at Higashikawa Michikusakan bus stop ひがしかわ道草館 in front of the Michi-no-eki, and get off at Higashi 11-go 東11号 bus stop, here. From there it’s about a 500m walk to the put-in. From the take-out at Higashi-bashi bridge, it’s about a 650m walk north to central Higashikawa town. A taxi from Higashikawa to the put-in will cost about 1,500yen.

By car: 

There’s plenty of room for cars to park under or near Shibinai Bridge at the put-in, and plenty of room at the park golf course at the take out. See the public transport options if shuttling with just one vehicle.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Shibinai (志比内) – map no. NK-54-7-7-3
Official Topo Map 2: Kitoushi (鬼頭牛山) – map no. NK-54-7-6-4

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

At normal water levels (15-30m3/s out of the dam), this is a lively river, but at least there are eddies here and there. At 40m3/s and above, eddies become few and far between. This means a very long swim for open-deck paddlers in the event of a capsize, or for kayakers unable to perform a roll.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Chubetsu River

CampSites

None
Onsen nearby

For the most convenient post-paddle onsen hotspring soak, we highly recommend Mori-no-yu Hanakagura Onsen 森の湯花神楽温泉 (location, 650yen), on the southern side of the river, about 5km southeast of Higashikawa Town. They’ve got large outdoor pools. If you don’t mind driving (or catching a bus) up to Asahidake Onsen area, then it’s very much worth the drive. Amazing views of Hokkaido’s highest peak of Asahidake 旭岳 2,291m, and plenty of onsen to choose from. Our favourite is the Yukomanso Onsen 勇駒荘 (location, 1000yen).

Extra Resources

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

HokkaiCamp.com description of the route (translated)

With origins in the mountains of Daisetsuzan, the pristine waters of the Chubetsu River, flowing from the beautiful gorges of Tenninkyo, are the real deal. Despite being stopped in its tracks for a moment at the Chubetsu Dam, the river maintains its clarity. Prior to the dam being built, the river suffered somewhat from low water during summer. The dam now provides a relatively constant flow downstream. Whereas other rivers in the area might get too low to paddle, the Chubetsu is often in fine condition. That said, the water level on this section is very much dependent on outflow from the dam.

Haidee and I had enjoyed a relatively easy jaunt down the Biei River the day before. Today, it was the Chubetsu River. We’d considered paddling the Chubetsu a few years back, but we had our open deck canoe at that particular time, and the water levels seemed to be too low to be scratching and scraping down bedrock for 10km. Today, the water levels also looked a little bit low, but we figured we’d have a better time of things in a slippery packraft.

We packed all our gear – including the packraft – into two large drybags, drove to the end of the route, and left the car there. We called a taxi and were soon being whisked away to the put-in, about 10km upstream. As per usual, the taxi driver appeared slightly confused when we insisted he drop us off on the side of the road in the middle nowhere.

We walked about 50m downstream from the Shibinai Bridge to a gorgeous calm swimming hole to get the packraft ready. It was a hot day, so Haidee went for an impromptu swim. The river was cool and crystal clear.

It wasn’t long after setting off that the Chubetsu River started living up to its reputation. Rapid after rapid, we were having a busy but enjoyable time. We were happy to be in the packraft – the water was pretty low, and we frequently scraped the bottom of the raft on the smooth rocks. The packraft – an MRS Barracuda R2 Pro – seemed plenty up to the task. As far as packrafts go, it’s pretty tough.

The rapids at this point – and at this water level – were all pretty straightforward. Class II at best I’d guess. They just kept coming, with no seriously flat spots in between.

After tumbling down a riverbed of medium-sized rocks and stones, we soon found ourselves paddling over beautiful green and beige bedrock. It was well illuminated by the strong sun beaming through the clear water.

It didn’t feel like long before we arrived at the large weir on the route. It wasn’t open, so there was no option to just sail on through. We clambered up over the concrete retaining wall and carried the packraft 100m or so downstream past the heaving concrete and steel structure.

Beyond the weir, it was all hands on deck again, as the river continued its even-paced but steep drop down the landscape. Bedrock. Boulders to dodge. Shallow water and channels. Some fun waves.

A bit more water would have been nice. But it was a hot day, we had clear water, and we were outside. Lovely!

Closing in on the take-out now, the river started to mellow somewhat. We were actually paddling now to get somewhere, rather than paddling to find lines and keep them. Soon enough we arrived at the Higashi-bashi Bridge, and wandered incongruously through the park golf car park to the car. The park golfers seemed to be altogether indifferent to us…perhaps they see bedraggled paddlers with a fair regularity around here!

Very glad to have ticked off the infamous Chubetsu River…next time we’ll be looking for a bit more outflow from the dam for another blast down the river!

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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Upper Chubetsu River 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.