Hokkaido was in the grips of a seasonal typhoon, so I’d been scouring the river water level data for a river Chris and I could do that wasn’t at or above flood levels. Curiously, while every other river seemed to be considerably higher than usual, the Yoichi River just northwest of Sapporo seemed to be at its usual trickle-level self. So we set off from Sapporo to check it out. A quick scout of the river from a bridge, however, showed that despite the raging typhoon elsewhere, the Yoichi River was still nothing more than a trickle – in the packraft, we’d be scraping along for sure. So we gave up on that idea, and continued on towards Chris’s cabin in Rankoshi. We’d check out the Shiribetsu River on the way, just in case it looked suitable for a paddle.
We hadn’t been particularly optimistic about our chances, but from a couple of bridges along the way, the Shiribetsu River looked perfectly runnable. In fact, at this level, we’d hardly need to even think – all the large boulders and drops were completely covered in water. “Let’s just point the packraft downstream and go,” Chris said cheerfully.
Of course the first order of business was to prepare the shuttling. I dropped Chris and the boat off at the start of the route in Suzukawa Town, and then drove to the end of the route with my folding bike. Another hour later, I had cycled the 18km back to the start, and we were on our way.
This would be the maiden voyage for our new Bending Branches paddles that Chris had picked up in the US before this trip over here to Hokkaido. He’d picked up a Viper double-bent paddle, a Java 11 bent-shaft, and a couple of Expedition Plus paddles. And all at a generous discount by Bending Branches in support of our Hokkaido paddling project – thank Bending Branches!
For this trip, we were on the MRS Barracuda R2 Pro packraft. True to Chris’s words, at this water level, we more or less pointed the raft downstream and went for it, only putting in serious effort when trying to catch some of the more interesting looking lines. The sky was overcast with low cloud, so we didn’t get any of the great views of Mt. Yotei that the guidebooks promised – or the crystal clear water this river is known for – but some of the sandstone cliffs along the way made up for it.
The upper Class 1 rapids that guidebooks talked about didn’t really feature much at this water level. The current was strong, however, so a capsize would have been annoying. At the old weir-like drop near the Ryusan Bridge (留産橋), we tried surfing the large wave that the flood-like levels had created, but the flexy packraft didn’t quite catch it.
The weir at the 16km mark was a roaring torrent. The uniform ‘drowning machine’ backwash extended at least 15m or so from the weir. Anyone or anything caught in that would have spent a long time pinned underwater. As we portaged around it, it gave me the hebie-gebies.
Beyond the weir, it was a quick 2km paddle to our take-out location just upstream from Kyogoku. We let the air out of the packraft, and stuffed it into the boot of Chris’ car, ready for the next section, just downstream.