The Uryu River had been on all of our radars for a while now. We all knew that it’s only really runnable in the chilly spring months, so we finally rustled up the courage to commit to a couple of cold days paddling.
Nearing the Mon\Tues we’d earmarked for the trip, the weather forecast looked average. Temperatures hovering around the 5°C mark, and there was even some sleet on the forecast.
We all had drysuits though, and plenty of insulation to put under them. So we pressed on with the plan.
Day 1 – Scouting and setting up base in Horokanai
It was a Sunday, so Haidee and I were able to get away from Sapporo earlier than Greg and Mari – Greg had a work engagement in the morning. Haidee and I made use of the extra time to do some scouting of put ins and of the rapids above the railway bridge. The weather was nice enough. Below 10°C, but still nice enough.
Mari had booked two bungalows at the Horokanai michi-no-eki, right next to the Seiwa Onsen. We checked in ahead of Mari and Greg and checked out the digs. Each bungalow had a grunty air pump, which warmed them up nicely. That was about the extent to the luxuries, as mattresses and bedding was all BYO.
Day 2 – The Upper-upper Uryu-gawa River
After dropping a car off near the Gogo-bashi bridge, we all headed to the put in to start on the trip down the upper section of the 50km section of river we’d paddle over the course of two days. None of us had paddled this river before, so we all had a bit of first-time-river nervous excitement.
It was a somewhat subdued start to the Uryu River. This area of Hokkaido gets an inordinate amount of snow during the winter. It’s on par with, and often exceeds that of Niseko (Niseko being known internationally as a ski resort town). Therefore, the snow takes a bit longer to melt here. It was early May, and the signs of spring were limited to some large patches of snow – the new spring green shoots were only just showing themselves up here in northern Hokkaido.
The day progressed easily and at a very relaxed pace. Here and there, we had to dodge some downed trees, which spiced things up a bit. In places, the spring melt was producing some nice riverside waterfalls and cascades. In other places, it felt like we should have brought the skis with us.
As we paddled, we would see both blazing sunshine which made us swelter in our drysuits, and then windy sleet that had us scrambling for our warmest gloves.
A highlight was lunch. Haidee and I tuckered into some of Mari and Greg’s amazing dips.
The birds were pretty cool too.
The scenery just felt like quintessential northern Hokkaido. Low hills still draped with snow. An air of the quiet life. Big skies.
By the time we got to Gogo-bashi bridge, it was mid afternoon, and we were all ready to get off the water and get to an onsen. It was the first paddle of the season for all of us, and despite it not being a huge paddling day, we were all feeling jaded.
We pulled out canoes high up onto the embankment, stashed some of our gear in them, turned them over, and headed back to the onsen.
Day 3 – The Lower-upper Uryu-gawa River
After a restful night’s sleep, we woke to moodier skies than the day before. It was raining.
The forecast: Rain all day.
But that’s the beauty of drysuits. We layered up thick underneath and just embraced the water falling from the sky. At least it wasn’t snowing.
We had 8km to paddle before the exciting crux of the day’s paddle – the Pon-kamuikotan Rapids. These had a certain air of the unknown about them. We’d been able to scout them from afar from the old railway bridge, but we’d not been able to get close to them. We’d be running them somewhat blind.
The lead up to the rapids felt like the calm before the storm.
And then before we knew it, we were upon them. Haidee and I (or perhaps it was just me) volunteered to run the rapids first. Theoretically, if we just kept slightly river left of center, we’d be totally fine.
It was all over pretty quickly, but we came out the other end unscathed. Hearts racing, but right side up. Next it was Mari and Greg’s turn, and of course, they killed it.
It was a rowdy ride for about 2km or so, which, once we got used to it, was a welcome change from the previous day of gentle meandering along a winding river.
Now we were really moving, and the river felt big and meaningful. And cold.
The other excitement for the day was the portage around the one weir of the trip. Haidee and I opted to drag our canoe across the wet grass. It was debatable whether this was a better solution than carrying. Greg, being the more civilized Canadian opted to carry.
In theory, the weir should have been the final excitement for the day. 3km downstream of the weir, however, was an unexpectedly rowdy dogleg bend. It caught us off guard, and it felt like it took everything we had to stay upright through some very pushy waves. I certainly felt like I was earning my keep in the stern.
The rest of the paddle was on autopilot. It was raining. We had some headwinds. We weren’t cold, but were ready to get off the water after a very satisfying two days paddling.
That night, we had a good cook-up in the bungalow Haidee and I were staying in. For Haidee and me, I made some pasta sauce and pasta. Fried garlic and veges, the whole gamut, cooked on our portable gas stove.
We would later be roundly chastised for such behavior by the bungalow staff. “You know you’re not supposed to grill meat and other smelly food in the bungalows,” the Officially Sniffer (Greg’s words) said to me (and Greg and Mari later).
I acknowledged that we’d read the sign, but had only cooked vegetables. His continued consternation indicated he was not convinced, despite my pleas that Haidee is a vegetarian.
Lesson learned – the bungalows at the Horokanai onsen are very much a stink-free food zone, with an Official Sniffer staff member who is very serious about his job 🙂