August 26, 2017, strong wind, heavy rain, hike aborted.
The plan was to do a traverse of Daisetsu (大雪山) which would take about 8 hours, but was aborted just 1 hour after start due to gale force wind and heavy rain. However, I think it is still worth to share my experience, especially I did quite a bit of research for this hike.
Among the many peaks of Daisetsu, there are two that could be reached quite easily. In the south is Asahidake (旭岳), which is the highest peak at 2,291m. A ropeway run from Asahidake Onsen (旭岳温泉) to Sugatami (姿見) at about 1,600m. The hike to the summit was thus just a 700m ascend. I have hiked this peak a few years back in early July, which took me 4-5 hours return. I will consider it safe and is easy-moderate difficulty level. Main concern is just that the trail is rather exposed and need to prepare for strong sun/wind.
In the north is Kurodake (黒岳) at 1984m. A ropeway that starts at Sounkyo (層雲峡) Onsen followed by chairlift could take you to the 7th station at 1,520m, leaving only 464m to the summit and is where I start this time. It is a rather fast ascend, mostly stairs, with some trees that provide shades. The trail is safe and a return trip to the summit should take just 2-3 hours. However, due to gale force wind and heavy rain, I decided to turn back for safety reason at the 9th station (about 1,800m).
While hiking the individual peak is easy, the traverse is a challenge because it is an additional 4 hours on barren terrain with no supply. There are also sections that may still be covered by snow or need to cross streams formed by melted snow, and cannot be passed with ordinary hiking gears. The worst case will be after 6 hours of hike, you encountered such section and need to turn back.
The start and finish points are far apart, so unless you carry everything with you, travelling logistic is an issue. There are buses from JR Asahikawa (旭川) station to both Asahidake Onsen (4 times daily) and Sounkyo Onsen (7 times daily). Even you start very early (first ropeway on both side start at 6:30am during summer), you have to finish your hike (include time for ropeways which is >1hr) before 1:30pm for north bound or 2:30pm for south bound.
My decision was pack light and carry everything with me so I don't have to spend hours travelling back to my hotel after the long hike. Another option is to carry just what you need for one night and send the rest by courier to Asahikawa where you can pick up the next day.
Another major decision is northbound or southbound. The typical wind in Hokkaido is from the south so it will be pushing you when you go northbound. You also don't have to worry about ropeway closure due to strong wind when you "arrived" the other end, and need to hike another 2 hours down the mountain. Nevertheless, southbound also had its advantage that Sounkyo Onsen had an excellent Visitor Center, where people there speaks very good English and had professional knowledge of the hiking trails and its latest condition and weather forecast. (Note: Sounkyo Onsen had a "Tourist Information" near the bus station which is of very little help. The "Visitor Center" is located near the ropeway station so don't get mixed up.)
Finally, the real hiking experience! I choose late August
and hope there will be less snow at the top. Overnight at Sounkyo Onsen and took the southbound route. I was not aware of the wind factor at that time and the reason for southbound is because I had hiked Asahidake before and know the trail is safe and easy, and thus I won't risk facing an unfamiliar difficult trail towards the end of the hike.
People at the Visitor Centre already warned me of possible severe weather at the top, and when I say I just want to buy a one way ticket at the Kurodake ropeway, staff immediately warned me about bad weather and possible closure of ropeway at the Asahidake side. With these warnings, I decided to change my plan to just go up Kurodake and hike as far as I could and then turn back.
I took the 7:10am ropeway, then chairlift afterward and arrived the 7th station at around 7:50am. Weather is still okay and being in the leeward side, there is not much wind. However, it started to rain at around 8:15am and keep get heavier and wind also grow stronger as I ascend. Decided to turn back at the 9th station, which is just about 15 minutes from the peak.
I think I will try this hike again in the future. I will stay in Asahikawa (lots of hotels so finding rooms is not a problem even in summer time) and go to Asahidake Onsen the day before only when I see the weather is ok.
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Latest submitted climbing notes
August 26, 2017, strong wind, heavy rain, hike aborted.
Putting aside the Climbing Notes regarding extreme weather conditions, during normal weather, even in winter, the Alum Cave trail up LeConte is one of the most popular hikes in the Great Smokey Mountains national park, and is often successfully hiked even by people visiting the park who don't normally hike.
Just watch the weather and allow yourself enough time to be down before sundown.
If you are reasonably fit you can do it in seven hours (3 up, 1 at the top, 3 down). If you're not a hiker, allow yourself 8-9 hours before dark.
The trail is rated moderately strenuous, but there are many absolutely magnificent views of the Smokey Mountains to reward you along the trail.
There is a lodge at the top where you can purchase a lunch (check the website) and replenish your water for free. From the lodge you can do further short hikes along the top to Cliff Top and/or Myrtle Point for even more spectacular views. But do not plan on spending the night at the lodge unless you have advance reservations.
If you're visiting the park, LeConte is a fun day of hiking!
Climbed on Aug 30, 2017, partly cloudy, temperature about 5~10C at summit.
The summit of Mount Rishiri (利尻山) is 1,721m, but the starting point of the trail is at just 210m. The vertical ascent is thus over 1,500m, even greater than Mt. Fuji if you start at the fifth station. The official recommended time is 12 hours: 6 hours up, 4 hours down, and 2 hours for lunch, rest etc. It will be a real full day hike for most people.
There are two trails to the peak. One start from the North near the main city of Oshidomari (鴛泊) where the main ferry terminal is located. The other one is from the West near the city of Kutsugata (沓形). Although the Kutsugata trail starts from a higher altitude of 420m and is shorter, it has several difficult and dangerous sections near the peak and is not recommended for ordinary hikers.
The Oshidomari trial is a rather safe trail. From start (210m) to station 9 (1410m) is mostly gentle ascend and majority of the trail have trees/bushes on both sides that protect you from from both sun, wind, and cliff. From station 9 to the peak the ascend is faster and in a few spots you may need to use your hand. The trail also becomes more exposed and the wind could be quite strong. In the final approach to the summit, there are a few spots that you need to be careful and pay more attention, but I won't classify them as "dangerous". Works are currently going on to improve the condition of the trail of this final approach, so the entire trail might become "very safe" in the near future. Return is through the same trail.
I am an average speed hiker, and it took me 1.5hr to reach station 6 (760m), another 1.5hr to station 8.5 (~1,210m with a refugee hut). Rested 10min there, then another 1.5hr to the peak, total 4h40m up. Because of my weak knee, going down is rather slow for me, more than 1hr from peak to station 9 (longer than it took for my ascend) and total 4h20m back to the starting point. Adding the 15min stop at the peak, the entire hike took 9h15m.
I consider the main challenge is not the 1,500m ascend, but is the long time required. About 10min after start there is a small stream with potable water (it is in fact one of the "hundred best water in Japan" 名水百選) but then there is nothing else afterward. In a hot sunny day, 2L of water is minimum, 3L recommended, plus enough food that could give you the energy to walk up 1,500m.
One should also pay attention to the sunset time. Mount Rishini is at the very east end of the GMT+9 time zone. This means that both sunrise and sunset is earlier than normal. With the trail on the north side of the mountain (the sun is on the south side) and trees along, it gets dark much earlier than one might expect. It is thus best to start your hike as early as possible.
There are a couple of pensions in Oshidomari that will give a very early morning free drop-off (and finished pick-up) to the starting point and saved you about an extra 1 hour walk each way. I stayed in Rera Mosir Pension and they have such service, but the ride departs at 4am. I started my hike at 4:15am and need to use flashlight for the first half hour.
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