Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hokkaido Revisited...

Before they fade away into distant memories and the new adventure begins (bike touring in the Japan Alps in Nigata prefecture), I'm forcing myself to sit down at the computer and start working on this blog post.

As you probably remember from last year, we went up to the city of Asahikawa in eastern Hokkaido to visit Ryan, one of couchsurfing guests turned friend. Of the 18 days, eight were spent in the northern part of Daisetsuan national park; the rest were spent exploring Asahikawa and on train trip to Abashiri on the northeast side of the island.

During our first visit, we helped for a day and half on a (rice) straw-bale house project, hosted by Toby and Maiko. You can read more about it here on Joan's blog. Well, we had always wanted to see how the house would turn out, and Joan had kept in regular contact with Toby, so we finagled ourselves an invitation to come and stay with them in the finished project, and they had two cats!

Due to time constraints, we flew this time, and boy, were our arms tired! Sorry... Toby picked us
up at the airport and continued throughout the visit to be a superlative host. After few days of hanging out with them, helping them plan their yard/garden, and visiting their small town of Higashikawa, Toby took us to the southern part of the park and dropped us one early foot at the foot of a long, steep trail.

Ryan had recommended that we try the southern portion of the park, a little
smaller and narrower, but with very dramatic scenery. Another difference is that the three mountain huts are located so that you can explore the park and not need a tent, cutting down on pack weight. We planned on anywhere from five to seven days, depending on weather and other factors. Oh, the weather... But let's not go there yet.

On the five-hour hike up to the first hut, we randomly ran into Yuka, a friend of Ryan's we had met last year, coming down the trail with a friend. It is a brief but nice reunion on the mountain

Pushing farther, we made it to the hut by late afternoon and settled down in the Biei-Fuji hut.It turned out that the seasonal water supply had dried up, so we had to hike an additional 30 minutes to a small snow field/glacier to filter water for drinking and cooking.

As the clouds rolled in on the end of a sunny day, we had a beautiful sunset, the last we would see
of the sun for two and a half days...

The next morning, we woke to dense fog, the 20-foot visibility kind of fog. After some debating,
we decided to pack up and try for the next hut, four and half hours away. After hiking to the water suppy, we met some backpackers coming the other way. They warned us that the fog was really thick and the winds ahead on the narrow ridges were quite dangerous. Also, really bad weather was coming with heavy rains, probably by afternoon. After more debating, we decided to not risk it; we were also not in a hurry to get the other hut. It had just seemed something to do compared to sitting in the hut in the fog.

We followed the hikers back to the hut and set up camp again, cooking lunch, reading the one
book we had, and gazing out the doorway into the fog. That evening, the rain started. We probably could have made it to the other hut, but..."仕様がない!" ([shyoganai]"What can you do?" in Japanese).

And it rained like crazy! Then it turned into a thunderstorm that shook the mountains. The narrow, rutted trail ran in front of the hut, and the water turned it into a raging mini-river. It just rained and rained and rained.

The next morning, we again woke to dense fog, but the rain started to slacken. We couldn't take another day sitting in the hut and so decided to go for it. So we packed up, shouldered our bags, and headed out into the fog...

(to be continued...)

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