Day 2: Asahidake Youth Campsite to Mt. Asahidake (Tent Only) Campsite.
Standing at a grand 2,290 metres Mt. Asahidake is the tallest mountain in Hokkaido and the beginning of The Grand Traverse.
The seasoned advice offered by Bushpig, a veteran of the park (who is also a blogger), is to begin The Grand Traverse by taking the gondola so as not to tire yourself out at the beginning of the hike. Being fit but a little worn from cycling around Hokkaido for three weeks, we took his advice. There is only one station, and the cold breeze frisked its way through our clothing before we even managed to step off the gondola. Be sure to find the ranger’s signature book in the main building to log your route information if you’ve not already done so. Although, again, everything is in Japanese.
From here, the path to the summit is listed as a three hour hike. The ascent was a scramble over a loose and light scree of volcanic rock, whilst carrying your pack at its maximum weight. The path runs along the ridge of a crevasse, etched with layers of coloured sand that swept downwards to a crystal clear pool, reflecting the clear blue sky. The pool’s edge was littered with white vents lazily pouting sulphurous gas into the air.
Despite the estimate, it took us three and a half hours to reach the summit, including breaks. Perhaps we were just warming up, or it was because our packs were at their fullest, but this felt like one of the more tiring ascents of the Traverse. The view from the top was obscured by eggy, sulphuric cloud but stopping for lunch gave us a chance to catch the view from the highest mountain in Hokkaido.
The descent to the campsite was much shorter than expected but at an extreme angle and on very lose ground. The going was slow, and there were many slips. A slippery snow drift covered the path halfway down and stopped at the edge of the campsite, our main water source. Crampons would have been useful but, if I went again, I wouldn’t take them due to the extra weight. I made do with my hiking poles and a few slips onto my bottom.
When we cleared the snow drift we stood at the edge of the campsite. In front of us was a small, near indistinguishable patch of rock-ringed camping spots nestled in the lowest area between the two peaks. It was surrounded by soft grass, and littered with alpine flowers. The snow drift provided a small river of snow melt for drinking water and the placement of the camp gave us shelter from the wind on most sides, the rock rings all compensating for the unprotected side of the camp. We chose a nook, added a couple of rocks to the ring just in case that was something you were supposed to do, and set up.
It was 1:30 when we arrived and there were only two other people at the camp but by 5:30pm the grounds were full and people were pitching their tents wherever they could find space between the rock rings.
Realistically, we could have pushed onto Hakuun Hut, the next campsite, but we wanted to detour to the natural hot springs along the way, which would require a full day.
There are a few steadfast Daisetsuzan rules in place to protect and preserve the mountain. One of them is to never do any of your business outside of the designated toilets marked on the map, and although this unmanned campsite had a water source it had no available toilets. By sunset we’d seen so many figures skipping over the bright yellow rope marking the edge of the camp, their backs disappearing into the mist with toilet roll in hand, that we knew where we’d be going if we had to. Whilst watching our step.
A water filter is an absolute requirement throughout The Grand Traverse due to the pathogen released from fox faeces. Alternatively, you can boil your water if you have enough fuel.
It’s also advisable to bring along a Ziplock bag with your toilet gear in it, including a Ziplock bag for taking away used tissue. If you are breaking the toilet rule then at least don’t litter at the same time.
Bushpig Website: http://www.outdoorjapan.com/magazine/column_details/295
Water Filter: Sawyer Mini goo.gl/2j2BjO