A Comprehensive Guide to Hiking Daisetsuzan National Park’s The Grand Traverse – Part 1

Day 3: Mt. Asahidake Campsite to Hakuun Hut via Nakadake Natural Hot Springs.

The second day held a considerable detour down Mt. Nakadake to visit the naturally occurring hot springs there, before doubling back on ourselves a considerable amount to continue on to Hakuun Hut for the night. But, hey, naturally occuring hot springs! As planned, it was a full day of hiking, allowing us to arrive at the campsite between 4 and 5pm. Rising at 6am after an extremely cold night with little sleep, we found ourselves among the last three tents left at the site, most having departed before 4a.m.

img_4780

Packing up quickly and fitting in some stretches beforehand, we followed the path as it ascended sharply before levelling out for our walk around a monumental caldera, around which all routes forward bent. The base was split by the yellow tendrils of a poisonous sulphuric river. Bright, yet natural, hues echoed from the base and, kaleidoscopic, reached up over the walls of the valley.  Each peak surrounding it was capped with glistening snow as if huge dollops of cream had been dropped there.

3183
A poisonous natural hot springs forks through the bottom of the caldera.

The path was volcanic rock again; light and easy to lose your balance on. Peeling away from the caldera we dipped off the path ,to descend Mt. Nakadake, on to a path that looked like the muddy remains of a snowmelt river. We had made good time to this checkpoint, beating the estimate of 1 hour and twenty minutes.

3203

The route downwards was the most beautiful we walked throughout the Traverse and showed us why there is such a popular appeal to only hiking the northern end of the park. Swathes of green bush, deep and fresh from rain and snowmelt, clashed against the white snow drifts, with alpine flowers littering the landscape in large numbers and in all kinds of colours. Every now and again we would see a bush tinged red, signalling the onset of autumn in Daisetsuzan.

As we descended the fairly easy track we could hear the rush of snow melt growing louder, until the path turned sharply back on itself into a small gorge, at the bottom of which was the natural hot spring. Tucked in between the rock bed of the gorge several sulphuric pools babbled away alongside a snowmelt river. They were clear to the point of looking like rippled glass. The pools were surrounded by wooden planks so that you could whip off your shoes and socks and dip your feet into the waters, and the silky silt beneath it.

Doubling back up the path we’d descended we passed the Mt. Nakadake checkpoint and continued on around the caldera, the paths much busier this time. The grand scale of the caldera had us fooled as to how long it would take to walk around a relatively small section of it. It took us one hour (estimated 50 minutes) to reach the next checkpoint which regretfully had us peeling away from the sweeping volcano mouth permanently. But the going became much easier for it. The path became a firm mud one through gently rolling hills, along which we made very good time.

3267

Approaching in the distance, just after the next checkpoint, the landscape seemed to morph from bushland into boulders, building in size until a seemingly random pile dropped by a titan created our next summit; Mount Hakuun.  The bouldered route was also punctuated by a long, slippery snow drift spanned by a rope that wasn’t tied down on the other end. And, I noticed as I maneuvered over the compacted snow, the drift was overhanging the mountain it was on, where huge slices of it had fallen away in a straight drop.

3285

At the top it seemed quite a few hikers had dropped their packs to make the final push to the summit of Hakuun, before making the descent into the gorge to reach the hut. After an exhausting day, we chose to descend the winding, stony path immediately. It wasn’t long before we saw a squat burgundy box appear, strangely stark against the enormous valley that spread out behind it. A little ways behind it was a tiny campsite, teeming with tents. It was 3:30pm. Worried, we finished our descent and looked for a place to set up our two-man tent, relying on the kindness of strangers to adjust their guy ropes a little to let us in. And we still found ourselves awkwardly close to another tent’s entrance.

Hakuun Hut provided okay facilities, for a price. It’s the only hut and campsite on the Traverse that charges. It was 400¥ per person to camp and 1000¥ per person to sleep inside the hut. The water source was reliable, and had been set up with a funnel and scoop to help you filter water. The toilets were two wooden cubicles, worn and smelly, with graffiti dating back to the 80s. Each had an Asian squat toilet, with an open drop onto a concrete slab beneath.  For an additional price the hut will also sell you beer, which you can chill in the snow melt.

Despite how crowded and stressful our arrival was, I warmed to the campsite. Perhaps it was because of the eerie, expansive evening view I was treated with as I waited for the toilet. The rolling valley spreading out in front of me as cold mists oozed off the snow and through the crevasses, reaching through the lower plains of the valley. Or perhaps it was the beer.

16 thoughts on “A Comprehensive Guide to Hiking Daisetsuzan National Park’s The Grand Traverse – Part 1

    1. Hi! Thank you so much, I’m really happy it’s useful for you. Although, I’m also a bit jealous that you’ll be doing this hike, it’s so ridiculously magical and stunning. If you have any questions, feel free to throw them at me. Also, I’ll be posting up Part 3: Food, and Part 4: Daisetsuzan Rules in the coming weeks. Hopefully that will be useful for you too. Enjoy the hike!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. freshcoffeestains

    Awesome post and so helpful! It’s hard finding enough information on the hike… one that I hope to tackle one day. I love Daisetsuzan (the little bit I’ve seen) and Hokkaido in general. Hope you don’t mind but I linked your blog on my own about why everyone should visit Hokkaido 🙂

    Tam @ http://freshcoffeestains.com/hokkaido/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Tam! I don’t mind at all, thanks very much for the link. And nice blog! Yeah, finding info on The Grand Traverse was incredibly difficult, I hope this helps out a bit. Enjoy the hike, whenver you manage to set out.

      Denica

      Like

  2. Leigh

    Your post is extremely helpful! I’m contemplating doing the traverse in a few weeks … do you think there will be too much of a lack of water by then to do the northern portion of the hike (as you did) or is it worth an attempt? Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Leigh! Thanks so much!

      Well, I did the traverse from north to south, and left one day early, so the route listed covers risky dry southern sections later on. It was after Tamaurashi Camp Grounds, in the south, that we couldn’t find much water in August. We managed to push through for the next two days but it was difficult and we had to ration and take from questionable water sources.

      The northern section should have some by my estimates but the only people who can tell you for sure are the park rangers at Mt. Asahidake base, as the park can vary a lot from year to year. Everything north of hakuun hut should
      be okay, even going down south to Chuubetsu and Tamaurashi if the rangers say it’s okay. Any further south than that will put you in a questionable situation. If you do go further south I would consult the rangers first and make provisions to carry a lot of water at once, up to four liters at all times, and be ready to exit the park should you need to.

      Also bear in mind hiking in the park past September is only recommended for very experienced hikers, because of the typhoon season and because of water shortage. But within the next few weeks should still be okay.

      I hope this helps, if not then ask away. Enjoy your hike!

      Like

      1. Leigh

        This was extremely helpful, thank you!! We will talk with the rangers then to figure out what is possible, did they speak English (or at least some English)?
        Thanks again !

        Like

  3. Leigh

    I have one more question in regards to exiting the traverse — is it possible to exit at any point before Shirogane onsen or would it be easiest/quickest to turn around and head back to where we started (Asahidake onsen)?

    Like

    1. Hi Greg! Thanks very much! I hiked in August 2016 and although I can’t remember the exact dates I do know it was in the latter half of August. It was though to be honest, the lack of water in the southern half of the park was pretty difficult.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Lavender fields of Hokkaido – A way for all seasons

  5. Arthur

    Hi Denica Shute,

    First thank you for all this previous information ! I was wondering if you have a scan of the map your are illustrating on your article. I don’t find any relevant map with all the hut on the traverse.

    Best regards,

    Arthur

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Arthur,

      I’m afraid I don’t as I gave the map to a friend who was going hiking there.

      The pictures of the map on the article are ones I took using my iPhone and are only of small sections. It’s very important you get the whole map, just incase you need to exit in a hurry. However, Montbelle releases updated maps each year, so it would be worth dropping by Montbelle for an updated copy when you land in Japan.

      Happy hiking!

      Denica

      Like

    1. Hi! So you could do this cycling course but you’d have to do a shortened Daisetsuzan route. Definitely not the whole thing as it takes a full 7 days unless you’re a very experienced hiker and very, very in shape. Some people enjoy doing the Northern end of the park only, which is a 2 day hike, but I’m afraid I don’t have any information on it as I didn’t do that course.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s