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

Day 6: Tomaurashi Campsite to Futage Ike Campsite

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Knowing the next section estimated seven and a half hours of hiking we woke at 3 and were walking at 4:30, with the rising sun behind us. The brisk air gave us impetus and layers of whipped clouds folding out beneath our descent, permeated by the roofs of mountains, gave us hope for a beautiful hike. We started out feeling positive and enthusiastic, and by the time we finished this day we were utterly spent of everything we had, and more.

Our journey started easily enough by tracing a rocky path around the mountain edge.
The first sign that this would be a very different type of hike compared to previous days came when we had to skirt a narrow ledge with a bottomless drop, the view obscured by rushing clouds that grabbed at our clothing. The wind was brutally strong and laden with moisture so that I was wet all up one side when we peeled away onto a more protected path. However, this protection also came with knee-high wet bushes that slowly deposited their moisture in our boots.

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Shortly, a mist also rolled in obscuring our vision to less than 8m. Soon we arrived at some extremely dodgy signage giving three routes as options. We stopped and checked it with a compass several times, used our understanding of katakana and some kanji to assure we had the correct way, and it lined up with the map, before proceeding down the middle path, which was signposted as オプタテシケ (Oputateshike). If you take this path please ensure you check your route thoroughly at the time and prepare yourself, and the map, to cope with the Japanese signage. The pole holding the signage was skewed at a significant angle and the sign did not list Futage Ike Pond but the name of the coming ridge instead. In Japanese only.

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We descended into a messy forest of bamboo shoots, growing increasingly in size until they were towering above our heads. Unfortunately, this wasn’t in the style of Kyoto’s famous bamboo forest, but rather as a leafy, entwined mass that required shoving ourselves bodily through to get anywhere. The going was slow, and roots and dips regularly caused us problems as we couldn’t see our feet.

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By the time we cleared the bamboo the rain was starting in earnest, limiting our visibility further. Pulling out our waterproofs we adjusted and continued, worried about stopping for too long, our terrible mistake soon becoming abundantly clear: we didn’t have any gators. Our boots filled and we sloshed on.

We slogged on across the ridge, a long straight path consisting of 3 checkpoints was not as simple as it looked on the map. We scrambled on hands and knees up and down muddy inclines, climbed and hoisted ourselves and our packs up steep ascents. We were helped in some areas by imbedded chains.

The ridge was buffeted by the wind driven rain but we found we could avoid it by keeping our heads tucked down under the gorse. This was the most exhausting and trying section of the whole Traverse. The hours ticked by and no checkpoints had appeared. To boot, the path was wild and completely deserted.

Rounding yet another meaningless peak obscured by clouds the sun came out, and with it the lay of the land returned.

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The path we had been scrambling along all morning suddenly became visible.

We whipped out the map, not knowing how long this would hold, and looked around. The peak we were sat on actually had a higher, very rocky, peak adjacent to it and from there we realised that we had covered all three checkpoints of the ridge in 2 hours, 1 hour less than expected. As it was a straight line, none of the checkpoints had been signposted. Relieved, and a little annoyed, we allowed ourselves our first proper break to munch and look around. It was then, as we looked down the peak we were standing on and up at the next we were about to mount, that we saw a black bear lolling on the grass between the peaks.

Hokkaido’s black bears are, in fact, grizzlies. And, of course, we’d recently watched The Revenant. We set off down the decline, bells swinging madly in hand. Our descent had us disappear into bushes and so it wasn’t until halfway down that we stood on the embankment to pop our heads above the gorse. And there it was, a black bear, stood sideways against the sun and absolutely unmistakable in its size and shape. We dropped back down, looked at each other, and speed walked down the descent and up the side of the other mountain, dinging our bells ferociously as we went.

The peak was overgrown and afforded us no view to check the bear’s whereabouts. But, as we rounded the peak, two Sika deer froze to judge us, before leaping gymnastically down the mountainside in smooth, high arcs, their fluffy white bottoms bounced around behind them as if they were wearing pantaloons.

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If deer were up here grazing, then surely the bear wasn’t near us nor interested in this peak. We hoped. Nevertheless, we didn’t pause. The path became rocky and bush lined but the going was easy. As we walked over the top of the levelled peak we saw a cluster of house sized boulders marking the beginning of yet another bamboo covered path. We stopped here and ate again, climbing up over the boulders to assure that the bear was still in his spot. And, of course, he was.

With my boyfriend assuring me that the sheltered leaf filled area underneath the rock formation was the perfect den for a bear, we moved out. And spent the next 2 hours picking our way through yet another bamboo tunnel that towered well over our heads.

We were spat out the other end utterly exhausted and feeling claustrophobic. The going was physically demanding, with strong bamboo hemming us in on all sides and affording nowhere to sit and rest.The muddy path slipped us up many times and we became filthy even by hiking standards. But in front us now were the remains of a once beautiful series of small ponds, feeding into each other, as they came down the mountainside. But now was a collection of muddy craters. This was Futage Ike Pond, and it turned out it dried up every year in early July.

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It was deserted, and remained so. We had a choice, hike the gargantuan Oputateshike and continue to the hut, another 5 hours of hiking. Or set up camp, rest, find water a ways back and set out early. We chose the latter.

Reluctantly we dived back into the bamboo and within half an hour we found the water source. It was small and still. We filtered and boiled everything, just to be sure.

Seeing as we were only actually 1 peak away from the bear we cooked 100 feet away from our tent and hid the food 100 feet away too, camping next to the bamboo to give us some shelter. It took us a long time to do all of this though, our clothes smelling of swamp, our hair and bodies muddy and matted, and by this point, our minds utterly blank. We sat there staring out of the tent, not thinking to speak or do anything other than sit there and drink tea.

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

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  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!

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      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 !

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  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)?

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    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

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  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

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    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.

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