May 5, 2016
I had the family in Hokkaido a couple of weeks ago so I decided to tackle a smaller hill nearer to home: Horoiwa-yama (幌岩山, 376 m). It’s not a particularly high mountain, nor is it well-known outside of the area, but the easy climb and its vantage over Lake Saroma make it pretty popular with anyone wanting to get outside in the Okhotsk at basically any time of year.
We climbed on a bit of a cloudy day, but the great thing about low mountains is you’re never really in danger of losing your views in the clouds. The climb started at the Saroma Michi-no-eki, a little rest stop on the side of the road where they sell local goods. The rest area stood at the bottom of a broad grassy slope; higher up on the slope was another building housing a restaurant, I think. It was closed on the day we climbed.
We left the car in the parking lot and started up a little gravel path into the woods. The trees soon closed in as we passed a couple of signs (“1.5 km to the summit”) and started climbing. The trail was pretty wide; at any given point it wasn’t too difficult to get two people abreast.
We climbed for a little bit through a forest of birch and spruce before coming to a little rest area alongside the trail. It consisted of a covered, ringed bench and some little stools. Behind us, through the trees, the lake looked too blue, almost. I blame my phone for the lake looking gray in this picture.
Past here we came to a number of places where wooden stairs had been built into the trail. They actually made the climb a little harder, because they were too far for one step between, but too close for two steps. Oh well.
As we climbed the birch got thinner and the evergreens got thicker. A good number had fallen across the trail and we kept having to stop to climb over or duck under them. At one point, cutting the gap between two switchbacks, we came to something labeled the ‘challenge trail’. It was a section of quite steep trail up a narrow ravine, choked at this time of year with fallen branches, with a bit of rope dangling down. I guess the point was that you used the rope to climb up the ravine, while your parents walked the long way around the switchback itself. It was a fun little piece of trailwork and would probably have really broken up the hike for climbing kids.
Just a little ways past here we came towards the summit. There’s a big overlook structure at the summit that reaches above the trees; there’s also an indoors section where you can look at a big 3-D map of the outlying area. It’s pretty cool to see, but the lights that indicate where things are are too dim to see on any but the cloudiest days. On the roof of the overlook there are some mounted binoculars. They’re cool to look through if you can manage to focus past the blur of the old lenses; see if you can see the Ai Land Yubetsu amusement park on the shores of the lake some 10 km away. You can also see Yubetsu Town on one end of the lake and Tokoro Town on the other end, which is pretty cool. If you’re lucky you can actually get a pretty good view of Shiretoko, which is over 100 km away. Don’t bother with the binoculars, though–the mountains are far enough away to be out of focus. And don’t go searching for the towns on the shores of Shiretoko: they’ll be over the curvature of the Earth and out of sight.
We climbed back down the way we came up.
Saroma Michi-no-eki: 10:03 -> rest area: 10:11 -> summit: 10:38-10:44 -> Saroma Michi-no-eki: 11:11
Climbing time: 35 minutes / Descending time: 27 minutes
Other ways to climb
The main trail climbs up from the Saroma Michi-no-eki but there’s another trail starting from the fields on the east side of the mountain as well. It’s got an ample parking lot at the trailhead. The trail itself looks harder but somewhat more direct. You can find the parking lot at the trailhead here.
Of course the most popular way up the mountain is not by trail at all but by car, on one of two dirt roads that climb the shallow back of the mountain. The road in the west starts in the village of Toppushi, here, while the east road starts just next to the Hokusho Suisan (北勝水産) plant, here. There are signs at the entrances to these roads so you know you’re on the right track. Both are dirt roads, so consider changing your plans if there’s been heavy rain lately–it’s possible that the road could get difficult to navigate. At the top there’s a paved parking lot; from there it’s just a short walk up some stairs to the overlook.
The mountain is also quite popular for snowshoers–it’s an easy climb and the topology of the mountain isn’t too complicated. The lake freezes in the wintertime so it’d likely be a totally different experience. Most people climb up from the Saroma Michi-no-eki, since the parking lot is clear in the winter, and more or less follow the trail from there.