May 29, 2016
When most hikers in Hokkaido hear ‘Sounkyo’, most think of Kuro-dake (黒岳, 1984 m), the jagged peak over the back of which the huge playground of the Daisetsuzan sprawls. The southern face of the Sounyko gorge is steep, but aided by a gondola ropeway and a chairlift, the trek to Kuro-dake’s summit isn’t particularly difficult. The north face of the gorge, however, has no such convenience.
Panorama-dai (パノラマ台, 1010 m) is an outcrop overlooking the Sounkyo Onsen village on the north side of the gorge. I’d seen it on maps but I hadn’t heard much about it other than that, so I decided to go check it out with some friends when we had a free afternoon.
We left the car in the Sounkyo general-use parking lot and headed across the road to the trailhead. We crossed a footbridge and found it at the back of the ‘Sounkyo picnic site’. It looked like a campground. It was a windy Sunday afternoon and the site was deserted.
(these first two pictures were actually taken sometime in April, when I first went to check out the trail)
The trail immediately started climbing quite steeply among deep ravines carved by snowmelt. The trail was obviously not as popular as the ones on the other side of the gorge but nowhere was it hard to follow. We climbed among old birch trees and shrubby sasa bamboo at first, but as we gained a little altitude we started seeing more and more evergreens.
The trail first cut back on itself and then started a long traverse-ey sort of climb over a number of switchbacks, before coming to a very steep last section where we mounted the tops of the cliffs that you see from the onsen village below. Past here it was a little flatter, and we climbed up a series of wooden steps up to what looked like a sort of communications box. I think it was for TV signals, maybe down in the onsen village below?
Past here the trail was quite easy, climbing very gently into a very close forest of evergreens, many of which had been knocked over in the wintertime. Shortly after a switchback, we came to a place where the trail split. There was a sign there that said “Thank you for helping prevent forest fires” and underneath, “To km”. I figured the useful information had been rubbed off somehow.
Consulting the map, it looks like the left trail leads upwards to Asahi-yama (朝陽山, 1370.2 m), but I haven’t been up that trail and it doesn’t show up on the Geospatial Information Authority (GSI) maps. (If I go back up that trail, I’ll make an addendum to this post about it.) The right trail leads to Panorama-dai.
It’s a walk of only about a minute or two out to the outlook. You dip down onto a bit of a ridge before emerging from a thicket of bushes onto the top of a crag. On three sides it is a long way down to the bottom of the gorge; on the fourth side the slope soars vertically above you on its way up to Asahi-yama.
Across the gorge, you can see the full slope of Kuro-dake, and the big flat plateau to the east of the mountain itself, like a weird chair for a giant. The onsen village looks like a Lego town below. To the west and east you can see the gash of the gorge for a long way in either direction–I imagine if you climbed on a clear day you would be able to see hugely far both ways. We debated briefly if a smudge we saw through the haze could be Kamikawa, but a consensus wasn’t reached.
It was getting a little late and the wind was picking up, so we headed back down. The descent can go quite fast if you’re fleet-footed and a little brave. Just let gravity take over and you’ll find yourself back at the campsite in no time at all.
Sounyko picnic sit: 2:58 -> communications box: 3:35 -> Panorama-dai: 3:57-4:03 -> Sounkyo picnic site: 4:32
Climbing time: 59 minutes / Descending time: 29 minutes
Other ways to climb
You can continue on past Panorama-dai to the summit of Asahi-yama, presumably. I’ve seen a number of posts online, like this one or this one, by people who have climbed it. That being said the trail doesn’t appear on maps and judging by the pictures the trail can be hard to follow at times.
I’ve read in a few places that there used to be a trail connecting Asahi-yama to Niseikaushuppe-yama (ニセイカウシュッペ山, 1879.1 m), along a long, very steep ridgeline–but that this trail isn’t there anymore. I know of at least one guy who has done the traverse–admittedly in the early spring, when he could just walk across the snow. If you want to learn more about this hike, look up ‘ニセイカウシュッペ山 南陵’ (Niseikaushuppe-yama nanryou’)–although be aware that everything you find will be in Japanese.