June 19, 2016
A couple of weekends ago I headed out with Sam to maybe my favorite mountain in Hokkaido: Midori-dake (緑岳, 2019.9 m). It sits above maybe my favorite onsen in Hokkaido–Daisetsu Kogen Onsen, known for its milky white waters, its huge bubbling fumaroles, and the fact that it is open for precisely 123 days. In fact, their website lists the number of days they will be open left in the season–and not much else.
Note on the fumaroles–you can walk right up to them and watch the earth itself boil. It’s stunning.
It was a bit of a drive in to the onsen. We headed past Sounkyo towards Sekihoku Pass but turned south at Lake Daisetsu; past there it was maybe a ten minute drive to the entrance to the forest road leading to the onsen. A little ways before the Daisetsu Kogen forest road, we passed the forest road up to Ginsendai, the trailhead for Aka-dake (赤岳, 2078.5 m), another great Daisetsuzan hike.
It took maybe 25 minutes of driving on the forest road to get to the onsen. It was quite winding and in some places pretty steep, so if it had been raining hard in the previous days, it might have gotten a little difficult to navigate. It was a lovely drive, though, so we rolled down the windows and all the sunlight and fresh air came in and it was awesome.
There are a couple of buildings at the trailhead. The onsen itself is the biggest, and features the hot springs, as well as a little gift shop and restaurant. You can also rent a room for the night there. There’s actually a small gear room with vented pipes for drying out boots and socks in wet weather, which is a nice touch that I haven’t seen at many other spots around Hokkaido.
There’s also an Ezo Bear Warning Center next to the onsen. It’s not much of a building but it’s got a big whiteboard with bear sightings in the past several months, as well as two taxidermied bears, copious photos of the area at all times of year, and a little exhibit on the relationship between bears and humans in the area. There’s a small walking trail through a marsh at the foot of Midori-dake and I understand that they close it at various times in the year for bear sightings. So if you’re looking for bears, here might be a good place to start.
We checked in at the hiking registry and started up the trail. We walked past the two big fumaroles, where the earth opens up and the water boils furiously, and then up through a little field into a dim, humid evergreen forest. The climb was quite steep through here but as we gained elevation we broke through the tops of the trees in the opposing marsh and got a pretty good view over the long sprawling cliffs on Takane-ga-hara, the long plateau stretching between Asahi-dake in the north and Chubetsu-dake in the south.
Eventually we climbed up out of the evergreen forest and through a little patch of dwarf stone pine onto the broad shoulder of Midori-dake. In later summer this area is marshy, with low grasses and flowers abounding. But prevailing winds–probably from the west and coming over Takane-ga-hara–must dump a ton of snow here, because in mid-June, when we climbed, there was still a good 2 meters of snow covering the whole marsh. Sam was wearing new boots and they were starting to mess with her feet, so she decided to head back down and soak her sad toes in the onsen. I elected to push on to the summit so that I could write this guide, because I hadn’t written about mountains in a little while and I was worried about the pageview count on my blog.
Past the snow I traversed a little ways through a tunnel of pine, then came to a big field of boulders–you know, the kind that the southern Daisetsuzan is famous for. Past here it was just a long climb up, up, up, following the yellow markers painted on the rocks. In places it took some serious rock-hopping balance, so if you’re carrying a heavier pack I’d definitely advise the use of poles.
But after forty minutes or so (and a few dozen mL of sweat), the climb sort of evened out and wrapped around to the north, and I found myself at the summit. It sort of came up on me out of nowhere. It was pretty buggy at the top, and the bugs seemed to have a strong fascination for my eyes and down the back of my shirt, so I took a quick couple of pictures and started back down the slopes.
The trip back down took barely any time at all, as it was quite steep and encouraged enthusiastic bounding. The snow sucked to cross, because snow always sucks to cross if you’re not on skis or a snowboard. But I found myself back at the bottom in no time at all.
trailhead: 10:37 -> snow fields: 11:32 -> summit: 12:45 -> trailhead: 13:41
climbing time: 2 hours, 8 minutes / descending time: 56 minutes
Other ways to climb
If you’re not of the mountain-climbing persuasion but still fancy a walk in the woods, the walking trail through the marshes just west of the onsen are quiet, beautiful, and not nearly as busy as the Shiretoko ones. Which means that you’re a lot more likely to see a bear. Maybe that’s what you’re into. Be aware that though the maps show a trail from this marsh up to the top of Takane-ga-hara, this trail (called the Mikasa-shindo (三笠新道)) is closed, and has been for a few years. The reason that the management gives is ‘too many bear sightings’.
If you’re in the mood for a longer hike, you can head past the summit of Midori-dake and further on into the Daisetsuzan–either towards Koizumi-dake and Aka-dake (doable as a long day hike); towards the nearby Hakuun-dake Hut (and adjoining campground); or across the long Takane-ga-hara and over Chubetsu-dake to the Chubetsu-dake Hut and campground. You can also cross the volcanic Hokkai-daira Plain back towards Hokkai-dake and Ohachi-daira, where you’ll have plenty of options for staying the night in the mountains: 1) Ura-Asahi Campsite in the west, 2) Kurodake Ishimuro Lodge in the northeast, and 3) the Hakuun-dake Hut in the southeast, back the way you came.