July 23, 2016
Niseikaushuppe-yama (ニセイカウシュッペ山, 1879 m) is a huge lump of a mountain sitting just north of Sounkyo and, like Kamihorokamettoku-yama and Kamuiekuuchikaushi-yama, bears a name you will have to repeat a couple of times before you get it. It’s one of those Ainu names that actually stands in place of a whole noun phrase: here, “the thing that sits above the gorge,” with reference to Sounkyo. It’s an old mountain as far as hiking goes, and as such is littered with abandoned trails.
I headed out to check out the mountain with a few friends a couple of weeks ago. Turns out that, despite its popularity, the trailhead is not too easy to access. It sits at the end of a long, unpaved forest road called the ‘Furukawa Rindo’ (古川林道). You’ll find the turnoff for this road here. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that the mountain is accessible from Kiyokawa District, near Sounkyo: the road from there, while accessible on Google Maps, is unmanaged and crumbling; a sign near the entrance turns Niseikaushuppe hikers away.
Along the Furukawa Rindo road there are a couple of turns (first right, then left), but you’ll see signs pointing you in the right direction. You’ll also come to a gate shortly after the first turn; on busy days the lock will probably be left unlatched, but if you’re traveling to the mountain on a weekday it will likely be shut. The code for the lock is ‘1732’. The parking lot at the trailhead is spacious enough for fifteen cars, and there are spots along the road to leave the car as well.
From the trailhead we headed into the forest. The climb was easy at first, very gradual. The trail was wide and quiet, and we could hear the distant rush of the stream at the bottom of the gully below. Visibility was pretty poor along here, but we sort of got the sense that we were too low to see anything anyway; we climbed for maybe an hour along here before the trail started to gain any serious elevation.
After an hour or so, the trail started to steepen. Over some scrubby pine, the slopes of the Daisetsuzan loomed, their peaks shrouded in cottony cumulus. A short while later we came to a place called ‘Miharashi-dai’ where the views opened up for the first time. Across the way was the familiar northern face of the Daisetsuzan; off to the left was the long, steep ridge leading down into Sounkyo, the huge outcrop called Ko-yari (‘little spear’) forming an impressive peak along the ridgeback.
Where the ridge connected to the Niseikaushuppe massif proper sat Ko-yari’s big brother, O-yari (‘big spear’), and under O-yari’s fearsome bulk we continued the ascent. When we finally reached the big spear itself, the trail cut off along its flank, narrow and with a precipitous dropoff to the left. A huge number of little white, yellow, and purple flowers were blooming all along the steep face of the gully, though, which sort of mitigated the fear of falling.
Past here we came to a little junction, strangely, that doesn’t show up on any maps. When we visited, we could see a bit of a metal bracket, as for holding a sign, but no sign itself. When I Googled it later, I found that a sign used to sit here, naming the trail that broke off towards the steep ridge to the south: “Fake Hiking Trail” (ニセ登山路). I made a mental note to check it out on the way down.
We continued down across a bit of a saddle and flanked another minor peak called Zen’ei-mine (literally, ‘Vanguard Peak’). A short trail cut off to climb Zen’ei-mine, but we wandered past it. After another flattish area, it was a short climb up to the broad summit itself.
The summit was broad and clouded, so we couldn’t see much to the north; but to the east we saw the huge peaked crag called ‘Angirasu’ and the bit of ridgeline peaking in Hira-yama, Himara-yama, and Ariake-yama at the summit of the abandoned Kitataisetsu Ski Field. To the south, the Daisetsuzan was still thickly clouded, which, oh well.
On the way down I decided to go check out the cut-off trail at the junction. I found that it cut around the back of O-yari, where it split again—a short, steep climb led up to the top of O-yari itself, though there was barely enough room for one person up there. The main part of this ‘fake trail’ continued around the back of O-yari, towards the long ridgeline down into Sounkyo.
The ridge itself is called Nanryo, which just means ‘southern ridge’, and ambitious winter mountaineers climb it every now and again. Some guides claim that there used to be a summer hiking trail here but that it was closed. I think that the trail was never officially closed and that the remains of the trail can be followed; but on the day I went, I needed to catch up to my friends and only followed this trail for 300 meters or so.
If anyone else traveling to Niseikaushuppe wants to check the trail out further, please let me know what you find. Even in Japanese there doesn’t seem to be much info on it.
Beyond the junction, the descent was much like the ascent: gradual and long, the lower half thoroughly treed-in.
trailhead: 7:21 -> Miharashi-dai: 8:50 -> ‘Fake Trail’ junction: 9:40 -> summit: 9:59-10:30 -> trailhead: 12:42
Climbing time: 2 hours, 38 minutes // Descending time: 2 hours, 43 minutes
Other ways to climb
The route up Nanryo looks pretty dangerous and accessible dominantly in the winter, either from Asahi-yama or the Niseinoshikiomappu-gawa valley. You can find more information from hiking records here and here.
Besides the Nanryo route, I’ve heard that some enterprising hikers have made the traverse across Angirasu, the crag on the ridge connecting Niseikaushuppe and Himara-yama. A couple of published guides refer to a ‘bit of path’ crossing the ridge. It allows for multi-day trekkers to do a full traverse from Niseikaushuppe to Tengu-dake, at the top of the Kitataisetsu Ski Field. This also seems to be a popular route in wintertime, where it usually takes three days or so. You can find more information about this traverse, unfortunately all in Japanese, here: [summer] [summer] [summer] [winter]
Niseikaushuppe is also popular for river-climbers, most of who climb up from the Niseinoshikiomappu-gawa river valley. They call the trek up the river ‘Tengoku no kaidan‘ (天国の階段, literally ‘Stairway to Heaven’). Interestingly, this trail lets out right around where I stopped checking out what I thought was the Nanryo route… could it be that the trail I followed only led down into the river valley below?
The other obvious trail for river climbers is up the big gully that the mountain encircles; you can find a climbing record here.