Location: Uryu, Uryu-gun (Sorachi)
Altitude: 1491m (~950m elevation gain, total elevation change ~1400m)
Length: Full day (~25km round trip)
Hiked on: July 17th, 2015
I was ready for a battle with this one. While Shokanbetsu is not an enormously high mountain, the entry point from the Uryu side is probably one of the longest day trips that you can do in all of Hokkaido. Well luckily, this did end up being one of the few hikes that I overestimated, and despite taking 10 hours to complete the track and being fairly worn out at the end, the hike was relatively.. easy, despite the big numbers on paper.
I arrived at the Minami-shokan Hut, a splendid establishment that also has a campground right in front of it. There is a big communal area and a small kitchen (think a sink, and a couple hot plates) down stairs and 3 shared rooms with no bedding upstairs (bring your own sleeping bag and mat). It costs 1000 yen to stay a night, and the manager also asks for a 500 donation for trail maintenance. A bit costly perhaps if you’re only staying a few hours there like I did, but not a bad deal compared to other huts in Japan. Unfortunately there was a group of old men and women dominating the place, so I was quick to hit the sack, or rather try to do so. In the end I managed to only squeeze in 3~4 hours of rest thanks to my loud hut mates, and I was up at 2:30am to try get up to the marsh in time for sunrise.
Hiking in the dark makes everything feel surprisingly quick. I made it to the marshland in just around an hour, getting nice views of the Daisetsuzan range silhouetting against the brightening sky. I ended up getting soaked by the dew on the plants, but it was warm enough even before sunrise for it not to be too uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make it in time for sunrise (4:07AM on this day) but I got a nice view of the “second” sunrise of the sun coming over the hill just in front of the marshland. Walking through Uryunuma is a breeze with the boardwalk, and the lifting fog and the morning sun made it all the more beautiful. In the distance you can see your targets for the day, Minami-shokanbetsudake and Shokanbetsudake, and there are many little ponds and alpine flowers that make for nice photos.
Once the boardwalk ends, you begin the steady climb up to the top of Minami-shokanbetsu, passing by a look-out point of the marsh. The climb is never to steep and you’ll quickly be at the top which gives you great views of the inner depths of the Mashike Mountains. It’s a shame that summer trails only go from Minami-shokanbetsu to Shokanbetsu, and down to Mashike Town on the other side.
From Minami-Shokanbetsu on, you immediately drop 200 meters down to what looks like prime bear habitat. The trail was severely overgrown from this point on. They were actually doing trail maintenance on that day, but I just happened to be a bit too early. Swimming through the sasa bamboo and taking care not to step on any frogs that were abundant on the the trail, I made my way across the col and onto the ridge up to Shokanbetsu.
The top portion of Shokanbetsu has a nice little meadow, with the little hump of the summit just above it. You get views down to Mount Yotei on a clear day, but not quite up to Rishiri to the North (maybe earlier or later in the day). You can also see the Daisetsuzan Range and the Yubari Range, and Sapporo Dome shining in the sunlight among the urban sprawl of the Ishikari Plain. You can almost always see the Shokanbetsu Mountains across the Ishikari Bay when hiking in the Sapporo area, so it was pretty cool to be looking back from the other side.
The way back felt a lot longer than the way up, especially the steep climb back up to Minami-shokanbetsu. The trail workers had made some progress and cut down a lot of the bamboo, but the debris left underfoot made it almost more difficult to proceed. Past the summit of Minami-shokanbetsu, the crowds increased a hundredfold, and all the way down to the trailhead I was passing by dozens of people of all ages who were mostly just going up to Minami-shokanbetsudake or the viewpoint of the marsh. I was a bit surprised to see so many people, but I suppose it’s fairly close to big cities like Asahikawa and Takikawa.
I was nearing a limp through the last climb down from the marsh to the trailhead, but was impressed by how quick the trip felt. I guess that’s a sign of a good hike. Another one off the list, I’m starting to run out of mountains I can do as a weekend trip.. Looks like something in the Daisetsuzan will be next.