Location: Niseko Range (Iwanai-cho, Kyowa-cho, Rankoshi-cho, Niseko-cho, Kutchan-cho)
Elevation: 1308m at the top of Niseko-Annupuri (total elevation gain ~3000m)
Length: Overnight (total distance ~40km)Hiked on: June 9th and 10th, 2016
I had hiked most peaks of the Niseko Range in both summer and winter, and to be honest none of them are too much of a challenge and many of them can be quite.. dull for those who have hiked higher, more rugged, and more famous mountains.
So naturally, I was not too enthusiastic at first when an acquaintance proposed to me an overnight trip from Asahi Onsen at the western end of the range all the way to the Hirafu Ski area on the other side of the range. 40km over two days is no easy trip by any means, not to mention this was only my second “dry” hike of the year. Still I’m not one to turn down a trip to the mountains (unless it’s Yotei, which is long due a post on this blog) and a couple weeks later I found myself at the trailhead at Mount Raiden, located at the now defunct Asahi Onsen with three fellow hikers, or to be more accurate, trail runners equipped with half the weight I was carrying.
The trails in the Niseko Range are painfully clear due to the thick brush of bamboo and pine that covers all its peaks, so I will not provide too much of a trail description (you should still please research the route and carry a map!) The road up to Asahi Onsen from the Raiden Coast (Sea of Japan) can be somewhat harrowing and you’ll probably want a good vehicle to get up there. You’ll also want to be careful crossing the wooden bridge at the very start of the hike, as it can be very slippery and is a good ~2m drop should you fall, which would end your hike before it even begins (literally, as the trailhead is on the other side of the bridge.)
A good place to camp is Niimi Pass, just after you get down from Mekunnaidake. This is more of less the halfway point of the trip. There is a parking lot and a very nice toilet. If you prefer to camp somewhere a bit more scenic, there is sufficient space for a tent at the top of Mae-Mekunnai and Shirakabayama, but they’re by no means designated camping spots and I’m not gonna promise you can pitch your tent there.
Expect large patches of remaining snow and also flooded marshes well into July. This means both wet feet and a possibility of getting lost. There were places where we pretty much had to walk right through the water which came up to our knees in places. You might be better off with non-waterproof footwear that you can try to dry overnight than trying to keep your feet dry.
Although there’s plenty of water through the hike, you’ll need to treat it. The Niseko Range is full of foxes (some of which are full of echinococcus parasites.) There is drinkable water at Goshiki Onsen, between Annupuri and Iwaonupuri, but note that that is pretty much at the end of the hike. We left a large tank of water at Niimi Pass on our way to Asahi Onsen.
Main peaks climbed include: Raidenyama (1211m), Iwanaidake (1086m), Mekunnaidake (1220m), Shirakabayama (959m), Chisenupuri (1134m), Nitonupuri (1o80m), Iwaonupuri (1116m), and Niseko-Annupuri (1308m).
I must admit the hike was much more enjoyable than I anticipated, in particular the first half between Asahi Onsen and Niimi Pass. You will go through beautiful old growth forests, marshlands, flower lined trails, and volcanic landscapes. There is certainly more variety in this area than it seems when you are visiting each peak individually and I would definitely recommend this hike if you can handle a couple long days of walking and want to see all of what the area has to offer.
And now, pictures: