Before we get into the blog post, please consider donating to support my freelance writing! Even a little helps
You can also follow my blog or social media (links at bottom of page).
I was super excited to make it to Daisetsuzan National Park. If I'd had the correct equipment, I no doubt would've set out to do one of the longer hikes (which take several days). I'll be coming back one day to do them for sure!
Unfortunately, though, despite the fact that I was camping the whole time, I never invested in a cooker (which is another thing I'll probably do next time). In other words, I survived off the generous selection of meals available at konbini (Japanese convenience stores) and made sandwiches when I was in a more remote spot.
Cooker aside, I also carried a rolly-suitcase and small backpack instead of a hiking pack. Not ideal, I know, I know, but I was limited to the gear I'd used to bring all my stuff for an entire year's stay in Japan. While I'd dropped the things I wouldn't need on my intended month-long trip at a Japanese friend's place beforehand, there was no way I could have fit all the things I'd brought initially into a hiking pack, and I didn't want to then add a hiking pack to the backpack and suitcase I already had with me, empty or not. It was enough to drag around already.
Instead, I satisfied myself with day hikes.
I stayed at an official campground near the base of Asahiyama. It consisted of large sand pits with bushes in between them. You were meant to pitch your tent on the sand. I found it a little odd, and the sand a little annoying, to be honest.
But maybe that's because it was soaking wet most of the time I spent here. Sad news for a keen hiker.
I also realised, though, that after day after day of hiking on Rebun Island and in the steep hills of Wakkanai my legs were pretty weary. Although I'd intended to climb right to the summit of Asahiyama, in the end I only went to the top of the ropeway (there was a ropeway, or cable car, which connected the remote onsen village I was camping in to the midway point up the mountain) where a lot of people would go for the view and to see the lakes up there. Those that intended to summit would start their hike from this point.
I should mention, though, I didn't actually take the ropeway up. It kind of feels like cheating to me to take a ropeway to hike up a mountain, regardless of whether you're going all the way to the top or only halfway up. Combined with the fact that I'm stingy, yeah.
There is actually a track you can take from the base of Asahiyama up to where the ropeway goes, though not that many people know about it. The tourist office also doesn't tend to tell you about it unless you ask, maybe because they want to make money off the ropeway, or maybe because Japan has a very strong focus on safety and doing things the "normal" way. In the case of Asahiyama, it was the "normal" way to take the ropeway up and hike from there. Supposedly, the track alternative was risky because there was a chance of encountering bears. But when I talked to the locals they seemed to think it had been a long time since a bear had been spotted in that area.
What was more, the majority of hiking tracks in Hokkaido have some risk of encountering bears, so it wasn't as if it wasn't a risk I was prepared to take. With the correct precautions, i.e. a bear bell and, if you really want, bear spray, there's no reason you would come into close contact with a bear.
I will admit, though... yeah, I am a wildlife photographer, and yeah, of course I wanna see a goddamn bear in the wild. Who am I kidding?
I did bring a bear bell but I awkwardly went from holding it with my thumb stuffed in the middle so it wouldn't make a ringing sound, to letting it jingle free when I was in more enclosed spots along the track and couldn't see clearly ahead of me.
I don't know if there was any point in this, since bears probably have really good hearing and if I let it ring at one part of the track, it was probably going to have heard it and wandered off by the time I got to another part of the track and decided to make it stop ringing.
There probably weren't any bears around anyway, like the locals had said. But if I could peek at one from a distance I'd be one happy wildlife nerd. With my 500mm Tamron lens I didn't need to get too close... nor would I want to, both for safety reasons and so as to disturb the bear as little as possible.
I gotta admit though my heart sure was pumping in some parts of that track, since obviously not many people took it and it was in need of a haircut. In a lot of places, though the trail itself was pretty clear, the bushes on either side had grown right in and there was a fair bit of jungle bashing involved. I couldn't help feeling a little anxious that at any moment a great brown bear's head might come rearing out at me from the next corner.
Anyway, I didn't run into anything worth photographing other than the landscape itself. Likewise when I did a couple other hikes around the base of the mountain.
But if you're into hiking, this is definitely a great spot for you. Hopefully the weather will be more in your favour than it was in mine.
I stayed nice and cosy in my sleeping bag inside the tent, and even made small talk with a couple other travellers staying at the campground (there only were a few of us). But it really was pretty miserable, rainy and extremely cold for summer. With that unrelenting chill in the air—you could definitely tell we were in the mountains. I stayed two nights to make the most of the hiking opportunities, but after seeing that the forecast here wasn't getting better anytime soon, I decided to get packing after the second night.
Until next time, Asahiyama! I will climb you one day.