Less than a month since I last saw him and I was again with Ethan for a road-trip around Hokkaido; Japan’s most northerly main island. It was my first time to visit Hokkaido and after meeting up at New Chitose Airport early afternoon we were soon in our rental car driving east with a boot full of bottled water supplies towards our destination of Obihiro. With no accommodation booked for the whole trip we were just thinking that we could roll up wherever we like and get some kind of room! Wrong! We tried about seven or eight hotels and all of them said there was no room at the inn!
Subsequently we gave up on the place and decided to drive on towards our ultimate destination but not before we had sampled some of the local style miso ramen. There were a few other cars and motorhomes in the car park when we arrived there late evening following a rather nervy drive in the dark (whereby five or six foxes crossed our path) through the gravelly road leading to the car park. As we did the last time we slept in the car in Death Valley in California we had a few beers to help us get off to sleep not that we probably needed it too much as it had been a very long day for us.
It took us a while to get going the next morning but at around 8:30 am we set off with our backpacks on feeling a little over-prepared for such a climb as we didn’t really know what to expect regarding the mountains physicality and the weather.
It was pretty steep at the start as we progressed through the forested area wondering what we’d let ourselves in for. The trees eventually made way for rocks and short, low bushes as we made good progress only really stopping briefly for photos at each of the ten stations which you pass through on the way to the peak.
This was to be a climb of very contrasting terrain with just a handful of other climbers seen sporadically throughout the journey and every one of them had bells fixed onto their backpacks to keep away bears. We were (kind of) hoping to see one at some point!
The upper reaches of the mountain were very rocky and as its an active volcano, there were some emissions of sulphur fumes in the vicinity of the rim which are supposed to be fairly toxic.
Just a short distance from the peak were the best views of our journey as we were rewarded with some great scenery. A beautiful crater lake amidst desert coloured walls with smoke steaming out of the rumbling volcano was a great sight.
We didn’t really hang about too much on the 1,499 metre summit of Mount Meakan as we weren’t sure how long much longer it would take to descend via a different route as neither of us really wanted to go back down the same route. There was even the sight of some snow in the distance where the Akan Fuji volcano was located.
The trail descended the volcano’s slope through dwarf pine and we made good progress as were keen to finish as quickly as we could.
The trail end was a forest of Hokkaido red spruce and, though easy to traverse, this seemed to be taking us on a long winded hike when we just wanted to travel how the crow flies.
There was to a be a real heart-in-the-mouth moment towards the end of our descent as the split-second that we saw our first bear sign we heard an animal coming our way on the boardwalk and froze thinking that it might actually be one of the bears we wanted to see. It turned out to just be a fairly big dog but it didn’t half give us a brief shock.
We finally made it back to the car just past the 5.5 hour point and proceeded to drive on back to Obihiro for a night in a hotel (including a much needed hot spring bath) before our adventure moved on the following morning…
You can read ‘Hokkaido 2015 Pt II: Lavender Farm‘ here
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