Friday, February 18, 2011

Hokkaido Adventures: A Visit to Daisetsuzan National Park

Good friends are working out the details of a visit, and they're asking after Hokkaido. I couldn't resist tempting them a bit with one of the posts I wrote. This one about vegetable bike-touring (a new term I hope will be 2011's word of the year), and this one is about some of tiny gardens I found there. There are more to be found with a search of "Hokkaido" in the box to the right. This post first appeared on greenz in September, 2010.

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Despite the cool shade afforded by my green curtain and the bountiful blooms of a variety of sidewalk gardens, this locavore roamed north in early August to escape some of Tokyo’s heat. The plan? Head to Hokkaido to spend some time with friends, do a wee bit of bike touring to sample local produce, and spend a week hiking and backcountry camping in Daisetsuzan National Park.

Walking through nature is perhaps one of the best ways to engage with it, andDaisetsuzan is a great place to start putting one foot in front of the other. As Japan’s first and largest national park, it is home to Hokkaido’s highest peak – Asahidake – as well as a literal range of other mountains with wetlands, active volcanic areas, glaciers, and stunning wildflowers dotted between.

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Yamagoya or mountain huts dot the trails at time intervals ranging from six to ten hours with campsites falling between. Ranging from Biei-Fuji’s simple one story structure to Kuro-Dake Ishi Muro with its bicycle-powered composting toilet (could rival The Comploo for coolness says the gardener in me!), the huts offer shelter from the elements and a cozy base for meandering on the nearby trails. Usually free and unmanned, the huts rely on hiker etiquette for tidiness and behavior with terrific success. We’ve not been disappointed yet.

Last year we tromped about the northern part of the park, and the incredible variety of landscapes, flora and fauna there drew us back like a magnet. This year the southern half of the park beckoned. With mountain huts about six hours (give or take) apart a tent would not be necessary, and day hikes to explore the area would be more than feasible.

Boots, Backpack, and a Good Map

Our previous experience hiking in the park prepared us somewhat for this latest adventure. The trails can be challenging at times. Sometimes rocky, sometimes muddy, and sometimes not entirely clear the going can be slow. A good map is a must, as well as a compass. (During one of our longer hikes heavy fog settled in and there was a moment of trepidation before spotting the next marker.) A hiking stick is a welcome companion on both upward and downward slopes.

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While we didn’t carry a tent we did bring along a tarp and space blankets for emergency protection in case we got stuck out in unpredictable mountain weather. Hats and long-sleeves provided sun protection as well as extra layers for chilly evenings. Rain gear, gloves, and camp shoes (after hiking all day your feet WILL mutiny at the idea of re-entering your boots) are some of our other required items. (Here’s the list we use as a base for all of our trips.)

Food and Garbage

Pack in whatever you plan to eat as well as a filter for water. (Echinococcus from the red fox is prevalent in the park’s beautiful waters, and it’s not worth contracting for any reason.) While a couple mountain huts do sell some food, there are no convenience stores to be found. We bring along a small stove, instant coffee (everything tastes better outdoors), and a bevy of snacks. Hiking at altitude is hard work, so plan on eating and drinking a fair amount.

Plan also on packing out garbage, too. Almost better than sorting your garbage, packing out trash offers unforgettable lessons in packaging, waste, and reuse. While it’s lovely to feel the weight of the pack lessen with each meal, it’s also impressive to see how much rubbish is created by a single person in a few days. It’s a big park, but there’s no room for your leftovers in any shape or form.


fer said...

wow! those are some amazing views. I hope to be able to do a trip like that someday

Kateri said...

Enjoyed reading through your blog. One of my current patients (I am a home care nurse) was a missionary to Japan for 45 years. Made me realize how little I know about the country.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Kateri. We've been very happy here, and we, too, knew little about Japan before arriving. And every day we feel like we learn more and more. It wasn't one of the countries on our 'list', but we're so glad we stumbled into it.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

It is amazing, fer, and I truly hope you get to go someday. Hokkaido is so uniquely beautiful. Remember to pack your rain gear, though.