HOKKAIDO, JAPAN – I am back here at Asahikawa, the coldest city in Japan, after a successful ascent of Asahi-dake (旭岳) in Daisetsuzan – at 2290 MASL the highest mountain here in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands. In this ongoing journey, I am with my schoolmates from UP Medicine, Joshua Torres and Terence Kua.
From Asahikawa, the 0920H bus right in front of JR Asahikawa Station took us directly the the Asahidake Ropeway, which in turn took us to Station 5 of the mountain. Originally, we had planned to do a traverse to Kuro-dake, but were informed that the snow levels were still too high in the trail. Hence, we had to make do with a still-challenging dayhike of the mountain.
The mountain was pretty much covered with snow, and the kind lady at the Visitors’ Center even dissuaded us from doing the hike, saying that we may not have enough time, since the ropeway closes at 1700H and we had to catch the 1730H return bus. Nevertheless, I decided that we should give it a try. And so, we started trekking at exactly 1200H, with 1500H as cut-off time for descending.
Should we use snowshoes? We considered the question; there were many of them available at the ropeway area. However, since we were all wearing Gore-Tex shoes and the snow was not too deep, we all decided to stick with our hiking shoes. Still, it was quite a challenge to walk in the snow, especially in the inclined parts. Nonetheless, the view of Asahi-dake in front of us, with fumaroles, was enough motivation for us to keep going — not to mention the time pressure!
We crossed station after station in the snow, which was fortunately still powdery, and not slippery. As we went higher, views of the other mountain peaks emerged, such Kuro-dake, Furano-dake, and the the other peaks of the Daisetsuzan National Park.
Hiking in snow is really a unique experience, and it would have been very cold were it not for the sunlight, which was unusually present throughout the day. One Japanese hiker we encountered said that the weather was amazing (…tenki wa subarashi!…) and were very lucky to have done the hike on that blessed day!
Halfway, we reached the scree slopes that I am beginning to realize are fairly common features of mountains all over: I’ve seen them in Indonesian volcanoes, in the Holy Ridge in Taiwan, and even in our very own Mt. Kanlaon and somewhat of Mt. Apo in the Boulders. The respite from snow was most welcome, and it was here where we had lunch.
The scree slopes led to a ridgeline, above which the summit of Asahi-dake can be seen. It looked near, but it would still over an hour before we could finally negotiate the rocky outcrops that served as the final barrier between us and the summit.
Finally, we arrived at the peak, which was immaculately white and breathtaking, offering a panorama of all other heights around us, as well as the snow-bathed pine forests, and surrounding towns. This stunning landscape before us, we celebrated by taking pictures at the summit. We then walked (and sled) our way down, and arrived just in time for the cable car, then bus that led us back here in Asahikawa. Yokatta!