Higashi-nupukaushinupuri (東ヌプカウシヌプリ) sits to the southwest of Hokkaido’s highest volcanic lake, Lake Shikaribetsu-ko (然別湖). The name is a composite of Japanese and Ainu: ‘higashi’ is Japanese for 'east' and contrasts with the western Nishi-nupukaushinupuri; while the rest means ‘mountain above the fields’ in the Ainu language. To anyone viewing the mountain from the Tokachi Plains (十勝平野, Tokachi-genya) below, the name will seem fitting. It’s a lovely hike from the Shirakaba-toge (白樺峠, Shirakaba-touge) mountain pass to the summit overlooking the Tokachi Plains below.
From the Urimaku (瓜幕) district in Shikaoi Town (鹿追町, Shikaoi-chou), you’ll head up Prefectural Route 85 (道道85号線, Doudou 85 gosen) towards Shikaribetsu-ko and come to Ougi-ga-hara Lookout (扇ヶ原展望台, Ougi-ga-hara tenboudai), which offers an excellent overlook of the Hidaka Mountains (日高山脈, Hidaka-sanmyaku). The trailhead at Shirakaba-toge sits a little further on, at the saddle between Higashi-nupukaushinupuri and Nishi-nupukaushinupuri.
The pass itself is a grassy field at 900 meters above sea level where flowers like woolly geranium, Metanarthecium luteoviride, and selfheal grow; on the western side of the pass sits the rocky Senjou Rockfall (千畳崩, Senjou-kuzure), where the pika live.
Crossing the grassy field from the trailhead, you’ll enter a forest of Sakhalin fir and Ezo spruce. The ground here is covered with a variety of mosses and the air blows cool and gentle. The trail is calm and quiet. Other than the Canadian dwarf cornel, wood sorrel, and threeleaf goldthread that grows amok, if you look carefully you can spot dwarf rattlesnake plantain, Sakhalin ephippianthus, and Japanese twayblade. Now and again you might see the feces of the Japanese sable or Ezo fox, which roam the woods out of sight.
The trail will gradually steepen; after the steepest part it will shallow out as you emerge onto a ridgeline. After passing through a pleasant forest of Erman’s birch, you’ll come to the summit of Higashi-nupukaushinupuri. The summit is a beautiful place to be in the fall, especially since the leaf-viewing tourist hordes will likely be elsewhere.
Although the climb is a short one, you’ll find at the summit an incredible view over the Tokachi Plains. The farmland seems to stretch out forever, ocean-like; and in the distance the Hidaka Mountains stand at attention in a neat line. Thinking that just 110-odd years ago, before this land was cultivated, here stood a huge bed of virgin forest, might root you to the spot with wonder.
Around the summit as well it’s likely that you’ll spot some lesser meadow-rue, ligularia, Middendorff’s weigela, and Morrow’s honeysuckle. If you head along the path south of the summit, you’ll arrive at a small outcrop where more pika live. You’re sure to hear them if you wait quietly with open ears.
You’ll head back along the same trail you came up.
One Point Advice
- You can take a Hokkaido Takushoku Bus (拓殖バス) from Obihiro Station (帯広駅, Obihiro-eki) to the bridge at Hakuun-bashi (白雲橋, Hakuun-bashi) near Lake Shikaribetsu-ko. It takes about 1 hour, 40 minutes. However, there is no public transit that stops at Shirakaba-toge. You can walk from Shikaribetsu-ko to Shirakaba-toge in about 45 minutes. Along the way, there’s a small walking trail that rounds the eastern shores of the curiously-named Lake Komadome-ko (駒止湖, Komadome-ko), literally 'stop-your-horse lake'.
- There are no places to fill up on water along the trail.
- The hot springs at Shikaribetsu-kohan Onsen feature two onsen hotels: Hotel Fukuhara (ホテル福原, Hoteru Fukuhara) and Hotel Fusui (ホテル風水, Hoteru Fusui). On the northern shore of the lake you’ll find the Shikaribetsu-kohan Kita-gishi Campground (然別湖畔北岸野営地, Shikaribetsu-kohan kitagishi yaeichi), which is open from July to September. A little ways north of the lake you’ll also find the rustic Hotel Fukuhara at Yamada Onsen (山田温泉ホテル福原, Yamada onsen hoteru Fukuhara), a hot spring hotel open from early June to late October.
The threeleaf goldthread and Canadian dwarf cornel bloom around mid-June. The orchids in the evergreen forests bloom later, around July and August. The leaves start to change color in late September.