Shari-dake (斜⾥岳) is a wide, beautiful mountain at the neck end of the Shiretoko mountain chain. It’s known particularly for its characteristic beauty — from its Mordor-esque summit to the wide valleys filled with snow even until July. The mountain is named after the Shari River (斜⾥川), which starts on the slopes of the mountain and runs out to the Sea of Okhotsk. The river’s name comes from the Ainu sarun-pet, meaning ‘river in a grassy plain.’ In olden days, the Ainu also called the mountain Onne nupuri, meaning ‘great old mountain.’

As for hiking trails, there are two main ones: the Mitsui Trail (三井コース) on the north face, and the Seigaku-sou Trail (清岳荘コース) on the west face. There used to be a third trail on the east face called the Uma-no-se Trail (⾺ノ背コース), but this trail has since been closed. The Seigaku-sou Trail, the more popular of the two maintained routes, is itself divided into two different trails: an Old Trail (旧道) and a New Trail (新道). In this guide we’ll introduce a round trip route: up the Seigaku-sou Old Trail and down the New Trail. Although the Old Trail does feature a number of river crossings and a couple of waterfall climbs, you shouldn’t need any specialized gear beyond a pair of good hiking boots.

Following the banks of the Ichi-no-sawa (⼀ノ沢) from Seigakue-sou (清岳荘), you’ll soon arrive at Shimo-Futamata Junction (下⼆股). A descent by Old Trail is made perilous by the grade and the river crossings necessary, so it’s recommended that you head up this way. There are a number of waterfalls ahead, and though there are ropes installed in the more difficult spots, keep your wits about you and step carefully, especially where the ground is wet.

Gradually the stream will thin out. You’ll reach the head of the stream, at Kami-Futamata (上⼆股). After climbing some scree under the twisted arms of the Erman’s birch, you’ll come out onto a wide col. This is Uma-no-se (⾺ノ背, lit. ‘The Horse’s Back’). If you look down the ridgeline opposite the summit, it’ll appear to be a fairly straightforward ridge down to the surrounding farmland; in actuality it’s a series of smaller peaks, all lined up in a row.

Scramble hand and foot over some some scree and volcanic rock and the summit will line up right ahead of you. The Summit Of Shari-Dake (斜⾥岳山頂) stands pretty much alone in the surrounding landscape so views down to the farmland all around, and to the Sea of Okhotsk beyond, are pretty much uninterrupted.

On the way back you’ll enter the new trail back at Kami-Futamata. Along the edge of the trail you might catch the rich colors about Ryujin-no-Ike (竜神ノ滝, lit. ‘Dragon-God Pond’). The land about here, which is called Tetsu-gama (鉄釜, lit. 'Iron Cauldron') is extremely characteristic of volcanoes like Shari.

You’ll head from here along a ridgeline of dwarf stone pine where the views are spectacular. As the long walk isn’t particularly demanding, you should be able to enjoy the views out over the south face of the mountain. On a clear day, you might even be able to see the Akan Volcanic Complex, further south. Past Kumami-toge (熊見峠, lit. ‘Pass Where We Saw a Bear’), the trail will drop off steeply. Just as you feel your knees about to give out, you’ll arrive back at Shimo-futamata. Follow the Ichi-no-sawa back out to Seigaku-sou and head home.

Trail advice

  • There’s a Shari Bus (斜里バス) from JR Shiretoko-Shari Station (JR知床斜里駅) which stops at the Seigaku-sou entrance. From here, it’s a long but not particularly steep 8 km walk to the trailhead. [Trans. note: obviously if you have a car you can just drive to the trailhead; alternately if you get to the Seigaku-sou entrance early enough you can hitch a ride to the trailhead with someone else headed up.]
  • Seigaku-sou is open from mid-June to late October and can accommodate 40 people. Staying the night costs ¥1500 and doesn’t include meals. To use the adjacent toilet costs ¥500. To make a reservation, call the Kiyosato Town Sightseeing Association.
  • From Uma-no-se there is a trail over to the subordinate peak of Minami-Shari-dake (南斜⾥岳), but the trail is rarely used and quite hard to follow.
  • Nearby onsen include Kiyosato Onsen Ryousei-sou (清里温泉緑清荘) and Koshimizu Onsen Fureai Center (⼩清⽔ふれあいセンター).

Seasonal notes

Climbing the Old Trail is best on a hot day, when you can cool yourself in the glacial runoff. In mid-June you’ll be able to see flowers like cowberry and Arcterica nana. In July, the Trollius riederianus and woolly geranium will be in bloom.