The hike

The Mashike Mountains, east of Ofuyu Peninsula (雄冬岬), are well-known in Hokkaido for the abundance of snow they receive in winter. Among these snow-bound mountains is the massif of Shokanbetsu-dake (暑寒別岳), home on the eastern face to the largest alpine wetland in all of Hokkaido: Uryu-numa (⾬竜沼). The name of the mountain comes from the Shokanbetsu River (暑 寒別川), which empties into the Sea of Japan. The river's name was given as shokan-pet by Matsuura Takeshiro (松浦武四郎), an explorer of the late Edo Period, in his Records of Western Ezo (西蝦夷⽇日誌, Nishi Ezo Nisshi). He reports that the name is from the Ainu language and signifies 'river which has a waterfall.' There are two hiking trails on the north slopes of the mountain, as well as one in the east. The latter passes through the famed Uryu-numa.

Here we'll introduce the Shokan Trail (暑寒コース), which starts at the mountain cabin of Shokan-Sou (暑寒荘). From Central Mashike Town, follow Prefectural Route 546 (道546号線) along the Shokanbetsu River. At the end of this road sits Shokan-sou, as well as an adjoining campsite. It never hurts to have extra time during a hike, so consider staying here the night before and heading out early the day of.

From Shokan-sou, you'll head into a dense forest of Sakhalin fir, where the trail will split and merge loosely among the trees. Soon the grade will increase and you'll find yourself starting the climb up Kita-one (北尾根, lit. 'Northern Ridge').

As you climb the ridge, you'll pass Sagami-Dai (佐上台), where the various trails in the trees will all merge into one unmistakeable path. In spring you'll find yourself in a forest of Quercus crispus; throughout the rest of the year you'll find an ample supply of small flowers characteristic of the Sea of Japan coastline, such as Viola vaginata and Symplocos sawafutagi. Beneath the Erman's birch you'll find such plants as Clintonia udensis and Glaucidium palmatum; you might even spot and Ezo spruce squirrel poking his head about, looking for food.

Shortly after passing the 5th Station Marker (五合目), you'll find a watering hole--here it might be a good idea to fill up for the summit bid ahead. Past here, clamber up a steep slope using the ropes strung up there and you'll arrive at Takimi-dai (滝⾒台), where you'll be able to catch awesome views downwards into the valley of Pon-Shokanbetsu-gawa (ポンショカンベツ川) and upwards along the ridgeline to the summit.

Once you've passed Byoubu-iwa (屏風岩, lit. 'Folding Screen Cliff'; usually so named for the vistas reminiscent of classic Japanese folding screens) on the upper part of the ridgeline, you'll run into the junction where the Hashibetsu Trail (箸別コース) meets the Shokan Trail. Here, along the flatter parts of the ridge, you'll be able to see Anemone narcissiflora, Diapensia lapponica, Ranunculus acris, and Oxytropis shokanbetsuensis flowering peacefully in the mountain breeze. The contrast of these flowers with the spartan, hardy-looking dwarf stone pine is striking.

From the summit Of Shokanbetsu (暑寒別山頂), you can see across to the primitive-looking forms of Gunbetsu-dake (郡別岳, which, unfortunately, bears no hiking trail to the summit) and Hamamasu-dake (浜益岳). If the weather is clear you might even be able to catch the Sea of Japan sparkling in the distance. It's a vista [the book avers] you'll want to sit and stare at forever.

The trip back down the mountain will follow the same trail you took up.

If you can suss out where to leave post-mountain rides, you ought to try climbing the Hashibetsu Trail or the trail passing through Uryu-numa. The Hashibetsu Trail passes mostly through fields of flowers until the junction with the Shokan Trail. It consists, like the Shokan Trail, of a long slog up a ridge of the mountain. At the trailhead is the Hashibetsu hinan-goya (箸別避難⼩屋, meaning ‘mountain hut’).

Uryu-numa to Shokanbetsu-dake (Sabu trail)

Uryu-numa (⾬雨竜沼) is pretty much par for the course vis-a-vis Northern Hokkaido alpine wetlands growing on volcanic plateaux. It sits at 850 meters above sea level, and is about 101.5 hectares — 1 kilometer from north to south, and 2 kilometers from east to west. The area is dotted with dozens upon dozens of tiny ponds and marshes and as such is immensely fertile. In the autumn when the leaves and grasses change the area is a real sight to behold.

Local volunteers come in and upkeep the area, but the wetland is currently being threatened by overuse by the hundreds of tourists that come to see it every week, as well as the foreign plant species these tourists drag in on their boots. Keep in mind that the weekends here will be hugely crowded, so if at all possible try to travel in as small a group as you can manage.

The trail we’ll introduce here heads from Uryu-numa up to Minami-Shokanbetsu-dake (南暑寒別岳) and from there continues on to Shokanbetsu-dake.

To get to the trailhead, take Prefectural Route 432 (道432号線) out of Central Uryu and follow it along the banks of the Oshirarika River (尾⽩利加川). The trailhead sits at the end of this road, near a cottage called Minami-Shokan-sou (南暑寒荘) and adjacent to a campsite.

To get to Uryu-numa, follow the trail alongside the Pankepetan River (パンケペタン川) and cross two suspension bridges. These bridges will be up all summer, but from about mid-October to mid- June the forest service comes in and removes the bridges.

You’ll soon pass Hakuryu-no-taki (⽩白竜ノ滝, lit. White Dragon Falls), where the water tumbles in huge whitewater torrents that live up to the name. Beyond here, you’ll climb a steep hill thick with Erman’s birch and emerge on the right bank of the Pankepetan River. Climbing still further along the riverbank, you’ll shortly find yourself at the entrance to the wetlands. In a small stream along the way you’ll have to wash off your boots, so as not to track foreign species into the wetlands of Uryu-numa.

As you enter the wetlands a huge vista will open up before you. Up ahead, in the distance, you’ll see the peaks of Minami-Shokanbetsu-dake and Shokanbetsu-dake itself lying in wait. You can see a huge variety of alpine vegetation around here, depending on the time of year.

In autumn the long grasses will begin to go reddish and the leaves of the Erman’s birch around the edges of the marsh will turn bright gold.

Note that Uryu-numa is designated a “Quasi-National Park Class 1 Special Reserve” (国定公園第⼀種特別保護区) As such, you’re not allowed to pick the plants or flowers here. The trail, also, is one-way — there are separate tracks for people heading into the mountains and for those coming out. And please don’t step off the trail — this causes recession of the wetland vegetation and needless to say, this is bad.

Past the western edge of the wetlands, you’ll enter a forest of sasa bamboo through which a trail has been cut out. You’ll follow this trail up to Minami-Shokanbetsu-dake, where you’ll be able to look out over Shokanbetsu-dake on the one side, and the wetlands you came up through on the other. Hope for clear weather. Past Minami-Shokanbetsu you’ll drop down into a col and then start the final climb to Shokanbetsu up a ridgeline which drops sharply off to either side. Have a good long rest at the top because you still have a long way to go.

Hiking advice

Shokan trail

  • Shokan-sou, the cabin at the trailhead (暑寒そう) can accommodate 60 people and is open year round. It’s free of charge to stay there but is unmanned. There’s also a campsite nearby.
  • Hashibetsu hinan-goya can accommodate 20 people, is also open year round, also free to stay, and also unmanned.
  • The Hashibetsu Trail takes about 4 hours to climb and 2.5 hours to descend.
  • If you have any questions or concerns, you can direct them to the Mashike Hiking Information Center.

Uryu-numa (Sabu) trail

  • Minami-Shokan-sou (南暑寒荘) can accommodate 70 people. It’s open from mid-June to late October and costs ¥1000 to stay there for the night.
  • To get to the trailhead you can take the Sorachi Bus from Takikawa Station (滝川駅) to Central Uryu (⾬竜町市街), which is about a 30-minute ride. From there you’ll have to take a taxi or hitch to the trailhead.

Seasonal info

In June there will still be a good deal of snow leftover in the valleys — little if any on the trail, though. The contrast will all the new greenery is quite striking. Flowers bloom along the ridgeline trails from about mid- June onwards. The leaves change around the end of September — at this time as well it’ll start getting cold during the day (and might even snow) so pack some cold-weather gear.