The hike

Numa-no-Hara, at the headwaters of the Ishikari River, is a good representative of Hokkaido’s mountain wetlands. At Goshiki-ga-Hara, at the heart of the Daisetsuzan, vast meadows of flowers unfold. The traverse across Goshiki-dake and Kaun-dake to Tomuraushi, though the flowers and snowy valleys of the alpine Daisetsuzan, can be thrilling and deeply satisfying, while the wetlands of a silent autumn day can bewitch. But crowding at the mountain huts is starting to take it’s toll, especially during the busy season of the summer. If you’re traveling in a smaller group, it’s recommended to camp rather than staying at the hut. At the end of the trail, Tomuraushi Onsen is waiting.

Day 1

This route consists of a two-day trek, though the first day is quite difficult, so consider staying in Sounkyo the night before, then taking a taxi to the trailhead early in the morning the day of. The trailhead lies at the end of the Kutchanbetsu Forest Road (クチャンベツ林道). Make sure to get the keycode to the gate on the road from the Kamikawa Forest Management Office beforehand.

From the trailhead, you’ll head immediately over a stream, and then a smaller stream, before climbing up into a forest. In the autumn the leaves here are awesome. After a steep slope you’ll come out onto a plateau and will shortly arrive at the entrance to Numa-no-hara (沼ノ原). They call this ‘The Parlor of the Daisetsuzan.’ From the trail among the ponds here, you’ll be able to see the far-off shapes of Tomuraushi and the Ishikari Mountains.

At Numa-no-Hara Junction (沼ノ原分岐), the trail splits off towards Numa-no-Hara-yama (沼ノ原山) and Ishikari-dake (⽯狩岳).

After passing Onuma (⼤沼), and coming through a forest of Glehn’s spruce (Picea glehnii, アカエゾマツ), you’ll arrive at Goshiki-no-Mizuba (五⾊ノ⽔場). From here the forest trail continues up a steep hill. Before long, you’ll find the trail running along a pretty stream, and eventually enter Goshiki-ga-Hara (五色ヶ原). In Goshiki-ga-Hara, Trollius riederianus (チシマノキンバイソウ), Narcissus-flowered anemone (エゾハクサンイチゲ), Primula cuneiforma (エゾコザクラ, small, clustered purple-pink, looking kind of like daisies), among other flowers, are embedded in clusters along the slope. Be careful not to step on them — the environment up here is pretty fragile.

At Goshiki-dake (五⾊岳), the trail splits off towards Chubetsu-dake (忠別岳). Crossing through a dwarf stone pine (Pinus pumila, ハイマツ) forest and coming out onto Kaun-daira (化雲平), the views of Tomuraushi are breathtaking.

From Kaun-dake (化雲岳), the trail splits off to Pon-Kaun-dake (⼩化雲岳), and from that trail a traverse to Tenninkyo (天⼈峡) is possible. Along the descent to Hisago-numa (ヒサゴ沼), it’s probable that some snow will remain. You’ll probably be quite tired by this point so take care.

In the summertime, the campsite and hut at Hisago-numa (ヒサゴ沼避難小屋) are quite crowded, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet the early season on fall might be a better time to climb.

Day 2

The next day, it’s wiser to leave Hisago-numa by the trail up the western flank (as opposed to the northern flank, by which you came in).

The ridgeline around Hisago-numa Junction (ヒサゴ 沼分岐) is dotted with small ponds like Ama-numa (天沼). They call this place the Garden of Japan (⽇本庭園). Among the rock faces, flowers like Geum pentapetalum (チングルマ, white petals, bright yellow stamen) hang. These flowers take a long time to bloom fully, so please take care not to damage any of them along the way.

By the time you get to Kita-numa (北沼), the summit should be right up ahead. It might be a good idea to leave your packs here and come back for them after you take the summit (so you won’t have to haul them up the steep rocks to the top; although there's a secondary trail around the mountain you can take to avoid the scramble).

From the summit of Tomuraushi — little more than a pile of rocks — you can, of course, see the wide range of the Daisetsuzan; but on a clear day you can see as far as the Akan Volcanic Complex to the east. Go ahead and hang out up there for a little while. For the climb, you can alternately go around the summit to Minami-numa (南沼) and take the summit from there.

Minami-numa is technically a designated campsite, but overuse has becoming an increasing problem in recent years. In the summer you can use the portable toilet booth here (but of course you’ll have to haul in your own portable toilet). The junction outside of the campsite leads to a trail passing across Sanzen-dai (三川台) and on to Oputateshike-yama (オプタテシケ山), and then further along a long traverse to the Tokachi Mountains. To those who wish to be totally immersed in the mountains, this is the recommended course.

To get to Tomuraushi Onsen, from the junction, take the southern trail. This plateau of rocks and alpine vegetation, called Tomuraushi-koen (トムラウシ公園), is a characteristic sight in this part of the Daisetsuzan.

Soon you’ll come to a number of cairns piled on the bare earth at a place called Mae-Tomuraushi-daira (前トムラウシ平). From here you can catch the silhouette of the Ishikari Mountains; here too on the slope below is the source of the Kamuisankenai River (カムイサンケナイ川). At the beginning of the season it’s possible for a lot of snow to remain here.

To get to Kamui Tenjou (カムイ天上) there was an old trail which followed the river down and across the opposite slope; but now, along the righthand ridgeline, a new trail has been established. From Kamui Tenjou you can look back out along the ridgeline that brought you here, before dropping into a forest where the views will be somewhat less grand.

Past the junction for the short-route trailhead (see map), you’ll descend by a plain, straightforward route. After walking through the previous tundra-esque area for so long, the forests of Yezo spruce (Picea yezoensis, エゾマツ) and Erman’s birch (Betula ermanii, ダケカンバ) will probably seem quite refreshing. At your feet, plants like Pyrola renifolia (ジンヨウイチヤクソウ, broad round leaves with white veins, drooping flower with clear-white petals [which the subtext here is that it’s a pretty lame, uninspired kind of plant]) will probably seem as beautiful as flowers.

Once you leave the forest trail, you’ll shortly arrive at Tomuraushi Onsen (トムラウシ温泉). After your trip in the mountains you ought to enjoy the baths there.

Trail advice

  • There’s a Dohoku Bus which runs from Kamikawa Station to Sounkyo. From Sounkyo the trailhead is about an hour away by taxi.
  • There’s a campsite at Onuma as well. If you're going to drink the water, make sure to boil it first. It’s also possible for the campsite to be submerged if it’s rained a lot lately (it is, after all, marshlands).
  • Numa-no-Hara is 47 hectares large. It’s a Nationally-Designated Natural Monument. Although it is an alpine marshland the soil is not particularly rich and plants take a long time to grow. It’s home to sphagnum, hare’s-tail cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum), puffs on long stems), Drosera indica, and Dumortier’s daylily (Hemerocallis dumortieri, yellow edible lily petals).
  • From Numa-no-Hara to Ishikari Junction is about 30 minutes. From Ishikari Junction past Numa-no- Hara-yama to Nupuntomuraushi Onsen (unmanned) is about 2.5 hours.
  • From Goshiki-dake, about an hour north is Chubetsu-dake hut (again, not just used for emergencies). There is a campsite and a water source there.
  • Hisago-numa hot can accommodate 30 people. You can get water out of the stream running into the lake.
  • At Tomuraushi Onsen the local government runs an inexpensive hotel called Higashi-Daisetsu-sou. It can accommodate 118 people and is open all year round. There’s also a campsite there.
  • During the summer season only, the Takushoku Bus connects Shintoku Station and the Higashi- Daisetsu-sou Hotel.

Seasonal info

For the first half of the season there will almost definitely be large snowfields around and across the trail. At Goshiki-ga-Hara, from July to August, there will be lots of splendid-looking flowers. In September, the ridgelines will hit autumn all at once (as in bam, red leaves). As the first frosts and snows arrive in late September, the red leaves will reach their awesomest. From late September onwards, you’ll want to bring snow gear.