Mt. Shari (斜里岳）
Mt. Shari is a pointy, rocky peak situated roughly halfway between the Akan lake volcanoes and the Shiretoko Peninsula. The views from the summit towards the Sea of Okhotsk and Pacific Ocean are awe-inspiring.
The hike: From the massive parking lot, take the trail that starts next to the hut. It cuts through a pine forest before quickly dropping to a gravel forest road! Turn left on the road and follow it for about a half a kilometer. The road hits a dead end, where the actual trail starts. This is where the original hut used to stand before the new one was built. Anyway, turn left into the forest. The path follows a beautiful stream for a short time and you’ll soon reach the first of 12 river crossings. There are rocks that you can step on to make your way across, so there’s no need for special shoes and for getting your feet soaked. However, if it’s been raining recently and the stream is swollen then you’ll definitely get wet on the crossings. Shortly after completing the last crossing you’ll reach a trail junction. You have two options, but I recommend doing this trail as a loop by climbing up the left path and descending via the right path. The path to the left is the Kyuudou (旧道 – old path) and the trail on the right is the Shindou (新道 – new path). The old path is also known as the waterfall route, as it basically climbs past countless waterfalls. Again, if the stream is swollen then you might want to consider avoiding this path. Take a left and you’ll soon reach your first waterfall. There are another half a dozen stream crossings along the way, and plenty of ropes and chains in the tricky sections. Overall it’s not too terribly difficult if you’ve got shoes with good traction. After about an hour of climbing the stream will start to peeter out and you’ll come across a junction. This is where the old and new paths meet to become one trail to the summit. It’s marked with a sign written as Kamifutamata (上二股). There’s a small flat space that has room for one tent and it’s probably the only place to pitch a tent on the entire mountain. Stay to the left for the steep climb up to Uma no sei (馬の背 – the horse’s back) where you’ll find your first view of the summit. Turn left again and climb up the steep peak just in front of you. It should take about 10 minutes to reach the top, where the path will flatten out and you’ll pass a small shrine. Drop down to a saddle just below the summit and climb steeply for another 20 minutes or so before reaching the top of Mt. Shari. The scenery on a clear day is fantastic, with a bird’s eye view of the town of Shari, the Sea of Okhotsk, Mt. Rausu, Kunashiri island, and even out to Mt. Meakan! Retrace your steps all the way back down to Kamifutamata and turn left. The trail is relatively flat at first, passing by a trail branching off to the right. You can either take the right trail that passes by a small pond or continue going straight. Both paths will meet up later on, so take your choice. This area definitely looks like bear country, so use your bear bell if you’ve got it. Shortly after passing the loop trail turnoff, the path will climb up to a mountain pass called Kumami-toge (熊見峠). The scenery is very reminiscent of the Japan Alps, as you pass through an area of brush pine with wonderful views over to the summit. After reaching the pass, the trail drops very steeply back down to the stream. On your way down take a look at the trees lining the path, as their branches have been stained with sweaty by countless hikers grabbing onto them. It’s kind of interesting to see how many hikers have grabbed the tree branch in exactly the same place! You’ll reach the original trail junction in about 30 minutes or so, and turn left again to go back to the forest road you started on. Overall, it’s a 9km round-trip hike that should take you anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on your speed.
When to go: This hike can be done from late June to early October when most of the snow is gone. A winter ascent is also possible with the right equipment and experience. There’s a sign at the trailhead prohibiting hikers from starting after 12 noon, so it’s imperative that you arrive at the trailhead in the morning. It’s a stupid rule that the hut manager does his best to enforce. If you arrive in the afternoon, then you can stay at the concrete bunker known as the Kiyodake hut (清岳荘) for 2000 yen. There are no meals served nor is there any drinking water. You’ll either have to boil and filter the water coming out of the sink or buy expensive bottled water from the hut manager.
Access: From either Kushiro (釧路) or Abashiri (網走) stations, take the JR Senmo Line and get off at Kiyosatocho (清里町). From there, take a taxi to the Mt. Shari trailhead. The station is small and unmanned, so call the Kiyosato taxi company at 01522-5-2538 and they’ll pick you up. The taxi costs roughly 4000 yen. Hitching is pretty difficult because the road is gravel and used only by people climbing Mt. Shari, who usually arrive at the trailhead at unreasonable hours! Hitching from the trailhead, however, is relatively easy.
Live web cam: Click here
Map: Click here
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 857m).