Mt. Poroshiri (幌尻岳)
Mt. Poroshiri is one of the best hikes in Hokkaido, if not Japan. Buried deep within the Hidaka mountain range, the peak offers awe-inspiring alpine scenery, unspoilt panoramic views, and a thrilling traverse through a swift flowing river.
The hike: There’s a stinky toilet at the parking lot, but not much else. The trail starts at the end of the parking lot, and quickly joins a gravel forest road. Hike along the forest road for 5km until reaching the terminus. There’s a concrete dam here and some kind of concrete building. Directly behind the building there’s an excellent place to camp, with nice grass and room for 2 or 3 tents. From the dam, it’s another 4km or so to Poroshiri hut (幌尻山荘). The trail starts off flat, and you’ll quickly reach a point where the trail climbs very, very steeply up the hillside. It’s a near vertical ascent, and you’ll see a lot of ropes. Luckily, there’s no reason to climb up here, as there’s an alternative route to your right, along the river. Climb up the rocks and traverse a small ledge, using the chains to help you through. This is the most treacherous part of the traverse, and be especially careful climbing down the rocks on the return trip. After passing this point, it’s pretty smooth sailing, and you’ll reach your first river crossing in a few minutes. The original trail used to stay on the left side of the river and only had about 15 crossings, but erosion over time has led to an increase in the number of crossings. Every year the number and extent of the crossings are different, and I can imagine a point in the future where the river crossings would start at the dam. Anyway, change into sandals, wetsuit booties, or any other alternative footwear you’ve brought along. The first 2 river crossings are very quick, and then there’s nothing for about 1km or so. There are lots of points where the trail climbs steeply on the left bank of the river, but in every case there’s a much easier traverse right next to the water. After your 6th river crossing you’ll come across a large waterfall on your left. The next 2 river crossings are quite deep, so be careful in this section. Between crossings 18 and 19 you’ll find a deep pool, which makes for a wonderful place to go for a swim (if you can stand the frigid waters, that is). After this pool you’re pretty much home free, as you’ve only got a few more crossings. The last crossing is just before you reach the hut. Drop your pack and check-in for the night. There are 2 different caretakers who alternate shifts. I’m told one of them is really kind and friendly, but the other one is not very friendly at all. It’ll costs 1500 yen to stay for the night (bring your own food and sleeping bag). Alternatively, there are a few places to pitch your tent, but it’ll also cost you 1500 yen to camp! There’s plenty of drinking water as well as a few toilets. You have to stow your backpacks in a small room under the hut during the busy season. The next day, take the trail that goes past the drinking water and start climbing up and up. It’s a 1100m vertical climb through virgin forest. The maps say to allow 4 hours to reach the summit, but you can easily do it in half the time if you’ve got a light pack and are fit. There’s a water source a short distance from the ridgeline, but it might be better to fill up at the hut, as the water is more reliable. Keep slogging along, and the views will start opening up. You’ll see Mt. Tottabetsu (トッタベツ岳) rising steeply to your left, and the summit of Poroshiri directly across from you on the left side as well, with a large col between you and it. The trail continues along the exposed ridgeline. If you’re lucky you can see Mt. Yotei rising up in the distance on your right. About an hour after reaching the ridgeline, you’ll be on top of the summit, taking in the awesome panoramic views. I can’t even begin to describe the scenery on a clear day, but imagine looking in all directions and finding no sign of human activity anywhere (no dams, electrical towers, or cedar forests – just row upon row of mountains!) From the summit, you can either retrace your steps back to the hut, or continue on the trail for the 1 hour climb to Mt. Tottabetsu. You’ll drop down to a col and then climb up to the summit, where there’s a nice view back towards Poroshiri. Keep trudging along the ridgeline for another 20 minutes or so until reaching a trail junction on your left. You’ll see a big red arrow spray-painted on the rocks with the kanji for Sanso (山荘), so take a left here. This trail isn’t used much but it’s relatively easy to follow until you get into the forest. Once you’re in the forest there’s a lot of bamboo grass that may or may not be overgrown when you go. I was unlucky and it was like swimming through a river of grass! I got completely soaked from head to toe and it was very difficult to see. Eventually the trail will spit you out in the river, which you can follow back to the hut. From the hut, you can retrace your steps back to the forest road and parking lot. It’s also possible to do a full-length traverse of the entire Hidaka mountain range. To do this, don’t turn left off the ridge line at the junction, but keep going straight towards Mt. Kita-Tottabetsu. You’ll have to camp at least one more night on the mountain, but if the weather’s good then it’ll be an investment well-made.
When to go: Poroshiri hut is open from July 1st to Sept. 30th, so this is the best season to attempt the hike. Whatever you do, do not attempt this hike if it’s been raining and the river is swollen. Every year people drown in the river, as there are 23 river crossings before reaching the hut.
Access: Unfortunately, you’ll need your own transport in order to make it to the trailhead. Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the ‘village’ of Furenai (振内), which lies on highway 237 between BIratori (平取) and Hidaka (日高) or you could try to hitch. I was lucky enough to hitch from the town of Tokachi-shimizu (十勝清水) all the way to the trailhead, but it was a weekend at the height of the climbing season. For the bus schedule from Sapporo to Furenai, click here. For the bus schedule from Tomakomai to Furenai, click here. The phone number for the Furenai taxi company is 01457-3-3021.
Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1552m).