Mt. Tarumae (樽前山）
Mt. Tarumae is an active volcano located on the shores of Lake Shikotsu in Western Hokkaido. In addition to the outstanding views of the lake below, the mountain offers a rare chance to view an unstable lava dome.
The hike: There’s a toilet and a small hut at the trailhead, but no water to speak of, so make sure you fill up before leaving Lake Shikotsu. The trail immediately starts gaining altitude, but the going is made easier with an endless array of wooden steps. You’ll reach a small clearing after 10 minutes or so, where the views will start to open up. You’ll see Lake Shikotsu directly behind you and Mt. Fuppushi rising steeply on your right. Directly in front of you lies the conical peak of Mt. Tarumae. The trail cuts a beeline directly across the eastern flank of the volcano, similar to what occurs on the trail up Mt. Asama in Nagano Prefecture. The trail is well-maintained and is suffering a bit from overuse, so it’s almost impossible to get lost. You’ll reach the crater rim in about a half an hour or so, where you’ll find a junction. Turn right for Higashi-dake (東岳), the high point of the crater. The views towards the lake below are spectacular, and on a clear day you can see Mt. Yotei rising gracefully in the distance. If you’ve got time, then you can circumnavigate the entire crater rim in about 2 hours or so. Just follow the trail around towards Nishi-dake (西岳). Whatever you do, don’t enter the caldera to get a look at the gigantic smoldering lava dome, as the gases will likely kill you. The lava dome has been growing steadily since 1909 and is now taller than the crater itself. This is an extremely active volcano with a long history of powerful eruptions and is currently under 24 hour surveillance by the Japan Meteorological Agency. When you’ve seen enough then you can simply retrace your steps back to the parking lot. If you’re looking for a more challenging hike away from the crowds, then you can consider climbing neighboring Mt. Fuppushi. There’s a trail to the summit on the other side of the parking lot. It should take about 3 to 4 hours to reach the top, where the views are outstanding. Make sure you bring a bear bell and/or bear repellent as the col between Tarumae and Fuppushi is a popular hangout for brown bears.
When to go: This hike can be done from mid April to late November, when most of the snow is gone. A mid-winter ascent is also possible for those with winter mountaineering experience and equipment, but you’ve got a much longer approach since the road to the trailhead will be closed.
Access: The start of the hike is only accessible by private transport. You can get as far as Shikotsu-kohan by bus, from where you can hire a taxi for the 3000 yen journey to the trailhead. Click here for the bus schedule from Sapporo to Lake Shikotsu. The number for the taxi company is 0123-25-2111. Just tell them you want to go to Tarumae-tozanguchi. You can also try your luck hitching by walking out to the main road just above the parking lot at Shikotsu-kohan.
Map: Click here
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change 363m).