Mt. Oakan (雄阿寒岳)
Mt. Oakan is a dormant, conical volcano situated on the shores of Lake Akan in Eastern Hokkaido. The panoramic views from the summit are incredible on the rare occasion when the cloud isn’t in.
The hike: The trail starts at the end of a gravel road. Cross over the concrete dam and enter the forest. Don’t forget to register your details in the logbook (and write your finish time when you return as well, or someone may go searching for you). The path follows the edge of Lake Akan for a short time before crossing over a concrete dam. You’ll see a wooden dock on your left. This is a great place to hang out after you’ve finished the hike. Anyway, the path heads towards the right, making its way over to Lake Taro. At one point you’ll reach an unmarked junction with a path going straight or towards the right. Take the right fork which skirts the edge of the lake before climbing back up the other side. After about 10 minutes you’ll reach another junction with a signpost marked for Lake Jiro (次郎湖). You can either take the 2 minute detour down to the lake shore or continue heading straight on the path in front of you. I recommend visiting the lake in the morning, as the lighting is much better. You might be lucky enough to catch the mist clearing off the calm waters. Retrace your steps back to the junction and continue climbing. The path becomes quite steep momentarily, but will flatten out and you’ll soon reach the 1st stagepoint (一合目). The next hour or so of hiking is a monotonous pattern of meandering switchbacks followed by long flat sections. You’ll see a few caves hidden in the moss and rocks. If you kneel on the ground you can feel the frigid air gushing out of the holes. The path starts to become a bit steeper once you reach the 3rd stagepoint (三合目). Continue pushing on until reaching the 4th stagepoint (四合目). Take a break here and fill up on nutrients because things are about to become tough. The next section is the steepest section of the entire hike, and if the horseflies are around, it’ll be the most agonizing. Take it slow and steady and you’ll eventually end up at the 5th stagepoint (五合目). Congratulate yourself, as you’re actually 80% of the way there. If the weather is good then you’ll see your first views down to Lake Akan. From here the trail climbs for a few more minutes before descending down to a long saddle. Your legs will appreciate the respite, but rest assured, you’ll start climbing again momentarily. The next section of the route involves another set of switchbacks, with each turn offering a better view of the lake below. If you’re really lucky then you’ll also be able to see Mt. Meakan and Akan-fuji rising up on the other side of the lake. The alpine flowers will steadily increase in number as well. After a relatively gentle climb, you’ll reach the 8th stagepoint (八合目). There’s an old foundation of a weather monitoring station here which would make for a great campsite if there were only a water source and toilets. From the 8th stage to the summit it’s a series of ups and downs. Just before the 9th stagepoint you should get your first view of the crater rim. Unlike its active neighbor to the south, Mt. Oakan’s crater is filled with grass and trees, but you could easily imagine what life must’ve been like on the peak millions of years ago. Anyway, there’s one final drop followed by a short, steep climb and you’ll reach the rocky summit. Again, if the cloud isn’t in you’ll have unobstructed views in all directions. Unfortunately it was one white, misty mess when I climbed, but click here to see the views in good weather. After a well-deserved break on the top, retrace your steps all the way back to the trailhead, taking care not to frighten any bears on the way down. There are quite a few in this area, so consider bringing a bell or bear spray.
When to go: This hike can be done from May to October, when most of the snow is gone. A winter hiking is a serious challenge and should only be attempted by those with the equipment and experience to do so.
Access: There’s no public transport to the trailhead, so you’ll either have to walk the 4km on route 240 or take a taxi. Alternatively, if you’re staying at a minshuku at Lake Akan then they might be able to give you a lift to the trailhead. Hitching is quite possible as well.
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~920m)
Distance: 12.5km (5 to 7 hours)