Mt. Apoi (アポイ岳)
Mt. Apoi is a treasure trove of alpine flowers and unique geological phenomena. The panoramic views in sunny weather make the effort to get there all worthwhile.
The hike: The trailhead starts just to the right of Mt. Apoi Geo Park Visitor’s Center. The center itself is a good place to look around if you’ve got some extra time, as the bi-lingual displays are very informative. Anyway, take the gravel road that leads up to the trailhead. Follow the signs that say アポイ岳 and you should be ok. Just after crossing a concrete bridge, the road will turn into the trail proper, and you’ll soon reach your first trail marker for the 1st stagepoint (一合目). There are 9 stagepoints between here and the summit, and they’re a good way to pace yourself. The trail climbs gently for a while until reaching the second stagepoint (二合目). Halfway between the stagepoints you’ll come across a cylindrical metal canister hanging from a tree on the right side of the trail. This is a bell you can ring to scare away bears (and any other wildlife). Be warned: the bell is extremely loud and wouldn’t sound out of place in a Japanese temple. Just past the second stagepoint, you’ll find an area of downed trees. I’m not sure what brought those trees down, but it must’ve been a powerful storm. Soon after, the trail will cross a small stream. Take a break on the benches here, because the real climb is about to begin. From here to the 5th stagepoint (五合目) it’s a steady, somewhat steep climb. At the 5th stagepoint, you’ll find an emergency hut, as well as your first views of the target peak. Just down from the hut, you’ll find an interesting tent that has been set up as a makeshift toilet. You’re required to pack out your poop in order not to damage the delicate ecosystem. Take a peek inside the tent to check out the set-up. From here to the summit, the trail leaves the forest and enters the alpine zone, with lots of unique flowers and creeping pine. It’s hard to believe that you’re only 500 meters above sea level, but that’s what makes Mt. Apoi so intriguing. In sunny weather the lack of shade can be brutal, so wear a hat and don’t forget your sunscreen. The trail climbs steeply from the emergency hut, passing through some rock formations that are home to poisonous pit vipers, so be careful where you tread. Just beyond the 7th stagepoint (七合目), you’ll reach the ridgeline, where the views will really start to open up. Just in front of you, along the knife edge ridge, lies the peak of Mt. Apoi. To the left of that are more peaks in the Hidaka mountains. If the weather is really clear, then you can see as far as the Daisetsuzan mountains. Behind you, you can trace the coastline back towards Tomakomai. Continue climbing on the rocky, undulating ridge until reaching a junction. Take the left fork marked 山頂へ. (Ignore the right fork, as you’ll use this trail on the return). From here to the top it is a relentless climb with wonderful views. Take it snow and steady and don’t forget to look back to check your progress (and to get those wonderful ocean views). Eventually you’ll reach a birch forest that marks the summit of Mt. Apoi. That’s right, you re-enter the tree line at the top of the peak. There are no views to speak of on the summit, but if you follow the trail towards Mt. Yoshida (吉田岳) for a few minutes you’ll see some views between the trees. If you’re fast and don’t take many breaks, you can reach the summit in only 2 hours. Most people take 2-1/2 to 3 hours however. After sufficient rest, instead of heading back down the knife edge ridge, take the trail that is marked 幌満登山口. The path follows the ridge for about 20 minutes until reaching a junction with an English signboard explaining about the Horoman Flower Fields. Turn right here, on the trail marked アポイ公園登山口. The trail is narrow and loops through the forest back to the main ridge trail you took earlier. Once you reach the main trail again, head straight and back the way you came, all the way to the trailhead.
When to go: This hike can be done year round, but be prepared for some snow in winter. The alpine flowers hit their peak in June, and mid-summer can be hot on the peak (especially on sunny days). Stay on the trail unless you want to be infested with ticks, who make their home in the dense undergrowth of the forest. The mountain is a also magnet for fog rolling in off the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean, so consider yourself lucky if you get views.
Access: From Tomakomai (苫小牧) station, take a local train on the JR Hidaka Line (日高線) bound for Samani (様似) and get off at the final stop. The train takes nearly 3-1/2 hours, so make sure you check the train schedule before setting off. The 8am train will get you to Samani at 11:16am. From there, change to a JR bus bound for either Hiroo (広尾) or Misaki Shogakko (岬小学校) and get off at Apoi Tozanguchi (アポイ登山口). Click here for the bus schedule. Another option would be to book accommodation at Apoi-Sanso (アポイ山荘). They will pick you up from Samani station if you call ahead. Apoi-Sanso is a great place to stay, with a relaxing hot-spring bath and tasty food. There’s also a campground near the trailhead for budget-conscious mountaineers.
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 810m)
Distance: 9.5km (4 to 7 hours round-trip)
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