For most people, March and April is spring. Spring in Japan means welcoming cherry blossoms and warm weather, and it is time to start looking for your shorts. For us in Hokkaido, however, that doesn’t happen until mid-May.
March in Hokkaido is still very much winter—without all the powder. But it’s still a good time to hit the slopes minus the crowds of tourists who have invaded Hokkaido’s popular ski resorts lately. For The Pig, April is a great time to head into the hills and mountains and get away from it all. Unlike the full-on winter months, the spring snow is very compact and can be walked on without the aid of skis or snowshoes, which makes getting around a lot easier.
Don’t get me wrong; I love heading into the backcountry in mid-winter, tearing my way through deep powder and working up a good sweat, but the April conditions are a nice change. If you are thinking about heading up this way to do some hiking at this time of year, you need to be aware of a few things, so here a couple of tips from The Pig:
. To start with, if you are hiking in Hokkaido, think as if it is mid-winter and take the right clothing and footwear. For example, high ankle hiking boots—not hiking shoes—and gaiters are a must. The snow is compact, but you can still end up sinking to your knees in places. I still take my snowshoes with me; they’ve come in handy more than once.
. The weather can change a lot as well. You can get some very warm summer-like days, which can lead you into a false sense of security, especially at the start of your hike. This leads some people to put on shorts and leave warmer clothing behind and, just like that, as you are on your way up or at the peak, a cold winter wind picks up and life gets very uncomfortable.
. Always take a map and compass. The summer hiking routes are still covered in snow, so there is isn’t a trail to follow, and you can lose your way.
. I never camp out at this time of year because of the bears. They are often waking from their winter sleep and are not in a very good mood, so they can be a lot more of a problem then usual. I prefer to use huts.
Enjoy spring and be safe out there. Word from The Pig.