About this time last year I did a trip to one of Hokkaido’s great peaks – Mt. Ashibetsu. This hike has one of my favorite huts—beautiful stone, simple and rustic, which is what I love about huts in Hokkaido. Inside there’s a dirt floor with a raised wooden area on which to sleep, and that’s about it.
I break this hike into three days. Day one, getting to the hut; day two doing the trail loop from left of the hut up along the ridge track to the peak, then back down the trail to the hut where you spend another night. Day three you hike out.
I woke up on the third day feeling a bit sore from the tough hiking (and the hard sake) the day before. The morning was warming up as the sun was peeking its head over the tree tops and the birds were in full voice. Once I got my act together, I started hiking back to the trailhead and my car. It was a nice hike.
The trail follows the river and there are many river crossings, plus a few tricky parts. About an hour out the trail leaves the river and heads up the bank, taking a route along high rocks, then heads inland for a while before making its way back to the river.
I was hiking the trail high above the river when everything suddenly went wrong. My head not being clear, and not really paying attention to what I was doing, I suddenly felt the trail (and my legs) give way underneath me. Suddenly I found myself sliding down the rocky bank towards the riverbed (My fatal last words on earth would have been ‘S-H-I-T!’).
I hit the river bed hard (carrying a heavy backpack didn’t help). A bit shaken, but not stirred, I shook myself off and checked the situation. There was no way I was getting back up to the trail, but I knew it looped back to the river a few kilometers down.
I wasn’t keen on hiking down this section of the river, since the trail leaves the river for a good reason—a waterfall. To cut the story short, I made it down the waterfall (another tale in itself). Once down, I was still on the river bed, making my way along the river and thinking nothing else could happen to me, when I turned around a bend and suddenly, right in front of me, head down and back to me looking for something under a rock in the river, was a bear! A Hokkaido brown bear!
I didn’t move a muscle. I don’t even think I blinked. I thought about taking a photo, but my body was saying, “Don’t move, don’t you move, boy!” It must have been 10 or 20 seconds, but it seemed like hours. Then the bear suddenly turned its head, looked at me, and took off as fast as it could go. As quick as it happened it was over. What a day. I just wanted to get back to my car, as I was sure nothing else could happen. Or could it?
Pig Tip: The two-hour trail to the hut follows the river, so be aware and careful when it rains, because the river can get very high and cut you off, sometimes for days. Check Lonely Planet’s Hiking in Japan for more details on the hike and the hut. Word from The Pig.