By Raphael Seccombe
As part of a class trip, on October 9, a few friends and I hiked up Iwaonupuri en route to Nisekoannupuri. We were planning to ascend from the west side and continue down Iwaonupuri’s eastern slope before starting up Nisekoannupuri itself. Although ultimately we did not complete the journey, we were able to enjoy the climb instead of its reward.
The day started off rather clear, and so did the trail. A few rocks adorned the pathways at the sides, aiding the steepening climb. Since it had been raining the day before, a small stream of water trickled down the trail, dampening its centre and making it slightly muddy. Trees hung their red and brown leaves over our heads. The beauty of nature was apparent in our surroundings, even before we had conquered the summit to survey its acclaimed view.
After much steady climbing in this manner, with the thin line of flowing water growing slightly as we moved higher, we reached the summit of Iwaonupuri. It was a mostly cloudless day, and we could see all the way down into the tree-covered valley between us and our next destination. The trees were relentless in their expansion, covering the slopes of the mountains around us as far as the eye could see. It was a majestic view.
As we sat on the rocks that marked the summit and ate our lunch, the clouds moved above us and a weak rain started to drizzle down. The raincoats we had brought sufficed to protect us, but the descending path was a completely different matter. The way down Iwaonupuri and onto the saddle that connected the two mountains was a slippery mix of mud and wet grass. I tried to keep myself dry, but before I was halfway down I had slipped countless times and my backpack became splattered in brown.
As we reached the bottom of the slope, the rain started to clear, although a thin fog remained. The ground beneath our shoes changed from grass and rocks into pebbles. They were yellowish-white in colour, and reminded me of a beach. A small river ran through the path, cutting a line in the scattered layout of the stones. The smell of sulfur became apparent in the air.
Now came a rise again, and we found ourselves climbing up the hard steep side of Nisekoannupuri. The rocks here were rugged and worn, but still rough, and possessed painted red arrows in some places that showed us the correct way up. Towards the top, the climb became steeper and steeper, slowing our progress. My friends and I stopped for a rest part of the way up, and turned around to look at the view behind our backs. We could see the trail we had walked up on, the small beach-like saddle, and Iwaonupuri towering above them. It was a rewarding view, but we knew that the view from the summit would be better.
It was at the moment that the cutting news reached us. The group above mine, also part of my class, had decided to turn back because it was too cold. Their decision affected the rest of us, and so my whole class had to turn back. The grand view which we had anticipated, and seen but a small part of in the moments beforehand, was now out of reach. We had to turn our faces downwards and continue back towards camp.
We took another route back, which went down to the saddle and then descended southwards, creating a shorter route back to our base. The journey, though not as good compared to what we had expected to see as the climax of our hike, was nonetheless cooling and refreshing. The rain that had obscured the sky previously had passed to reveal a fresh sky with few clouds. We passed through a forest, scattered foliage above us protecting us from the mid-afternoon sun and cooling the hot air. The winding, flat path was refreshing, in a sense, after the steep climbs of the morning.
Aside from the fact that we could not complete our journey to the summit of Nisekoannupuri, I enjoyed our trip. It was challenging, especially when it was steep, but most definitely rewarding. The rocky beginning, the grassy descent, the pebbly beach, and the tough climb up the second mountain threw aside all doubts about lack of variety.
The campsite which we stayed at for the night was also very good. There was adequate space for a large number of campers with no concerns about overcrowding. There was a waterhouse, like they have in many Japanese campsites, and an onsen barely 2 minutes away on foot. There were also picnic benches available for meals. The campsite well provided the necessities for camping.
I would recommend this hike and campsite for all planning to visit Niseko. It is an enjoyable, refreshing location, and provided that the weather cooperates, is a guaranteed worthwhile trip.
For us, though, the weather was not helpful, and our hard climbing did not pay off in the way we had expected it to. On the other hand, the climb and journey for my friends and certainly for me was the main part of our hike. Aside from the view we took in at Iwaonnupuri, the journey played a stronger part than the destination.