The ferry rolled into Aomori city in the early hours of a bright and beautiful August morning. As I made my way to the bus terminal, I couldn’t help but notice the unusually busy streets. The posters at the bus stop confirmed my suspicions, as the Nebuta festival was entering its final day. My mission, however, was to leave the throngs of spectators and head to the peaks south of the city for the first leg of my Tohoku Hyakumeizan Tour.
The bus ride was pleasant enough, but the wonderful weather brought out the impatience in me. “Hurry up,” I murmured, as the bus stopped for a bathroom break a mere 10km from Sukayu hot spring. The peaks of Hakkoda rose majestically to my left and I seriously thought about abandoning the bus in favor of hitching. Those last 10km seemed to take an eternity, as I was convinced the summer fog would foil my plans for a summit view. Immediately after pulling into the terminus, I went to work, stashing my huge pack behind the public toilets. Food, water, camera. Check. An extra shirt just in case.
The trail was well-maintained and I soon set a rather brisk pace, traversing through a volcanic gully before arriving at the Sennin-tai emergency hut junction. Round volcanic cones in the richest hues of green rose up from the marshlands in all directions, as the last hints of winter gathered in the form of rabbit-shaped snowfields. The water source here rose up from deep within the earth, forming a small, crystal clear pond of refreshing liquid. I had my fill before setting off for the final slog to the high point of Odake.
After passing a picturesque pond and weaving back and forth between the red pines and Maries’ firs, I reached the high point of Hakkoda, only to be met by crowds of hikers who’d come up from the more popular northern approach. Most hikers avoid the most scenic sections of the peak by opting for the luxury of the gondola, which whisks visitors to within 200 vertical meters of the summit. I was in no mood for dealing with crowds, so instead of exploring the neighboring peak of Akakura, I made a beeline back to Sukayu hot spring, indulging in the gigantic mixed bath that is rumored to hold up to 1000 people. Fortunately, there was hardly a soul in sight when I entered the refreshing waters. A quick glance at the clock knocked me back to reality, as it realized it was high noon and most of the tourists were probably in the neighboring restaurants. Noon? Why on earth didn’t I spend more time exploring the peaks?
I retreated next door for a bowl of noodles and was fortunate enough to sit next to a talkative pair of men who offered me a ride to Hirosaki station. Perhaps I’d even be able to knock off Mt. Iwaki before sunset, whose towering edifice dominates the skyline for miles around. One day into my quest and I was already well ahead of schedule. I vowed to come back to Hakkoda in the winter for some backcountry powder and juhyo (‘ice monster’) viewing.