The threatening skies during my ascent of Mt. Shari held off until boarding the train to Mashu, where the rain fell in great sheets. At the station, I learned that the last bus to Lake Akan left just 5 minutes prior to my arrival: perhaps a deliberate ploy by the taxi companies? The rain eliminated any chance of catching a ride along route 241, so I took a deep breath and jumped in an overpriced cab bound for Lake Akan. Such is the life of a hiker on a tight schedule and too much persistence.
The next morning brought drier skies as I boarded the first bus to the trailhead. The youth hostel was completely booked, leaving the kokumin-shukusha next door as the only other option. I booked a room, dropped off my heavy pack, and climbed past the signs warning of volcanic gases.
I quickly overtook a young, solo, French hiker who spoke pretty decent Japanese. Well ahead of schedule, I slowed my pace and appreciated the rare companionship. It was her first active volcano and my 15th or so, but we both stood in awe upon reaching the gigantic crater rim. Even though the clouds were hovering around the crater edges, we could stare straight down into the mouth of a hissing, smoldering monster. Little did we know that the behemoth would let out a belch precisely 3 months after our adventurous visit. The power of nature.
The clouds engulfed us as we circumnavigated the ‘safe’ side of the rim, cutting off our views of the small crater lakes below. Akan-fuji was completely hidden from view, so we ignored the spur and dropped into a beautiful pristine forest, arriving at Onetto campground with a little time to spare before the last bus. In the meantime, we opted for the short side trip to Yu-no-taki, a hot spring waterfall. While the waterfall was somewhat scenic, the free open-air bath had been completely dismantled, robbing us of a refreshing soak.
Defeated, we retraced our steps, bidding farewell at the bus stop. It was now around 4pm and the late afternoon sun was sinking much too quickly for my liking, as I still needed to make it back to Nonaka. Fortunately the trail was well-marked but utterly deserted. It was here that fear start to set in, as the forest surrounding Lake Onetto are a feeding ground for Japanese grizzlies. And here I was, caught without a bear bell or spray around the time when the noctural creatures start to emerge from their afternoon slumber. I advanced into the forest, making as much noise as possible in order to scare away the potential predators.
By sheer luck, the creatures never surfaced and I was able to be reunited with my waiting backpack. The baths at my hotel were definitely some of the best in Hokkaido, if not Japan. Peak #94 was over and done, but I still faced the most difficult hurdle in my quest: mighty Poroshiri.