Leaving the gear at camp, I strolled leisurely to the summit of Kuro-dake to usher in the new day. A dense layer of cirrostratus prevented the sun from hitting the peaks, but at least the lower cloud bank had stayed in the valley for the time being. After breakfast I broke down camp, strapped on the pack, and headed through a vast valley of snow towards the summit of Mt. Hokkai.
Despite it being early August, the snow pack resembled late spring conditions. Hokkaido doesn’t have an official rainy season to wash away the massive drifts, so in parts of Daisetsuzan the snow remains year round. A few people milled about the summit, including a group I had passed the previous day on the ascent of Mt. Asahi. Instead of the extended leg to Mt. Kuro, they’d taken the direct line from Asahi to this peak, where they’d loop back to the thermal comforts of a nearby hot spring.
I continued along the ridge another hour to Hakuun hut, a rustic structure resembling a giant lunch pail. Since it was still early in the day, the decision was made to traverse a few more hours along the route to the next shelter at Chubetsu. The path extended through a broad marsh-dotted plateau, flanked on the east by a cascade of rolling bluffs that dropped to a sheltered valley framed by a series of rolling hills of tongue-twisty Ainu epithets.
Beware-of-bear signs reminded me to keep my eyes and ears alert through the Takane marshlands, but the mammals kept a low profile in the mid-day heat. The weight of my pack, filled to the brim with a week’s worth of provisions and gear, helped keep my pace moderate. Eventually the A-frame configuration of Chuubetsu hut came into view, marking the end of another calorie-burning day of trekking. I pitched the tent along side two dozen other domes scattered throughout the front yard of the unmanned structure. It was 3pm when I finally pounded the final stake into the dirt. The beams of ultraviolet bounced off the neighboring snowfields, with a distant roll of thunder providing an atmospheric soundtrack. Snow was gathered for melting in the vestibule of my nylon abode while I double-checked the velcro attachment securing the rainy fly to tent frame. Just as the snowmelt came to a boil the heavens opened up, deluging our wilderness playground and sending the mountaineers scurrying for protection.
I cooked dinner and drifted off, serenaded by the shower-curtain chorus of a northern country thunderstorm. Could the change in the weather force me into a zero day?