23-Sep-2003 -- We've been waiting all summer to make a second attempt on this point. We knew it wouldn't be easy, but the weather was starting to turn cold, and it was our last chance to give it a go. Mitch and I had a much more get-down-to-business attitude this time and we took along a hardcore outdoorsman, Rob Davis, who's also a Hokkaido raft guide originally from Olympia, Washington. The girls didn't come this time.
This was to be multi-transport trip, with fold-up bicycles being one of the keys to our success. Fold-up bikes are an everyday phenomenon around Japan. They are small-wheeled commuter bikes that can be folded up and taken on buses (see picture). Mitch got together three of the bikes, one called 'Captain Stag', and with Rob, we lugged them on one of the first AM subways to Makomanai, south of Sapporo.
The Tuesday holiday, dedicated to the autumnal equinox, had fortunately turned out to be a beautiful sunny day. In Makomanai, we lugged the bikes onto a bus to Josanke, the onsen (hot springs) resort town, closest to the point. At about 9 AM we had unfolded our bikes and were headed off. By chance, as we were cycling out of Josanke, we ran into our friend Emi walking her dog. Emi and her family run a nice hot springs hotel there called Yamato-Sanso (firstname.lastname@example.org). It's probably the closest hot springs resort to the confluence.
Now we were on our way up 11 kilometers of road, and it was almost all uphill, which is not exactly easy on these little commuter bikes. This road is very lightly traveled, has no buses, and would be difficult for hitchhiking. Last time we rented a car, but because none of us have Japanese driver's licenses, fold-up bikes seemed like the only solution.
After we were almost ¾ of the way up, Mitch realized he didn't have any cell phone reception which he needed to communicate with a school where he teaches English. He went back down as Rob an I continued up to the end of the road. Rob and I finally made it up to the strange industrial area at the end of the road. Last time I mentioned that the area might be a water purification plant, but I have since found out from some of my older students that it's a zinc, lead and iron mine that used to mine gold.
Finally, an exhausted Mitch made it back having communicated successfully, but it was now already 11:30 AM and we knew the hike would take a long time. A miner with a headlamp hat stopped us and almost didn't let us continue, but we assured him we had maps and knew what we were doing.
So, now 4 km, as the crow flies to the confluence, we headed up through the first part of the journey which is a vegetated trail we found on our June exploration. After about half an hour it leads down to the stream. From that point we were confined to walking in the stream.
The stream was colder now than it was last June, and I lost almost all sensation in my feet even though I wore fleece socks inside my Tevas. Mitch has great circulation, and Rob is used to cold water from being a raft guide. Nevertheless, they also had a little numbness.
We were slightly worried about bears in this remote region. They have attacked and killed some hikers in Hokkaido. Mitch took along a bell, which turned out to be pretty inaudible next to the running stream. But we kind of kept our voices up, yelling things to each other and singing songs so bears would hear us in advance and not be surprised. I don't think the bears really appreciated us singing 'Porno for Pyros'.
There were a few small waterfalls we had to climb up. When the stream forked, we took tributaries that seemed to be most in the direction of the confluence. Except for the first fork, it seemed like the largest tributary always led in the direction of the confluence.
The hill got steeper, and the water got less and less until it was like a trickle through muddy, marshy areas. The surrounding vegetation began to encroach and cover the stream. In some parts it became really messy and frustrating tearing our way through the dry, tangled plant limbs.
As we closed in on the confluence we came across some marshy areas with broad leaf plants whose leaves seemed to all be trampled to the ground. We wondered whether this could have been from bears, or perhaps they had just died and collapsed from the cold of the season.
Finally, the tributaries seemed to lead us right up to the confluence which was really lucky because the vegetation was extremely thick everywhere else. It had really been a tiring hike, slipping on stream stones, climbing and penetrating vegetation. We documented the confluence, took pictures and celebrated.
But we didn't have much time now. The hike had taken 4 hours and now it was already 4 PM. We knew we would have to hike back in the dark.
As we hiked back I was pretty sure I heard a grunt from an animal (possibly a bear), but we didn't hear it again. At about 6 PM it started to get really dark. Fortunately we had head-lamps, but walking through the stream was difficult because you couldn't anticipate where to put your foot down.
We made it back to our bikes in about 3 ½ hours. Then it was an almost all downhill ride back with nothing but three headlamps comically whirring through the pitch black of the night.
After 8 hours of being continuously numb, my toes never completely regained sensation. I may always have some lack of sensation which will make it hard to forget this confluence!
We met Emi back in Josanke and had a nice soak in her family's onsen, which really thawed everyone out. This confluence was a lot of tough stream walking, but I think we all felt it had been a fun adventure overall.