CHAPTER 32: From Snow to Snow

(September 20-21, 2018)

This photo supplement tracks the events in CLIMB: Leaving Safe and Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. The captions offer “extra features” that didn’t make it into the book.

After fabulous climbs on Mt. Shari and Mt. Rausu, I was sad that my time with my guide (and now, friend) Ido had to end–but I was looking forward to my solo climb of Mt. Asahi, and Ido and I still had one final day together, which he’d planned even before he knew how much I loved the sight and sound of water over rock.

We returned to Daisetsuzan National Park, in central Hokkaido, and stopped at Sōunkyo, a 24-kilometer gorge in the mountains along the course of the Ishikari River. The gorge is one of the best places in the world to view columnar jointing, and also has more than half a dozen beautiful waterfalls.

Columnar jointing and a waterfall in Sōunkyo

We hiked to several of the falls, and even saw a bear print on the trail. The bear’s paw was larger than Ido’s hand, and we were both glad the print wasn’t fresh. Near the end of the trail, we stopped for selfies with one of the waterfalls.

With Ido – a great guide and a true friend

From Sōunkyo, we drove to Hagoromo Falls, a 270-meter, seven tiered waterfall that ranks near the top of the list of 100 Best Waterfalls in Japan. The photo below doesn’t really do it justice.

Hagoromo Falls

This trip also made me want to visit all of the top 100 waterfalls in Japan. Life is both short and long…we’ll see how I do. One way or another, I’ll post pictures.

As the sun inched toward the horizon, we left the waterfalls behind and headed for our final destination: Shirakaba-sō, a lodge at the base of Mt. Asahi (2,291 meters), the tallest mountain in Hokkaido and another of the hyakumeizan peaks.

Mt. Asahi, wreathed in clouds

Ido and Hokkaido Nature Tours had one last surprise for me: Takuto, who led my climbs of Tomuraushi and Mt. Meakan, was working the reception desk at Shirakaba-sō that night! He’d worked at the lodge before becoming a full-time guide for Hokkaido Nature Tours, and still filled in from time to time when things got busy. Seeing him made saying goodbye to Ido just a little easier–though Ido and I promised to hike together again (and we’ve kept that promise).


The following morning, I walked to the Asahi Ropeway and rode the gondola to the visitor center where the upper trail begins. It’s possible to climb from the very base of the mountain, but the first part of the climb isn’t that scenic, and since I’m a fan of ropeways, the choice was obvious (in addition, Ido says, we’re here to have fun, and whatever makes it fun is the way we go).

At the visitor center, before the climb. The trail follows the ridge on the right side of the peak.

From the visitor center, the trail winds through a high-altitude plateau filled with seasonal plants. Most of the visitors walk the loop trail out to the crater lake and back, but don’t climb all the way to the summit. The crater lake is right in front of the fumaroles smoking at center frame.


I stopped at the crater lake to take pictures and enjoy the view. From there, I could see the snow on the top of the mountain; it had snowed on Mt. Asahi the night before I arrived–the first snowfall of the year–and although it did accumulate, it wasn’t deep or dangerous enough to impact my climb.

Crater lake, Mt. Asahi

The trail up Mt. Asahi is not too steep, but you do have to watch your step. The guide lines you see in the picture below don’t go all the way to the summit, and they’re not sturdy enough to use as handrails. They’re only there to mark the route, which can be difficult to see near the start of the upper trail because the slope is so rocky.

A nearby sign reads “experienced climbers only.” Yep. Pretty much.

The views from the trail were some of the best I’ve ever seen–before or since.

Daisetsuzan, as seen from Mt. Asahi

Like many Japanese mountains, Asahi has “station markers” at regular intervals, to help climbers track their progress toward the summit. This is the marker at Station Six:

Station 6. The summit is out of sight, behind the climber near the top right of the frame.

Shortly after Station Six, I saw the first snow on the trail. This was a special moment for me, because there was still snow on some of the first mountains I climbed during the #100Summits year (including the one that taught me an early and vital lesson about overcoming fear). Even though winter hadn’t technically started yet–and, in fact, I still had most of Autumn to hike through, too–when I reached the snow on Mt. Asahi, I’d officially climbed “from snow to snow” through all four seasons of the year.

From snow to snow

The snow got deeper as I climbed–deep enough that I wasn’t comfortable stopping to take many photos–but it only took a few minutes longer to reach the summit, and stand on the highest point in Hokkaido.

On top of Hokkaido – at the summit of Mt. Asahi

When I reached the summit, a pair of college-aged Japanese men offered to take my photo with the marker–and then asked me to join their summit photo too! Apparently, they had never seen a foreigner on a summit in Hokkaido, and they thought it was so cool they wanted me to be a part of their summit record. Happy to oblige!

Lunch view on the summit of Mt. Asahi

I found a rock that was mostly clear of snow and ate lunch on the summit. The view was amazing. I didn’t want to leave. The view was snowy in one direction, and in the other, the peaks of Daisetsuzan stretched away toward the horizon. There’s a long-hike trail through those peaks called the Grand Traverse, which I hope to return and climb in the next five years.

Another view from the summit of Mt. Asahi

That night, I spent a second night at Shirakaba-sō before boarding an early bus, and then a train, to Wakkanai, a port on the northernmost tip of Hokkaido–from which you can see Sakhalin Island, in Russia, when the weather’s clear. A storm blew in that afternoon, and as I fell asleep in a hotel near the port, I hoped the weather would clear in time for me to attempt Hokkaido’s northernmost major peak.

I hope you’ll join me for that adventure, by clicking through to Chapter 33: I LOVE RISHIRI. (Link to go live the week of August 14, 2023)

* This page is part of the photo companion to CLIMB: Leaving Safe & Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. You can find the story behind these pictures (in hardback and ebook formats, and either in person or online) at your favorite local bookstore or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble (both in the U.S. and internationally).