As soon as I saw the airline was having a sale, I decided to go to Hokkaido. All longing to climb there, we were more organized in our planning than any past job, and the itinerary soon took shape.
In mid-May, I arrived in Hokkaido ahead of the group and spent two days hiking trails in eastern Hokkaido. Despite going on a climbing trip the next day, I rented shoes at a climbing gym in Kushiro and started climbing. Unable to contain my excitement, I couldn’t keep still so decided to go and get my shoulder blades some action.
A staff member, perhaps amused by my climbing in my rental shoes, gave me a shout. Apparently he is called “Torakiyo,” and used to work at a gym in the Kanto area. Hearing recommendations for the boulder field we were going the next day perfectly set the scene for the trip that was about to begin. Thanks Torakiyo!
Three days later, I am driving down a straight road, typical of Hokkaido. With my friends who have joined me, and the shoes and crash pad I had sent up, our goal is the “Akaiwa Seigankyo” in Shimukappu.
With the help of a map, we arrived at the roadside station in Shimukappu. The parking lot was large for the building and had a large thermometer showing the minimum temperature. As I parked my car in the parking lot and walked around, someone suddenly called out my name. It’s Torakiyo!
There is nothing more reassuring than going to a rocky spot for the first time and being in the company of local climbers. The road to Akaiwa was marked as closed due to a landslide. If it had been just us, we might have turned back there and then. Instead, we passed by the sign and entered the mountain.
After exiting the tunnel, a red rock wall that lived up to its name suddenly loomed up in front of us. Just as the local climbers say, “Hokkaido climbers don’t walk,” the access to the rocks is surprisingly good. Three steps from the road and you can touch the rock. It is closer than the bathroom from my bed.
The parking lot has well-maintained restrooms, hinting at a high awareness of the local climbing culture.
Torakiyo and his pals take us for a tour around the boulder spot. Akaiwa-Seigankyo is a group of chert rocks stretching from the mountain side to the riverbank. Many of these rocks have an uncommonly beautiful red color.
The crew point out their top problems, and it looks like 2 days will not be enough. After giving us the skinny, I am provided with a bear bell. This is Hokkaido after all, where it’s common to hear of unlucky encounters with bears at boulders nearby. I’d love to witness one of these beasts from afar, but definitely not up close, rather like an ex-lover with who you had a messy break up.
We enjoy a session attempting their chosen problems till everyone is exhausted, and then head to “Matsunoyu”’, Biei’s only public bath. When it comes to public baths, I usually end up going to sento (as opposed to hot springs) as they allow tattoos. Matsunoyu is a wonderful public bath loved by locals and has a sauna – just the ticket for climbers like us to heal our aching bodies.
The next day, we opened the map and headed down along the river. The topographic map for Akaiwa-Seigankyo was only released a year ago in the spring of 2022. It is published by the local community, and 10% of the proceeds are donated to rock cleanup efforts. The existence of this topographic map was certainly helpful in deciding on this destination. On this final day too, everyone climbed till they were completely pooped.
We wash our hands in the river and brush off the chalk on the rocks.
I’ll be back to take on the problems I couldn’t fit in this time, as well as the countless others that I haven’t even discovered yet. Definitely want to avoid bears but am up for meeting Torakiyo again!