Date: 17th September 2019
Continuing my Daisetsuzan adventure, today I headed to Sounkyo (層雲峡), an onsen town which is a popular starting point for the hike to Kurodake (黒岳) thanks to the Kurodake Ropeway and chairlift which takes visitors up to 1,520m, making this hike easily accessible to even beginner hikers. At the height of 1,984m, Kurodake’s summit can be reached in 1.5 hours from the 7th station, where the top of the chairlift station is.
I started the day later than intended, thinking that I should be able to hike back down before sunset since the roundtrip hike is supposed to be shorter than Asahidake. After arriving at Sounkyo Onsen’s bus stop, I left my luggage at the bus office (note that there are lockers here or if you are unable to fit your luggage into the locker, the staff can look after your luggage if you return by 5 p.m). I soon headed for the ropeway station which was a 5 minutes walk away.
There was a bit of a queue at the ropeway and photo-taking in the crowded cable car was not an option. After the 7-min ride, I was at the 5th Station (1,300m). There is a restaurant and a shop at the 5th Station, aside from the usual observation deck. For those not intending to go further, there are quite a number of things to do around the 5th station – a rock garden of alpine plants blooming between early June to mid August, a museum exhibiting photographs of fauna and flora of Daisetsuzan throughout the seasons, and few other observation points. As I was in a bit of a hurry, I skipped all these and headed for the chairlift station, which is a roughly 10-mins walk from the 5th station. It is possible to start the hike at the 5th station as well if you are not keen on cutting the hike short by taking the chairlift.
The chairlift takes you to the 7th station in a 15-mins ride which was pretty long in my opinion. At the top of the 7th station, you have the option of going on the KAMUI forest trail, which takes only 30 minutes round-trip. This allows even those not intending to hike to the summit to enjoy the scenery around Kurodake and the trail also offers a view of the Amaryo Waterfall. The start of the trail to Kurodake’s summit is just beyond the lodge where you need to fill in your hiking plan and details before starting the hike.
The trail mostly consisted of rocky trails and dirt trails assisted by wooden planks or wood logs. It was muddy almost throughout thanks to the showers earlier that morning. I was glad that the weather cleared as the view of the surrounding mountains during the hike was spectacular. It was clear that autumn has arrived, even if it wasn’t at its peak yet. The sun occasionally reveals itself among the clouds, so I had some opportunities of capturing some shots of autumnal leaves basked in the sun. At the 9th station, you will notice the Maneki-iwa (beckoning rocks) jutting out, signalling that you are approaching the summit.
Finally arriving at the summit, I was delighted to see the landscape of mountains before me, dyed in hues of green, yellow, orange and red. There were also some snow patches around the mountains.
The clouds had rolled in by then and I had my now-cold mini burger from Lawson as I waited for the sun to reappear. It was really cold up on the summit, I wish I had brought gloves instead of envying the guy who brought a stove to cook noodles. From the summit, it is possible to continue the hike towards Ohachidaira Caldera and its surrounding peaks. I remember meeting a hiker on my way down from Asahidake the day before, who hiked from Kurodake.
The wind grew pretty strong now and then, making the cold unbearable for me (even in my down jacket), so I decided to hike back down after spending nearly 30 minutes on top of the summit. I hate descending on rocky trails especially since it’s hard of my feet. Probably since it was a little late by the time I was descending, there were barely anyone heading up anymore. I had initially intended to walk the 30-minutes Kamui trail at the 7th station, but my feet were hurting at that point so I couldn’t be bothered anymore.
Kurodake can be enjoyed throughout the seasons:
- Spring in June: The chishima-zakura cherry blossoms comes into full bloom from late May to early June. There will still be snow on Kurodake at that time, serving as a perfect backdrop for the beautiful blossoms. Other spring flowers include the yellow rhododendron, the wedgeleaf primrose, and the miyamakimbai.
- Summer in July and August: Summer marks the start of the hiking season and some other alpine flowers bloom in this season e.g. the weigela middendorffiana and the aleutian avens. Stargazing is also popular in summer and there is a high chance of seeing the seas clouds in the early morning during the beginning of summer.
- Autumn in September and October: The leaves in Kurodake starts to turn from the summit as early as early September and slowly moves down to Sounkyo Onsen where it sees its best colours in October.
- Winter from November to May: The winter in Kurodake is long and this is when the ski slopes are open for snowshoeing and skiing.
If you are lucky, you might also have the chance to see some wild animals in Kurodake such as the Hokkaido sika deer, pika, chipmunks, and the Ezo red fox.
- Cable car and chairlift rates:
- Cable car: Round-trip 2,400 yen, One-way 1,400 yen
- Chairlift: Round-trip 800 yen, One-way 600 yen
- Cable car and chairlift combination ticket: Round-trip 3,000 yen, One-way 1,900 yen
- Operating hours for cable car and chairlift:
- Cable car (runs every 20 minutes)
- December 1st to March 31st: 08:00 – 16:00
- April 1st to May 31st: 08:00 – 16:30
- June 1st to September 30th: 06:00 – 18:00
- October 1st to October 14th: 06:00 – 17:00
- October 15th to November 30th: 08:00 – 16:30
- October 15th to May 31st: 09:00 – 15:20
- June 1st to September 30th: 06:30 – 17:30
- October 1st to October 14th: 06:30 – 16:30
- Cable car (runs every 20 minutes)
- Useful links:
- Sounkyo Visitor Centre Website: Information can be found here in English and they regularly update the autumn leaves’ progress.
- Tourist Association of Sounkyo
- Rinyu Corp. Kurodake Ropeway website: Check here to make sure the ropeway / chairlift is open for the day (as it can close due to bad weather).
Kurodake is easily accessed from Sounkyo Onsen where the start of the ropeway station is. Dohoku Bus operates a bus to Sounkyo Onsen from Asahikawa Station and Kamikawa Station. Here is the link to the bus route page and timetable. The one-way fare from Asahikawa Station and Kamikawa Station is 2,100 yen and 870 yen respectively.
Getting to Asahikawa Station:
- From Sapporo Station, take the JR Limited Express Lilac-Kamui towards Asahikawa (1 hr 30 mins, 4,810 yen)
- From Sapporo Bus Terminal, take the Dohoku Bus to Asahikawa Ekimae (2 hours, 2,060 yen). Check out Dohoku Intercity Bus page here.
- From Furano Station, take the JR Furano Line towards Asahikawa (1 hr 15 mins, 1,070 yen)
- From Abashiri Station, take the JR Okhotsk Taisetsu Limited Express towards Asahikawa (3 hrs 45 mins, 7,970 yen)
- From Kushiro Station, take the Akan Bus (6 hrs 30 mins, 5,450 yen). Timetable here.
Getting to Kamikawa Station:
- From Asahikawa Station, take the JR Sekihoku Line towards Kamikawa (1 hr 15 mins, 1,290 yen), or the Limited Express Okhotsk-Taisetsu towards Abashiri (39 mins, 2,450 yen).
- From Abashiri Station, take the JR Okhotsk Taisetsu Limited Express towards Sapporo (3 hrs 10 mins, 7,240 yen).
For those driving, these are the travel times to the Kurodake Ropeway Station for your reference:
- Kamikawa: 30 minutes
- Asahikawa: 1.5 hours
- Kitami: 2 hours
- Furano: 2 hours
- Abashiri: 2.5 hours
- Sapporo: 3 hours
- Kushiro: 3.5 hours
- Shiretoko: 4 hours