“I’ve figured out how we might cycle over those hills,” Dirk said over lunch one day. “A mix of gravel road and singletrack trail through the forest,” he said.
This was music to my ears. Since moving to the Sapporo region five years ago, I’ve eyed up the range of low hills that separate Sapporo City from Jozankei in the west. If only there was a forestry road or hiking trail that would link Jozankei to northern Sapporo, cutting through the dense forest, it would be an off-road cyclist’s dream.
A few weekends later, we were on our bikes to give Dirk’s route a try. From central Sapporo to Jozankei (via Makomanai), then up to Harukayama (via Lake Sapporo), down to Zenibako, and back to central Sapporo. I call it The Fuchs Loop after Dirk’s last name.
We started at 8am from the southern entrance to Hokkaido University, and headed south through the city towards Makomanai. At this time in the morning on a public holiday, we more or less had the roads to ourselves.
For this trip I was on my Surly Karate Monkey (with Jones Loop bars, if you’re wondering), and Dirk was on his Trek X-Caliber 7. The original plan was to stay a night at the Ginrei-so Hut near the top of Mt. Haruka, hence the extra gear we’re carrying.
We made really good time along the Toyohira River cycle path and then up towards Jozankei Village. Usually this would take close to 3 hours. We knocked off the 30km to Jozankei Village in around 1.5 hours. All the while, feeling pity for the lines of holiday traffic inching their way along the highway.
We stocked up on food and beer in Jozankei, anticipating a relaxing evening at the hut. The Jozankei hostpring resort area was looking it’s stunning best.
From Jozankei we cut directly north, towards the artificial Lake Sapporo, and it’s massive dam. This took us through tunnels…
Soaring above the valley, plugged up by Jozaneki Dam…
And next to the clear blue waters of the lake.
We were surprised at our own quick pace, arriving at the gravel-road turnoff to Mt. Haruka-yama at only 11am. So we carried on up the paved road to Sapporo International Ski Field (Sapporo Kokusai), and had our sandwiches for lunch on the lush grass fields.
Lunch done, we hurtled back down hill for a few minutes and found our way onto the gravel forestry road that connects with the Haruka-yama Hut (called the Ginrei-so Hut). I was looking forward to seeing the hut in summer, because I had stayed overnight there a few years back on a ski trip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdScuMG9cDY), and had not been back since.
The route up from the Jozankei side is grin-ear-to-ear gravel road that starts well-kept…
And slowly deteriorates…
Until it is more or less a couple of tracks in the grass.
“A small slice of that,” laughed Dirk, “and your mind will be somewhere else!” The head of this mushroom was about the size of my palm.
We arrived at the Ginrei-so hut at around 1:30pm after the short grunt up the gravel road to get there. The hut is owned and managed by Tokai University in Sapporo. If you want to use the facilities there during the day, then this costs a fee of 400yen. To stay the night costs 800yen each. The hut is fairly dingy and dark inside, but it is cosy.
In principle, in order to stay there a reservation is needed (call Tokai University on 011-571-5111 during office hours). Our original plan had been to stay the night at the hut on the previous Sunday night, and I had put in a reservation for that night. In the end it was raining on Sunday, so we decided to postpone the trip till Tuesday. The problem was that Monday through Wednesday were public holidays, so there was no way of getting in touch with the university to change our reservation.
Long story short, we decided to head up on Tuesday without a reservation and hope for the best.
We were greeted by the chatty Japanese caretaker of the hut, Mr. Hirata-san, who is at the hut year-round. I explained that we had had a reservation for a few nights ago, and he immediately realized who we were. “Ah, Roberto-san, you made it!” I explained that we’d like to stay the night tonight, but he apologized, explaining that today happened to be the day he had to go back down to Sapporo to re-supply. He wouldn’t be at the hut overnight, so we couldn’t stay.
“Can I offer you some coffee instead,” he offered cheerfully. We gratefully accepted and spent at least 30 minutes on the veranda of the hut chatting with Hirata-san. “Once a bear came up on the veranda…” “the hut is definitely more busy in the winter…” “…it takes up to 6 hours in winter to ski up here, and I do it a couple of times a week to re-supply…my pack weighs 30kg!”
It was a pity not to be able to stay, but we knew that from here it was just a quick downhill back to the city. And what a fun downhill it was.
Technical trail for the first 15 minutes or so (which was much steeper than it looks in the photo)…
And then the joy of fast gravel and singletrail…
My slick Schwalbe Big Apple tires were not the best for traction, but they did the job.
After a couple of gates, the trails spat us out into civilization again.
With all the extra time we now had we headed to the beach at Ishikari Bay for a post-ride beer before heading back into central Sapporo (we had, after all, lugged those cans over a mountain range). A last hurrah to a great mission accomplished. A highly recommended 90km loop of very mixed terrain.