Repeat visitors keep returning—a tour aiming for the phantom lake, “Lake Rausu”
At the foot of Mt. Chinishibetsu in the center of the Shiretoko Peninsula and at an elevation of 740m is Lake Rausu, the largest lake on the Shiretoko Peninsula.
Lake Rausu has a circumference of approximately 4km. Due to bears inhabiting the surrounding forest, in bygone years even the local people could not reach what was called “the phantom lake.” However, today a walking trail is maintained there and visitors can enjoy walking around the four marshes as they trek as far as Lake Rausu.
We are on the Lake Rausu Hiking Tour that Shiretoko Peninsula guide company Shiretoko Factory operates. We’re hiking a route that will take us up a further 80m, a round trip of approximately 6km, from the entrance to the trail at an elevation of 660m midway along the Trans Shiretoko Road Route (National Road 334), aiming for Lake Rausu.
Along the way, besides the four marshes of varying sizes, we’ll encounter scattered wet plants (hygrophytes) and alpine plants. This is a walk that climbers will never tire of.
Shiretoko Factory’s Hideya Sakurai explains:
Sakurai: There is an elevation of approximately 700m around the trail, and because the latitude is high the temperature is low. This is an environment equivalent to where you have an elevation of 2,000m on Honshu, the main island of the Japanese archipelago. That’s why you see alpine plants and you can enjoy the abundant natural scenery here.
On the way, besides small mammals such as red fox (also known as north fox), Asiatic chipmunk, you can also see large mammals such as brown bears and Hokkaido sika deer. Also, around Rausu Town is a breeding area for the white-tailed eagle, which is an internationally rare bird.
The Asiatic chipmunk, red fox and Hokkaido sika deer eat the alpine plants and the insects that inhabit those plants. The brown bear and white-tailed eagle eat those animals.
One of the reasons that the Shiretoko Peninsula is registered as World Natural Heritage is the distinctive ecosystem of the food chain of the flora and fauna that live in this place. On our Lake Rausu Hiking Tour you can sense part of that.
Sakurai: When it comes to activities on the Shiretoko Peninsula, name recognition for the Shiretoko Goko Lakes Tour is the highest, but the Lake Rausu Hiking Tour is chosen by many repeat visitors. Our tour members cover a wide range regardless of age or sex, some come multiple times a year, and there are also some that come each season.
There is also an unexplored region, a mountain range which people have hardly stepped foot on. I’d strongly encourage anyone interested in easily experiencing the attractions of the Shiretoko Peninsula to join one of our tours.
The superb view up ahead, pushing through the vegetation on the muddy trail
On the Lake Rausu Hiking Tour, we go as far as the trail entrance by shuttle. There is only one trail that goes to Lake Rausu. There’s no toilet on the trail, and in the summer there’s just a single tent set up to use a portable toilet in.
Along the trail from the entrance to Lake Rausu there are four marshes, and starting from the closest to the trail entrance they’re named Ni-no-Numa, San-no-Numa, Yon-no-Numa, Go-No-Numa. Ichi-no-Numa also exists but the trail to Ichi-no-Numa is currently closed due to safety concerns.
Although even beginner climbers can enjoy the experience, on the vast wetlands that spread out around the whole Lake Rausu area, your feet will get wet regardless of the season given the impact of snowmelt. Continuing on especially to San-no-Numa, it’s a challenging muddy trail enclosed by vegetation.
Rubber boots are indispensable due to the muddy trail. The area is covered by alpine plants; you pass through dwarf stone pine; your hands part the kuma bamboo grass that covers the trail from both sides, and you dance around Erman’s birch which has fallen under the weight of the snow. Drenched by the dew of the kuma bamboo grass from the waist upward, Sakurai tells us to “Use your whole body, move on with a sense of adventure!”
Sakurai: When walking the muddy trail, don’t step on the edge of the trail to avoid the mud. It’s not just because there’s a slope on the edges of the trail and it’s particularly slippery. Plants native to the area are growing outside the trail. Please walk down the muddy center of the trail to also protect the vegetation protection.
Clothes suitable for light climbing, rainwear, drinks, and hiking food such as candy and chocolate are essential. Also depending on the weather, even in summer it’s not unusual to get days when the temperature doesn’t reach 10 degrees Celsius. As there are also times when the wind blows strong, even in summer you should take something such as a fleece to protect yourself against the cold.
After you walk about an hour from the trail entrance, you’ll arrive at San-no-Numa. The highlight of San-no-Numa is how Mt. Rausu which soars up behind the lake is reflected on the lake’s surface as “The upside-down Mt. Rausu.” On a still day, the blue sky and surrounding scenery are reflected on the lake’s surface and it’s absolutely pretty as a picture.
“Spring is the snowscape, summer the new growth, fall the rich red leaves; you can enjoy a variety of Mt. Rausu scenery,” explained Sakurai. We are sitting on the observation deck taking a short break. Looking at the superb view of “The upside-down Mt. Rausu” while taking a rest is going to be an exceedingly extravagant experience.
Lake Rausu surrounded by wetlands is another world above the clouds
After San-no-Numa, the sun pours down on us, the wetlands open out ahead, and a walkway over the trail makes the walking easy. It is climbing, so of course there is some slope, but no long climb. We walk on into the tranquil nature.
Sakurai: Lake Rausu guides say that when the spring comes “you can hear the sound of the flower buds opening” as the whole area is enveloped by silence. The only thing you hear is the sound of the wind shaking the treetops.
As we walk on ahead looking at Yon-no-Numa and Go-No-Numa, far larger than those marshes, the magnificent Lake Rausu awaits. At an elevation of 731m clouds pass close by, and the blue sky and the clouds are reflected on the lake’s surface. The Lake Rausu scenery here absolutely resembles another world above the clouds. This scene is an unmistakable highlight of the Lake Rausu Hiking Tour.
In front of Lake Rausu there’s an observation deck that accommodates about 10 people from which you can enjoy the view of Mt. Chinishibetsu towering behind Lake Rausu. Around the lake, in the summer, the flowers of the alpine plants such as the Aleutian avens, cotton grass and skunk cabbage are blooming; in the fall, the rich red fall leaves unfold; each season you will see a different face of Shiretoko.
With the joy of arrival, we drink the hot milk tea that Sakurai prepares while enjoying the beautiful scenery. As the moderately sweet milk tea flows into my tired body, an irreplaceable sense of satisfaction spreads inside me.
Hiking is still fun around a fog-bound Lake Rausu in changeable weather
They say you can see Hokkaido sika deer and brown bears bathe even in Lake Rausu not just on the mountain trail.
Sakurai: Brown bears begin to appear from around June. The brown bears living around Lake Rausu eat plant matter such as dwarf stone pine nuts, skunk cabbage bulbs, and crimson glory vine, and mammals such as Hokkaido sika deer.
Basically, brown bears don’t approach people. However, when the bears know that people are carrying food, they will approach without running away. Please don’t give them food, of course, or throw away litter, or leave food out in the open air.
Even on this tour, many people ask me if they can eat their lunch at the Lake Rausu observation deck, or elsewhere. But in order to coexist smoothly with the brown bears, any meals should be kept only to hiking food such as candy and chocolate. We ask people to please refrain from eating meals on the trail and the observation deck.
In order to avoid encountering a brown bear, make some sound or use your voice while you walk as it’s important to let the bears know that there are people around. At the Rausu Visitor Center, you can rent a brown bear deterrent spray.
Even still, if you do encounter brown bears, please back away from them slowly. Running away or shouting loudly will provoke brown bears. They are timid animals, so if you don’t harm them they won’t attack you.
The mountains of the Shiretoko Peninsula are prone to fog during the morning, but the weather often clears from noon through the afternoon. Sakurai explains that he also wants people on the tour to enjoy those characteristic weather conditions of the Shiretoko Peninsula on the way to the Lake Rausu tour in the morning through to the return in the afternoon.
Sakurai: It’s an area with changeable weather, so it’s rare to have a full day of clear weather. Perfectly clear weather feels great, but the fog-bound trail is also dreamy and beautiful.
Of course, the fog doesn’t stay around, so if San-no-Numa was enveloped in fog during the morning and you couldn’t even see “The upside-down Mt. Rausu,” please don’t give up. On the return trip in the afternoon, under a clear sky, you’ll probably see the superb view of the “The upside-down Mt. Rausu.”
We descend to the trail entrance and the tour comes to an end. Many of the tour members say things such as, “Next time we’ll do it in a different season. I want to see a different expression of ‘The upside-down Mt. Rausu.’” “I want to climb Mt. Rausu reflected on the surface of San-no-Numa.”
The Shiretoko Peninsula’s unique ecosystem and nature have been preserved by a food chain that humans have not interfered with. The Lake Rausu Hiking Tour is a popular way to enjoy the superb views while experiencing part of that World Natural Heritage. Once you try the tour yourself, you’ll well understand why repeat visitors come back each season, several times a year.
Address:4 Kaiganchō, Rausu, Menashi-gun, Hokkaido