The Hike

Mt. Meakan-dake (雌阿寒岳, Meakan-dake) is an active volcano standing off to the southwest of Lake Akan (阿寒湖, Akan-ko). It sits opposed to and as the partner of Mt. Oakan-dake (雄阿寒岳, Oakan-dake), across the lake. The Ainu people called Oakan Pinne-shiri, which means ‘male mountain.’ This stands in contrast to Meakan, which the Ainu called Matne-shiri, which means ‘female mountain.’ This is a common pairing across all of Hokkaido (see also Yotei-zan (matne-shiri) and Shiribetsu-dake (pinne-shiri) down around Niseko). As a rule, *matne-shiri*s are always bigger than *pinne-shiri*s.

Meakan features an unusally low treeline and a long, wide area of rocky scree laced with alpine Hokkaido’s characteristic dwarf stone pine on the upper slopes, making it a typical example of an active Hokkaido volcano. Though the land may appear brutalized, small flowers have taken root here — for example Potentilla miyabei and Meakan carnations, among others.

There is one trail up the eastern face of the mountain and two up the western face. In this guide we’ll introduce a trip from Meakan Onsen (雌阿寒温泉) to the summit and down to Onneto (オンネトー), a small lake to the west of the mountain. As this is a trip over an active volcano, you’ll probably be crossing some pretty simple vegetation.

The trailhead sits near Meakan Onsen in a forest of tall Glehn’s spruce. You’ll climb up a steep slope, hand over foot, along the roots systems of these trees, deep into the forest. Here, the roots are covered thickly with moss and young trees line the trail. At your feet you’ll probably catch sight of Cornus candensis, Pyrola renifolia, and snakeberry.

Around the 2nd station marker (⼆合⽬, ni-goume), you’ll start to pass through Meakan’s characteristic tunnels of dwarf stone pine. At the 4th station marker (四合⽬, yon-goume), the view will open up and a huge scree slope will loom ahead. As you wind up the zigzag switchbacks, you’ll encounter plenty of alpine flowers like Rhododendron tomentosum, Pleuropteropyrum ajanense, Pennelianthus frutescens, and more Potentilla miyabei. Meakan carnations are to be found here en masse, like along the slopes of the rest of the Shiretoko Mountains.

As you near the summit of Meakan, you’ll see a huge, deep caldera off to your right. At the bottom of this caldera are the small ponds of Aka-numa (⾚沼) and Ao-numa (青沼), which are named after the opalescent colors of their waters. The smoke emerging from the fumaroles all about the caldera will give you a bit of a sense of the power of the mountain you’re standing on.

As you head around the eastern rim of the caldera past the summit, you’ll come to the place where the trail from Lake Akan (on the eastern face) merges with the main trail; and before long you’ll come to Akan-fuji Junction (阿寒富⼠分岐, Akan-fuji bunki). There’s a trail up to the top of the black, conic Akan-fuji, which, if you’ve got a little extra time, is a fun hike up.

From the junction, you’ll head back down a scree field sewn with Dicentra peregrina and finally enter a dense forested area. As you descend, you’ll see the bright blue Onneto tucked into the crook of the mountain before it’s crowded out by the trees. After what will feel like an interminable walk through the Glehn’s spruce, you’ll emerge near Onneto Campsite Bus Stop (オンネトー キャンプ場前バス停, Onnetou kyanpu-jou-mae basu-tei).

One Point Advice

  • It might be a good idea to check out the current reports on volcanic activity before you head out. Meakan can be testy and the trail is occasionally closed for falling rocks.
  • To get to Meakan Onsen and Onneto, take any train on the Nemuro Main Line (根室本線, Nemuro-honsen) to Kushiro Station (釧路駅, Kushiro-eki), then take the Akan Bus (阿寒バス) through Akan-kohan (阿寒湖畔) Village to where you want to go.
  • There are no places to fill up on water, nor toilets, along the trail.
  • Because the rocky area near the summit is relatively trail-less, be careful to follow the markers so you don’t stray off course. Around the caldera, too, be wary: while there are some ropes to keep you away, it’s a big fall down to the bottom, where the poisonous gases will kill you (if the fall didn't).
  • The trail from the Lake Akan side starts at the end of a forest road following the Otaunai River (オタウナイ川, Otaunai-gawa). There’s a sign on National Route 240 (国道240号線, Kokudou 240 gosen) indicating where it is. The trip takes about 3 hours.
  • From Akan-fuji Junction the trip up to the Akan-fuji summit and then back to the junction can be done in an hour and a half or so.
  • The trailhead at Onneto is in the campsite. It takes about an hour to walk from the trailhead at Meakan Onsen to the trailhead at Onneto Campsite.
  • At Meakan Onsen there’s a surfeit of bathing opportunities, so hit one up after the hike.

Season

Because the snow melts early around here, the flower life gets pretty raucous in July and August. You’ll be able to see the Meakan carnations from the end of July onwards. In the fall, seeing the leaves change below you is pretty cool.