The Hike

Mt. Muka-yama (武華山, Muka-yama) is a mountain standing just north of Sekihoku Pass (石北峠, Sekihoku-toge), a mountain pass well known for being the historical boundary between the old Ishikari Province (石狩国, Ishikari-no-kuni) and old Kitami Province (北見国, Kitami-no-kuni). Mt. Muka-yama is often paired with another peak just north of it, Mt. Muri-dake (武利岳, Muri-dake). Mt. Muka-yama’s slopes are also the headwaters of the Itomuka-gawa River (イトムカ川, Itomuka-gawa), which flows down the northeastern slopes of the Daisetsuzan (大雪山) Mountains and into the Muka-gawa River (武華川, Muka-gawa) further east. The word muka comes from the Ainu language but its meaning isn’t known for certain. The Ainu i tom (as in Itomuka-gawa) means ‘it shines’, which is likely related to the mercury found in the mountains here: there’s an abandoned mercury mine nearby. With incredible views over the northern parts of the Daisetsuzan National Park (大雪 山国立公園, Daisetsuzan Kokuritsu-koen) and a lovely looped trail around the ridgelines of the mountain, Mt. Muka-yama makes for a great day trip at any point in the hiking season.

To get to the trailhead, you’ll head down National Route 39 (国道39号線, kokudo 39 gosen) from the top of Sekihoku Pass heading towards Kitami (北見). A short bit below the top of the pass you’ll turn onto the Itomuka-gawa River forest road; the trailhead sits at the end of this road. There are two trails to the summit: one climbs up past Lion Bluff (ライオン岩, Raion-iwa), while the other, to the east, traverses the secondary peak Mae-Muka (前武華, lit. ‘front-Muka’). In this guide, you’ll climb up the Lion Bluff route, cross the summit to Mae-Muka, and descend a spur ridge from there.

You can fill up on water at a small stream near the trailhead. You’ll then head up an old logging road through a forest of Manchurian alder. Not long after, you’ll come to the junction, where the trail coming down from Mae-Muka branches off to the right. Heading left, you’ll cross the Itomuka-gawa River at a series of small waterfalls and head up another logging road through a younger, second-growth forest. Here you’ll find all manner of Japanese white birch, Matsumura whitebeam, and Sakhalin fir growing along the road.

As you climb, the forest around you will quiet and you’ll soon reach the top of a spur reaching southeast from Lion Bluff. From here it’s a fairly easy walk under the shade of the Erman’s birch and Jezo spruce; now and again you might see a hazel grouse in the trees, if you’re the birdwatching type. You’ll mount the top of the main ridge at Lion Bluff and all at once the trees will part and the view will open up.

Lion Bluff is a peculiar block-shaped outcrop. If you’re climbing in the fall, the leaves around here are particularly beautiful. The trail passes east of the bluff, but there is a small path up to the top of the outcrop itself; if you have the time for it the views from the top are wonderful. At the foot of the bluff, amid the crowded dwarf stone pine bushes, be on the lookout for small, red lingonberry plants.

Heading northeast along the ridge towards the summit, the trail winds through a patchwork of dwarf stone pine, birch, and sasa bamboo. To the west the slope drops steeply off into a gully. The trail is pretty easy along here, so it should be a laid-back walk up to the summit of Mt. Muka-yama. Compared to the trails in the main body of the Daisetsuzan, you’ll probably find the summit here to be quiet and peaceful.

Continuing past the summit on your way to Mae-Muka, the trail will follow the level ridgeline. Before you reach Mae-Muka, you’ll see a path split off to the left, headed for Mt. Muri-dake - the traverse trail is rarely used, so the path might be hard to follow. After you cross the peak of Mae-Muka, the trail will bend sharply to the south and you’ll descend through more dwarf stone pine.

Halfway down the ridge you’ll pass through a beautiful forest of Glehn’s spruce. Near the bottom a number of trees have been felled by snow and typhoons, so if you look up you can see Mt. Muka- yama’s summit. You’ll soon reach the junction again, and shortly thereafter, the trailhead.

One-Point Advice

  • Generally, travel to the trailhead is reached by private vehicle. You can alternately take a taxi from Sounkyo (層雲峡), but it will likely be pretty expensive.
  • Doing this route counterclockwise takes about the same amount of time. If you’re heading down by the Lion Bluff route, be careful: there’s a small path heading down the ridgeline to the southwest, taking you to an unnamed 1691-meter peak. Make sure you don’t accidentally wind up on this trail rather than the main one off the mountain.
  • If you continue down National Route 39 towards Kitami, you’ll hit the hot springs at Shiobetsu Onsen (塩別温泉). If you’re headed towards Sounyko and Kamikawa (上川), you’ll find hot springs and accommodation at Sounyko.

Season

For the first half of the hiking season, the bright stripes of snow in the valleys of the Daisetsuzan are beautiful. Along the ridgelines you’re likely to see small wild rosemary flowers—they bloom in July. You’ll also see a narrow-leaf variety of wild rosemary around here too. The leaves on the trees start to change in late September.