Saturday was our snowshoeing adventure. I wasn’t super sure about the idea, but I knew a few good friends (Heather and Liz) were both going and decided to join in as it’s a winter sport I’ve never had the chance to experience at home.
We met in Sapporo station at eight that morning. Everyone introduced themselves (I got to meet a few JETs I hadn’t met before). Leon (our guide) asked about our gear – to make sure we had everything. He wasn’t entirely sure about my shoes, but decided they were ok (they’re uggs style shoes). He also informed us that he wanted us to tell him if we got cold so he could take care of it before it was a problem.
We left Sapporo for a place a bit south of Otaru. It was a beautiful day and we were wondering if we were going to be too hot with all of our layers. Leon gave us a quick how to for snowshoes and we began the hike.
A short amount of time into the hike we hit our first steep hill. It was a bit difficult, but mostly because I was afraid of going sliding backwards like I almost did a couple of times on my skis. At one point, Leon reminded me that I needed to be on my toes to dig my feet in and all was ok. I realized I needed to use my feet as I would going up stairs (staying more on my toes than any other part of my feet). As I got the hang of it, it wasn’t bad.
The fantastic view we found at the top of the first hill
The beginning had our steepest hill. Not long after we finished it we found a beautiful flat space, which looked untouched by people. The snow was completely smooth and across this field was an incredibly beautiful bright orange temple; it was beautiful in contrast to all the white snow and sky around us.
When we got closer to the temple, we stopped because there was a snow-covered road and one of our group decided he didn’t have the right gear to continue. At this point, while we were stopped, I realized I was hungry. I inquired about lunch and it sounded like it was going to be a while longer, so it was time for snacks. I discovered that granola bars are not good frozen weather foods because they get really, hard when they’re kept cold for a long time.
The orange temple
As we began to climb again, the weather began to turn. We hit near white out conditions. The majority of this time, we had been able to see the sea. When we hit the white-out snow, I couldn’t see much farther than the front of the group. They passed, right as we hit another temple, at this temple we were able to hide under the eaves and be out of the snow a bit. The wind slowed and the day became cloudy, though not terrible hiking conditions. Ken, our new friend from Gunma Prefecture, commented on the weather and we told him that was a bad idea.
The last bit of the hike before lunch started out with those same conditions and then got more and more windy the higher we got. At this point, my water bottle froze shut, so I got stuck drinking the crazy protein water that I was given at some random event in my town. It was a sweet candy-like flavor, but it was still a bit weird (but not frozen!).
We finally made it to the towers where we were going to eat lunch around two that afternoon and we were starving. Luckily, Leon was making us Nabe and hot cocoa for lunch. To make our lunch area, we had to step on the snow lots with our snowshoes (to compact it) then dig out a circle (leaving the inside). This left us with a table (the inside) and a bench to sit on. The nabe and hot cocoa were delicious and it was nice to eat warm food. The only problem, I discovered is that we weren’t moving, so my hands got really cold as I tried to eat – I discovered that I had to wear gloves while eating, which is difficult with chopsticks.
As we started to pack up from lunch, Leon shared that it shouldn’t be much farther till we returned. I was exited about that, because I was feeling cold, sore and tired. When we left, I discovered that my feet were pretty cold, but figured that maybe moving more would help them warm up.
The next bit of hike included us walking fairly close to the ocean. There were not enough trees between the ocean and us to block the wind. It didn’t help that there was snow mixed into the wind and it did not feel good as it pelted our faces.
It was as we were getting pelted with snow that I realized my feet were pretty cold. I didn’t want to be the whiner who couldn’t deal with the cold and made everyone stop for nothing, but I didn’t want to not say anything if there was a real problem either. So, I asked the Lord for wisdom. He gave it. I realized that if my toes weren’t warming up, it was a problem. So I paid close attention to them for the next few minutes. They weren’t getting any warmer, I said something to Liz who passed the message up.
Leon decided the best thing to do, would be to wait to do anything until we were out of the strong wind. We hiked down the next bit and realized we had gone the wrong way, but got far enough down that we could take care of my feet.
When Leon took my snowshoes off, he saw that my boots were completely crusted with ice around the outside. He was able to scrap the ice off of them, and then he, with the help of Heather and Nick, quickly pulled my boots and socks off of one foot, replaced them with new dry ones, stuck a warmer into my shoe, and massaged my toes for a minute to get the circulation going, then put my foot back in. He then repeated the process for my other foot. My toes and a bit of my foot were bright red, which apparently means I still had circulation there and was a good sign. Nick then helped me get my better gloves on properly as well, so my hands would be warm enough.
When that had been taken care of, we hiked back up the hill and found the markers again to follow and get back where we wanted to be. As we hiked, my feet got warmer and warmer. I was glad I had said something because they weren’t getting warmer before. We probably hiked another hour before we hit a snow-covered road and it began to get dark. The hike was fairly short and easy from there.
When we got back to town, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so happy to see a city in my life. I was exhausted from the hike. I enjoyed getting to spend the time with these amazing friends, but I was ready to crash and get warmer dry clothes on.
A view from somewhere in the midst of the hike, before the snow made me hide my camera in my jacket.