Day 2 (1/3).
Shiretoko Goko (知床五湖) or Shiretoko Five Lakes is undoubtedly the most popular attraction in the Shiretoko Peninsula, and the most accessible area in Shiretoko National Park. Formed by prehistoric volcanic activities of Mount Io (硫黄山), the five small lakes in the dense forest below the series of Shiretoko Mountains has become the icon of the UNESCO World Heritage site. The Shiretoko Five Lakes can be enjoyed from a 800m elevated boardwalk or by a short hike in the forest. Shiretoko National Park is a natural haven for a diverse range of wildlife: Steller’s Sea Eagle, White-tailed Sea Eagle, Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Sika Deer, Ezo Red Fox, etc, but the most famous of all is undoubtedly the Brown Bears. Shiretoko has the highest concentration of Brown Bears in Japan. During the bear mating season from May to July, only guided hikes are allowed in the forest trails. That was the reason why we had arranged a guided tour weeks before our actually arrival in Hokkaido. We picked the day and time suitable for our vacation plan, selected a guide that could speak some English, and found a guesthouse in nearby Utoro to minimize transportation hassle. Unfortunately we couldn’t predict the weather.
It wasn’t the brightest start for a hiking day. Rain kept on pouring down when we get up for breakfast at Shiretoko Village Guesthouse.
To battle the wet and cool weather, a hearty breakfast was essential.
After half an hour of driving up the mountains in rainy conditions, we arrived at the Field House of Shiretoko Five Lakes, where we were to meet with our guide Mr. Suzuki.
At the Field House, a preserved specimen of a small bear reminds visitors “a fed bear is a dead bear”. When a bear is being fed by visitors and loses its fear of humans, it would repeatedly enter human settlements, leading to its eventual death in human hands to prevent fatal attacks on humans.
A board at the Field House allowed tour guides to introduce themselves.
We put on waterproofed pants, jackets, boots and grooves provided by our guide Mr. Suzuki, and were led into a hall to watch a a short film introducing the national park and information on bear encounter. Soon, three other visitors and us followed Suzuki out to the hiking trails in the rain.
We were excited to hike at the Shiretoko Five Lakes despite the poor weather. Mr. Suzuki kept on reminding us a close encounter with a bear would lead to termination of the hike. Though within our hearts we wished for a magical encounter with the iconic bears of Shiretoko.
The 2.5 hour hike basically took us to pass by the five lakes of Shiretoko under the Shiretoko Mountain Range.
Unfortunately, due to the poor weather we weren’t able to see the scenic mountains during our hike.
On his iPad, Mr. Suzuki showed us the same scenery in fine weather.
The Shiretoko Five Lakes reminded us of the wetland scenery in Ontario, Canada.
Throughout the hike, we spotted bear droppings a number of times.
According to Suzuki, the roots of these plants are popular food for the bears. We could see many of these plants being pulled out by bears.
Sika deer were peacefully resting in the forest while we hiked out of the trail.
Sika deer is the most commonly seen animal in Shiretoko.
The last part of the hike led us to the elevated boardwalk that connected back to the Field House.
Too bad the weather didn’t allow us to witness the beautiful scenery of Shiretoko Five Lakes, though we did have an enjoyable morning of peaceful hiking.
The elevated walkway allowed us to enjoy the wetland scenery without damaging the vegetation of the fragile landscape.
Our guided tour ended at the boardwalk. We slowly followed the elevated walkway back to the Field House to return the waterproofed outfit.
The sky was grey and the air was moist when we first hiked the Mizzy Lake Trail in 2007. After seeing a wild turkey dashing across our path, we followed the trail to an open area surrounded by spruce bogs. The trail cut right through the bogs, with peaceful ponds lying along both sides. It was 7:30 in the morning and we were all by ourselves. Soon we discovered footprints on the muddy path, some probably belonged to a fox, and some were hoof prints of a much larger animal. We continued to walk forward until we saw a dozen or so bare spruce trunks sticking out from the water. Reflection of their white trunks stood against the grey clouds in the tranquil water was occasionally disrupted by touches of water insects. Somehow the imagery touched us like a gentle poem. We looked at the scenery for a while and took some photos. As we turned our head back onto the trail, we immediately spotted something tall standing ahead. It had its back towards us, but soon it turned its head and looked right into our eyes. It was a tall cow moose, our first ever sighting of a moose. It stared at us for half a minute, then walked slowly down to the spruce bog on the left, crossed the water to the opposite shore, and disappeared into the spruce forest beyond. Moose, the largest animal in the deer family, is popular for wildlife sighting in North America. The English name “moose” is a word borrowed from the Algonquian language back in the 17th century. Spreading their two large toes to keep them from sinking, moose has adapted well living in the environment of spruce bogs, where they can walk on the peat filled marshland to feed on aquatic plants.
We saw beavers several times in Algonquin. Sometimes with sticks in their mouth, sometimes without, always in quick motion swimming across the water. But more often, we saw traces of their existence: pointed tree stumps, trunks with bite marks, mud and timber dams, and mounts of timber sticks in the pond. Back in the 17th century, when a large area of North America was owned by the Hudson Bay Company, beaver fur was one of the major exports from the New World. Nowadays, beaver has become a national emblem for Canada, appearing on the symbol and coat of arms of many organizations, companies and government departments, from Toronto Police to Canadian Pacific Railway, and has officially designated as the national animal in 1975. In Algonquin, beavers are probably the only animals other than humans that know how to alter a natural environment to create their desirable home. As the second largest rodent, beavers use their large teeth to harvest timber. Along with stones and mud, beavers use the timber to construct dams to alter stream flow in order to create wetlands known as the beaver ponds. A peaceful beaver pond contains water warmer than running streams, an ideal habitat for many wetland plants, frogs and fish. It also serves as a moat for the beaver lodge to prevent wolves and other predators. The longest beaver dam in record exists in Alberta, reaching up to 850m in length.
Spruce bogs and beaver ponds are two of the five major habitats found in the Algonquin Park. The other three includes the coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and rivers and lakes. Spruce bog is a type of wetland common in the north. Its water is quite acidic and full of floating vegetation that slowly accumulates into a thick layer of peat. Many birds frequent the bog, and so as moose which come to feed and drink. Beaver pond, on the other hand, belongs to the story of beavers continuously transforming the natural environment by building dams and ponds, creating a wetland that benefits many species and also serves as a natural filtration and stormwater system for the area. A pond may last until the death of a beaver, or until a fierce storm hits and damages the dam beyond repair. By then, nature will restore the area back to its original conditions, until the arrival of the next beaver to restart the cycle all over again.
Young moose shook off water after crossing a small stream (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012). That afternoon, we joked with each other and placed our bet on whether we would have the same moose encounter that we had five years ago. We waited patiently and dusk was approaching. When we were about to leave, we spotted this young moose. It was truly a magical moment for both of us.
This curious young moose walked from the wetland onto the trail. It seemed to be interested in us as it was slowly walking towards us. The cow moose that we encountered five years earlier at the same spot reacted differently. It walked away from us into forest after it made an eye contact with us. (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).
Bull and cow moose kept their eyes on the young moose while the young moose fixed its eyes upon us. We have vivid memory of each encounter with moose at Algonquin Park. The encounter becomes special and personal as each time there were only the moose and us. Every time, when we spotted the animal, we would keep our voice low and keep a distance from them as we didn’t want to disrupt or irritate them. (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).
After we had some good moments of moose encounter, we got to rush out of the Mizzy Lake Trail before dusk fell. We walked so fast that we were like racing with the sun. We’ll keep this peaceful image of Algonquin Park with us in mind no matter where we go.
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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario