Rankoshi Gravel Grinding – Konbu-dake Shoulder Loop

Posted on Jul 25, 2019
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Posted on Jul 25, 2019

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Reading time: 4 min
19km

Distance

0.5 days

Time

550m

Ascent

640m

Highest point

7/10

Difficulty

5%

Paved

This route scales the lower flanks of the iconic Konbu-dake (昆布岳, 1045m), a true shark-fin peak that punctuates the Niseko skyline to the southwest of the main Hirafu area. The route itself is a super-awesome grass and gravel loop that appears to be well maintained, has enough up and down to pump the adrenaline glands and is very accessible to the Niseko resort areas. Highlight of the trip is an imposing, crumbling old mountain lodge about half way up the climb. A fun half day out and proof positive that there's fantastic mountain biking in the hills of the region.

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

The route climbs and descends a loop of gravel and grass track on the north-west shoulder of Konbu-dake (昆布岳) through an area called Katsuradai (桂台). This is located in the vicinity of the popular Niseko ski resorts and so there’s plenty of accommodation options and other summertime adventures to be had. Konbu-dake lies south-west of Niseko town and the ski resorts. Access is by rail to the Kombu Train station (昆布駅) or by car from other townships in the area. The town of Kombu is easily accessed by rail on the Hakodate Main Line with several services running from Sapporo station (札幌) each day and taking about 3hr for the journey.

General notes

This route was the result of many hours spent pouring over Google Earth and the 1976 orthophoto series from GSI. The loop starts about 7km ride on sealed roads from the Kombu station. If driving you can park at the start of the loop; pull in off Route 32 and park just up the start of the road, past a small farm house on your left. Please make sure you don’t disturb the elderly lady in the house but do stop and say konnichiwa (こんにちは) if she’s out tending her wonderful cottage garden. At the end, once you’re back off the gravel you’ll roll back down Route 32 to the car or on to the onsen at Kombu.

While I rode the loop on my fat-bike, it’s also suitable for a standard mountain bike or a gravel/cyclocross bike at a pinch. The trail is gravel for the most part but there are large sections where it has returned to grass. There is the potential to be doing a bunch of hike-a-bike on the way out at about the 12km mark as the road appears to be fed by a freshwater spring at that point. This loop is an ideal excuse to rent and try out a fat-bike for the day as it’s ideally suited to big wide float-ey tires. Take your own water as drinking from streams in Hokkaido leaves you at risk of Echinococcosis which is a rather nasty parasitical disease (see more here).

  • Bike rental: Your best bet for bike rentals are the folks at Rhythm Japan in Hirafu (比羅夫).
  • Food tips: There’s not much to speak of in terms of food in Kombu town itself, but, just up the road in Niseko Town, Sho Azumade-san at Niseko Kushiya (ニセコくしや) has cold beer and great charcoal grilled yakitori. Tell him we sent you!

Route markers

This route is not marked but it was reasonably obvious given the road itself had seen a mower through it recently. I suggest taking the GPS track on a device of some sort. There are a number of side roads that will be worth exploring for those with plenty of time and official topomaps on their smartphone – even then, not all roads will be marked.

Route Timing

It took me about 2 hours to ride the loop with plenty of stops for photos. It’s probably not a bad training loop for those who like to avoid the road. This is basically an up and down route. You’ll be climbing immediately and the bulk of the steep climbing happens in the first 2km to 3km. Don’t give up! There will be views to be had but my ride was on a foggy brooding day which was also spectacular, especially when I came across the old mountain lodge.

Physical maps

Explore the official Japan topomaps online for the area around Konbu-dake here. Follow these instructions to print out the area you would like as a hardcopy.

Route safety

This route is pretty safe in that there should be no traffic on any of the gravel roads and limited traffic when you are on pavement completing the loop; there is a footpath that you can ride alongside the main road too. There are no big drops alongside anywhere on the route and there is plenty of protective vegetation if you do take an off. Be mindful of the fast downhill sections. It is all fairly low altitude (<700m) but this being Hokkaido, there is the potential for poor weather turning to snow in the spring and autumn. While you’re never more than about 5km as the crow-flies from civilization, this route is remote and you will find cell coverage spotty at times. Carrying a Spot/inReach makes good sense, especially if going solo. Make sure to let someone know where you plan to ride, and consider register your plans using Mt-Compass – you can see our guide here.

It’s very unlikely the route is snow-cleared in winter. There is no obvious civilization up there, but that said, the track had been cleared of vegetation by a mower for summer. We will report back come winter time.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Konbu-dake
Other resources
Do you know of any? Let us know in the comments.
Onsen nearby

To say that the area is blessed with onsen would be an understatement, the Niseko tourism guide lists 15 with the bulk of these being located to the west of the resort areas i.e. nearest to where you’ve biking! The best option after your trip is Yusenkaku onsen (幽泉閣) near the station. It’s cheap, cheerful, very lloca and has the largest variety of different types of pools in the whole area. There is also accommodation here and proximity to the station means it’s ideally suited as a base for a weekend of adventure in the area. Details (in Japanese) on the town website.

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

This route was a bit of a dice roll. I’d poured over it on Google Earth, on the GSI maps and using Open Cycle Map; it looked like it’d go, but, given that Hokkaido vegetation grows pretty dense I wouldn’t know until I got there. It’s a loop and so it was 50:50 as to which way I went. In the end the clockwise option that I took was by far the best because you end up going down through a muddy-boggy-creek rather than up.

The route starts about 7km up Route 32 which connects Kombu (昆布) to Okishi (大岸) on the coast of Uchiura Bay (内浦湾). You’ll be on gravel almost immediately and the most steep climbing of the whole loop comes in the first few km. There’s a small cabin, that looks habitable, on the left at around 3.4km and then about 4 corners later is one of the highlights of the trip, a cathedral like mountain lodge that is slowly returning to nature.

The lodge is a good 25m long and probably 6 meters high. Steep roofed with angular eves. It’s been well designed to shed snow as best it can, but out here in the Hokkaido Wilds, any unkempt building will suffer the same fate. I wasn’t game enough to explore the building on my own; it will be explored on future expeditions for sure. It’s well on it’s way to collapse to please approach with the utmost of care. If I had to date it I’d say it was probably abandoned in the late 1990s. The building is not on the topo map but there’s a nearby radio mast (marked on the GSI map), street lights and other amenities that indicate that it was probably a popular place back in the day.

The lodge building, along with several other structures and significant earth works are visible on the ~1976 series ortho-photo from GSI.

If you’ve got any information on this history of this lodge or the area then we’d absolutely love to know about it in the comments below.

Carrying on up the track there are roads that branch of both left and right. These all deserve some future exploration with one of them potentially running East all the way across to Makkari-mura (真狩村) at the foot of Yōtei-zan (羊蹄山). There’s a chain across the track at this point but the road beyond was still well maintained and the entire loop had been mowed or trimmed in recent weeks. Big thanks to the Rankoshi Town (蘭越町) administration for this and long may it carry-on. My property tax Yen hard at work!

The gradient plateaus at about the 8km mark as you weave and wend your way across the ridge that runs down from Mt Konbu itself. A sharp right hand corner at at 10.3km marks the start of the downhill proper and you should be able to run almost pedaling free for the next 4 or 5km. The track through here is mainly grass and moss so it’s very pretty but probably also a bit treacherous if you jump on the brakes too hard.

All along the road there are what appear to be for-sale signs for plots of land. Again, vintage unknown but they look in reasonably good order so if you’re in the market for a little slice of paradise…? 

I hear the skiing and snowmobiling is good too.

You too can own your own little slice of paradise in the middle of no-where

At the 12km mark you’ll find that a lovely mountain spring has spring and decided to make it’s course directly down the road. Expect to get filthy through here. The road moves away from the stream and then at about 15km there’s an obvious side road into a stream crossing on the left. I chose to wash by bike, my shoes and my-self at this point. From here it’s an easy roll on down to Route 32 (the obvious sealed road) where you’ll turn right and ride back down to the car.

50% Road… 50% Creek
Dirty
Clean

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