There were only two other cars at the trailhead so we knew it would be a quiet day. It was mid-June and there was still plenty of snow about; the summer hiking season had not really started. A glance at the log book in the usual trailhead postbox showed that a forest worker had been up a few days previously to inspect the trail as far as the first snowfield, but that was about it.
The metal pipe bridge a short way up the trail was still in its dismantled winter state; no doubt the walkway sections would soon be reassembled by local forest workers. We edged our way across and continued up the trail, past a couple of waterfalls. The yellow flowers and broad green leaves of Ezoryukinka エゾリュウキンカ were growing in profusion on the banks of small streams. As this is a tasty wild mountain vegetable we made a mental note to harvest some on the way back.
The gully was by now largely blocked with snow, and we were soon walking on it in places. Where it finally opened out we could see a lone figure coming down in the distance. He was wearing instep crampons but as he passed us he said they weren’t necessary. We put ours on anyway, but he was right; although steep at the top the snow was soft enough to keep a footing. However, as it was early in the season there was no beaten trail to show the correct route across and when we reached the top we realized there was no sign of any trail continuing on up. We carried on anyway, linking snow patches as much as possible to avoid having to bash though the thick shrubby undergrowth. Eventually, after traversing one large snowfield we managed to rejoin the path and from there were soon on the ridge itself.
We opted to do Himara-yama first, so turned right along the broad ridge, through low haimatsu ハイマツ shrub pines and over little outcrops. The mist came in for a while so there were no views while we were having lunch on top, but it cleared up on the way back. The vista across to Nisekaushuppe was spectacular. Jeff spotted some ski tracks snaking down the steep northeast face and bowl – that would be a hardcore backcountry trip, we agreed. From the top of Himana-yama the jagged ridge across to Nisekaushuppe looked truly alpine as the clouds swirled around.
Back at the cairn we dropped our packs for the short walk up the rather nondescript flat top of Hirayama. The alpine flowers were just beginning to appear and we could see that they would be in their full glory in a few weeks. We returned to our packs, and after a last wistful glance along one of Hokkaido’s finest ridges we dropped down. Descending the snowfields proved to be far quicker, and we had great fun practicing our standing glissade technique – essentially, skiing without skis. Jeff was kind enough to demonstrate the Oregon glissade for me, which as far as I could tell consisted of falling flat on one’s face then sliding down headfirst until becoming entangled in the bushes at the bottom. But we knew the runout was safe and with no damage done it was time to harvest a few wild vegetables and head back to the car. The day finished off in the small, rustic and rather retro Kyowa Onsen just outside Aibetsu, our favourite in these parts.