It had long been on the back-burner to have an explore up the Kamihoro Valley behind the Ryounkaku Onsen. Haidee and I had gone up that way a couple of years back hoping to have an explore, but we got skunked by the weather – low cloud and high winds meant we had no visibility. We went for a short walk on snowshoes anyway for half an hour before retreating to the onsen for a long soak.
Today’s weather was about as far from that socked-in mess as it could have been. Crisp blue skies with hardly a breath of wind. And it was cold. Our 8am start felt like much earlier. Starting at 1200m is always going to be cold here in Hokkaido.
Simon and Alex met Tim and me at the large plowed car park and we all got ready to go. Tim and I got away slightly sooner than Simon and Alex, and were basking in the sun, looking over to the many gnarly lines on Furano-dake’s eastern face, when we got a call on the radio.
It was Alex.
“You guys should go on ahead,” she said, sounding a bit dejected. “We’ve locked our car but misplaced the car key. It fell behind the rear wheel, so we have to jack the car up to have a better look.”
The weather was looking stellar for most of the day, so Tim and I headed back to the car park to help them find their key.
After jacking the car up and pocking and prodding, we finally found it. It had fallen behind the back wheel, hit something, ricocheted off it and fell far away from the wheel in wrist-deep pow under the car.
Crisis averted, we all got on our way.
Being my first time to the valley in clear conditions in winter, it was very interesting to see some familiar peaks from a new perspective.
Kamihorokamettoku-yama, where we’d hunkered down for two full days during a typhoon on the Daisetsuzan Grand Traverse was directly in front of us.
Gake-one ridge 崖尾根 was to our left, leading up to the summit of Sandan-yama.
And of course Furano-dake, which we’ve hiked and skied before, was to our right.
Tim had pored over topomaps of the area, and had about 1,001 lines in his back pocket, all demanding to be skied.
We were all hopeful today would prove to be decent enough conditions to enjoy some of what this valley had to offer.
The first possibility on the cards was a gully a few gullies west of Meoto-iwa 夫婦岩. We set a climbing traverse line up to the gully, in the hopes the gully had been protected from the high winds of the previous few days.
If nothing else, the surrounding scenery was superbly photogenic.
There were a few other climbers in the area. A party of three winter hikers, slowly making their way down the wind-scoured ridge from Sandan-yama. A solo skier with a European accent overtook us on a mission to find some good skiing terrain.
We made it to our intended gully in good time, and Tim quickly but carefully struck out into the middle of it to see what the conditions were like. We would end up climbing higher, but we wanted to get a feel for what we were in for.
“This isn’t bad,” radioed Tim. “If it’s all like this, it could be a good time.”
He then returned to the ridge along his skin track, and we carried on up.
Where Tim had taken a look at the surface conditions was only about half way up the gully. About three-quarters up, I took a turn at seeing what the conditions were like, as they were looking a bit suspicious. Where Tim had been lower down was on some old avalanche debris, and above that, the slope looked very smooth.
A long arching traverse confirmed what we’d been suspecting. Much of the gully was a thick-ish dust-on-crust situation. We decided it wasn’t worth climbing much higher, as we were keen to head deeper into the valley before the forecasted wind and cloud moved in in the late afternoon. We ripped skins and made the most of what we had.
From the base of the gully, we donned skins and headed up to take a look at the crater. In reality it was a steaming gully floor, but fun nonetheless.
As we were having a rest and bite to eat, we saw the skier with the European accent clambering up a wind-scoured ridge.
Good keen man.
We had a poke at another small gully, this time on the eastern aspect. The snow was OK for the first 50m or so, but the surface conditions quickly deteriorated.
The weather was coming in too. We had one last fun downhill blat.
Photos here by Simon!
The return to the car park near Ryounkaku Onsen was a great fun blat along the skin track. Except for the short uphill bootpack in hip-deep snow…that was 15 minutes of hard slog.
Instead of going to Ryounkaku Onsen for the post-ski hotspring soak, we went to Hakuginso, a short 10 minute drive away.
“Ryounkaku Onsen’s pools are always a bit tepid,” insisted Alex and Simon.
When we arrived at Hakuginso, I was taken aback at how full the massive carpark was. The place was crawling with skiers, winter hikers, winter hikers with taboggans…it was really quite amazing. Almost a festival atmosphere. It was the busiest I’d ever seen it.
And now, on Sundays, they have a coffee van outside the onsen.