This was the second day of a three-day weekend. We were making the most of being up north by staying at the hopelessly functional Rikugeian AirBnB in Pippu Village. It meant having to commute up to one hour to and from the Kitami Pass area each day, but the good value accommodation was well worth it. Rikugeian is about 2 minutes drive from the Kita-pippu Interchange on the Asahikawa-Monbetsu Expressway, so it made getting to the mountains really easy. As n added bonus, the expressway is free from Pippu-kita Interchange eastwards.
We left the AirBnB just before 8am. We’d more or less given up hope of getting anywhere near the summit of Ariake-yama today. Windy.com was forecasting 120km/h winds at 1500m. We decided to head to the trailhead and at the very least just go for a walk on skis.
We arrived at the trailhead at just before 9am. There was one other car there, the occupants clearly consulting their phones for a hint as to whether they should attempt the route or not. We’d already resigned to the fact that our outing would highly likely just be a stroll in the woods, so as soon as we arrived we braved the wind and got kitted up.
At the trailhead there was a stiff breeze blowing, but high up on the ridges, the wind was roaring through the trees. The scouring wind was so noisy that we had to raise our voices to talk to each other. The raw power of mother nature was on full display.
As we started skiing away along the forestry road, we saw the occupants of the other car get out and start getting kitted up. Perhaps our unfaltering confidence had rubbed off on them.
The gale-force wind was coming squarely from the west. The forestry road ran east to west, so despite being down low in the relative shelter of the valley, we were being hammered by a headwind. Before long, most of us had discarded our sunglasses and were not wearing our ski goggles.
At times, snow flurries whipped down on us. However, as soon as we turned the slightest corner at the 1.5km mark in the forestry road, we were out of the wind. There was hardly a breath of wind, and the sun was shining. Were we still on the same mountain?
All around us, the tops of the trees still roared, being clawed at by the unfaltering winds. Mercifully, as we ascended the broad northern ridge, we were mostly spared from the wind until around the treeline at 1300m or so. There were a occasional gusts that ripped at the snow surface, but they were very manageable. The snow surface was, predictably, wind affected and heavy.
At around 1350m, we were starting to top out at the top of the northern ridge. Our original goal – the 1488m mark – was well within our reach. Snow surface conditions continued to deteriorate, however, and soon the full brunt of the wind had stripped every last bit of loose snow off the ridge, leaving bullet-proof sastrugi and ice in its wake.
Lacking ski crampons, we decided to call it a day here. Even if we’d had the appropriate gear, the wind was only likely to be even stronger higher up. It was time to cut our loses and enjoy the OK snow down the northern ridge.
Switching to downhill mode was easier said than done, however. We all struggled with skins, boots, googles and gloves in the unrelenting wind. Our saving grace was that it wasn’t too cold. Had this been mid-winter, we’d have turned back much sooner.
Once we were all downhill-mode sorted, we clattered down the 20m or so of ice we’d clambered up, and then hit good (as good as wind affected snow can be good) snow. It was a joy to be picking our own lines down the mellow downhill slope.
Afterwards, I watched Yamano-makochan’s video report from his trip to Ariake-yama in February 2019. Him and his team had experienced grand, bulbous snow monsters, blue skies, and deep, deep powder. Worlds away from what we were skiing.
Yamano-makochan’s Ariake-yama Video Report
It was here that we noticed for the first time that a pair of skis were missing from the van’s roof racks. I shall refrain from naming the individual, but it turned out they never secured the skis to the roof racks. “I just put them on the racks, but got distracted and didn’t strap them down,” the unnamed individual explained.
The only explanation was that the skis must have fallen off the car as soon as we pulled out of the car park at the Ariake-yama trailhead. We quickly drove the 45 minutes back to the trailhead to see if they were still on the road. We were dismayed to see the skis were not there. So many possible explanations were put forward. Someone has claimed the skis as their own. Someone picked them up and handed them into the police. The other skiers at the trailhead picked them up and have them safe and sound, waiting for us to try to contact them in some way.
A quick call to the police confirmed they’d not been handed in. I registered a lost item just in case. That is, in Japan it’s possible to submit a formal Lost Item Filing (遺失届 ishitsutodoke). You can do this by calling or visiting any police box. This will go into the nation-wide system, and if an item matching the description of your item is handed in somewhere, you’ll get a call.
This was the least we could do, so we dejectedly drove back to the AirBnB. I was 100% confident that we would eventually get the skis back. The only thing I was sad about was that it was unlikely we’d get them back in time for tomorrow’s skiing.
“No problem,” the affected party said. “I’ll just ski at Pippu Ski Area tomorrow on rental skis, and see you once you get back from the ski touring.”
I made a post on the main Hokkaido mountaineering Facebook Group that night, and quickly got some extra suggestions – “call the road maintenance company” was the most helpful suggestion, so I noted that away for tomorrow.