The previous day, I’d been up at Ryounkaku in the Tokachi Range with Tim, Simon and Alex. It was a great day out with great weather. With that crew variously engaged today, and the weather decidedly worse, I was at somewhat a loose end. In my search for a suitable place to sleep in the van overnight in the Furano area, Tim suggested the Yamabe Parking area (location). With a 24hr heated toilet building, this was a perfect, albeit far-from-Furano solution (a 30 minute drive).
This location south of Furano City central more or less decided for me where I’d ski today. The Ashibetsu-dake winter ridge route was one I’d wanted to check out for a while. I was solo, but with a relatively safe ridge, and a conservative goal of just getting to Hanmen-yama, it seemed like a nice opportunity for a walk in the woods.
I arrived at the trailhead just as the sky was getting light. It was somewhat fortuitous that the normally snowed-in forestry road had been cleared all the way to the forestry road gate. I drove up, saving about 20 minutes of trail-breaking. It took a while to decided exactly where to park, though. Initially, I drove past the gate, and there was an area off the side of the road I could have parked. But I felt uneasy parking beyond the gate – what if someone closed it while I was out? Unlikely, but there was also an alternative spot to park off the road just outside the gate. I played it safe and parked just next to the gate.
I followed the road about 100m past the gate on skis, and then started trail breaking in earnest through the forest just beyond the hairpin bend. It was going to be slow going, as the snow was fresh and deep. Before long though, I found the ridge.
The ridge was narrower and more heavily wooded than I think I’d expected.
After about 2 hours of trail breaking along the ridge, seeing nothing but a bushy hell-scape on either side of the ridge, I messaged a friend.
“This route sucks!”
After about 3.5hrs though, things started to look much better. The ridge itself was still compact and narrow, but in particular the climber’s left side was looking much nicer, and even worth the initial bushy ridge approach.
I was about 4.5hrs into the trail-breaking slog when I stopped for a break. I sat down and donned my puffer jacket, and started munching on a packet of Oreos. I looked back at my skin track.
“I really hope someone else gets to make use of this track today,” I pondered. I felt like I’d put in a lot of work.
Just as I was thinking this, I noticed a party of three skiers making their way quickly up the skin track.
They caught up to me taking my break. It was three foreigners, apparently a guide with two clients.
“We were going to head up the summer trail ridge, but decided instead to make use of your skin track,” the guide-looking guy said. “So thanks for that!”
I told him I would let him take over for the final 200m of ascent, which he happily accepted. I was certainly the happier one.
“I don’t ski much up in here, but when we do, we usually ski the east-facing slope just south of Hanmen-yama,” he said. “Should be good today!”
After a couple of minutes of chatting, they carried on and left me to my Oreos.
With a skin track ahead of me now, it was a quick and easy climb for the final few hundred meters to the non-descript summit.
Sure enough, at the summit, I could see the skin track of the party in front of me, heading south along the ridge. The east slope looked steep on the topo, so I decided to give it a miss and head back the way I had come.
I ripped skins and was immediately amazed at the quality of the snow. I stayed on the ridge for a while before succumbing to temptation and dropped down the south slope off the ridge for some very high-quality turns until I was bluffed out above the gully.
As I was transitioning back to skins, I noticed the party of three skiing the very steep-looking eastern slope. It looked amazing.
The guide led the other two all the way to the gully floor.
For me, I had a deep climbing traverse of a skin back up to the main ridge. All around me were incredible-looking slopes perfect for lapping. If I’d had someone to share the trail-breaking with, we would have for sure lapped these slopes more. As it was, I was already over 5 hours in on this solo mission, so I decided to head back on the ridge.
The ridge-line skiing was better than my negativity on the ascent made me expect. There were a couple of good open pitches, and the tight trees were just plain fun.
I’d certainly got the best of the snow for the day. Back at the trailhead, the snow felt warm and heavy. I boiled up some water, had a coffee, ate a leisurely lunch, and then carried on my way.