Ashibetsu-dake Shindo Route (plus Yufure Hut)

芦別岳

Posted on Mar 30, 2021
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Posted on Mar 30, 2021
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14km

Distance

9 hours

Time

1400m

Ascent

1726m

Highest point

8.5/10
Difficulty
Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-May

Best season

Ashibetsu-dake 芦別岳 (1796m) is an imposing massif dominating the skyline near Furano City. The steep upper slopes are exhilarating, and the views even more so. Even in spring, it's a 9-hour-return sojourn to the summit, making this a long but rewarding objective. From the summit you'll enjoy panoramic views across to the Hidaka Range, the Daisetsu Range, and of course along the Yubari Range. From the plains below, it's the Yufure Hontani Gorge that dominates the view of the mountain - a smorgasbord of extremely steep, consequential, and committing chutes and couloirs. For those wishing to spend more time ensconced in the terrain, it's possible to ski down to the basic Yufure-goya Hut for multi-night missions.

We visited this route on Mar 27, 2021

Last updated Apr 2, 2021

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Ashibetsu-dake is the highest peak in the Yubari mountain range, about 15km south of central Furano City in central Hokkaido. It’s about 2.5 hours drive from Sapporo City. This Shindo (New Trail) Route up the mountain starts here, at the summer trailhead. Parking is a 10 minute walk north, here (see transport options below).

General notes

Ashibetsu-dake is a formidable looking peak in both summer and winter. Its impressive Yufure Hontani Gorge, climbable spurs, couliors, and cliff faces are clearly visible on the drive south from Furano City. The route outlined on this page is arguably the bread-and-butter winter ski touring route, approaching the peak via the summer trail (not marked). The climb only gets technical at the last steep slope up to the summit, where boot crampons are often required. Here, we include the spring-time adventure-skiing (a.k.a. Type 2 fun) option of dropping off the main ridge north to the Yufure-goya Hut, nestled deep in the Yufure Hontani Gorge.

  • Season: As a long daytrip (9hrs return), this Shindo Route on its own is popular from January through till May. Climbing in January and February will require a well-before dawn start, and will reward the effort with excellent powder snow. From mid-March onwards, the days are longer, and the going is easier.
  • Dropping down to the hut (and getting back out): The route down to the Yufure-goya Hut roughly follows the old unmarked Kakutaro Trail (named after the hermit who built the hut) from the 1107m point. This would be feasible from late January onwards. However, do note that the trail from the hut east down the Yufure River is generally not traveled in the deep winter months (Dec-Feb) due to lack of snow bridges and lack of snow on the gorge sides to facilitate traversing. If visiting the hut in deep winter, one has two feasible options for the return. One would be to return up the steep Kakutaro Trail ridge to the main Ashibetsu-dake ridge. The other arguably preferable option, would be to ski up and over the 1085m saddle between Ochacha-dake お茶茶岳 and Shinpaku-yama 慎柏山, and descend down the Juhachisen-gawa valley with no wet-feet river-crossings required. Allow four hours for the second option.
  • Couloirs: We haven’t skied any of the couloirs on the north face of Ashibetsu-dake, but here’s our beta, for what it’s worth. First, it’s only the Hontani Couloir and ‘A’ Couloir we’ve heard reports of people skiing. The Hontani Couloir, accessed from the plateau directly west of Ashibetsu-dake summit, is steep but wide enough to be almost undeserving of the couloir moniker. The ‘A’ Couloir is accessed from the shallow col at the base of the Ashibetsu-dake summit face to the east of the summit. It’s much steeper and narrower. We’ve not seen reports of anyone skiing the other three couloirs. Importantly, the season for skiing into (or up) the Hontani gorge is extremely limited. Late March is a rarity (but snow looks amazing), mid-April till beginning of May is normal. It’s very rare for anyone to drop into the Yufure Hontani earlier than March. The main concern is how filled in the Yufure Hontani gorge is, particularly at the ‘narrow gorge’ marked on our map. This is a waterfall which gets a solid skiable/walkable snow covering from March till May, but is often open before that. One report we saw from January had a party of five endure a four-hour slog up and over bluffs when they were cut off from the gorge below. Also note that with the warmer temperatures from late March till late April, the upper spires and craggy slopes of the gorge start shedding their winter snow in the form of colossal wet slab and full-depth avalanches. Many of these avalanches easily cross the entire width of the gorge, particularly down low. In such Russian Roulette conditions, one may prefer to be skiing down the gorge, rather than spending the 3 hours required to hike up from the hut. Keep an eye on the temperature forecast and only make the most conservative of choices.
Hut
Yufure-goya Hut (full details here)

It’s said that over 70 years ago a hermit by the name of Taro Kaku built the Yufure-goya, and spent his days living there year-round. The extraordinarily well-built stone hut has received a new roof since Taro Kaku’s days, but almost everything else is original – solid concrete and stacked river-stone walls, massive roof beams, and gorgeous wood-framed windows. In winter, the hut is extremely remote. Getting there requires either a 3 hour arduous ski in (including river crossings), or a 4 hour hike up and over a saddle, with a 500m descent down to the hut. For those who make the journey, they’ll be rewarded by prime access to some of Hokkaido’s most secluded, steep, and remote skiing terrain.

Route details

Park up near the shrine, around here, about 10 minutes walk north of the summer trailhead. Avoid parking on the side of the road where you may obstruct traffic. Skin 10 minutes back to the summer trailhead, and head up the main ridge towards the first main lookout point, Miharashidai 見晴台, at around 850m. Enjoy the expansive views east towards the Daisetsuzan Range. Continue climbing to the 1107m knob, and if planning on dropping down to the hut, depot overnight gear here. From this point, you may mistake the rocky crags above you as the summit, but it’s only when you get to Hanmen-yama 半面山 (1377m) after 4 hours of climbing that the summit will come into view.

From just past Unpo-zan 雲峰山 (1579m), snow conditions may require boot crampons, so make the decision early. The summit itself offers an impressive feeling of airy exposure, with no-fall slopes on all sides. Take care when skiing from the summit as it can be steep and icy. Soon the slope mellows out to some excellent skiing down towards the east southeast, in a wide gully. At the confluence of another gully from the north, climb back up to Hanmen-yama and make the final descent back down the summer ridge to the trailhead.

If planning on staying at the Yufure-goya Hut, the ski down the old Kakutaro Trail ridge is mellow at first, and then it’s steep tree skiing to the valley floor. The hut is on the opposite side of the river, but the river is very shallow and there’s a few slippery step-stones to step on.

The spring-time descent from the hut along the Yufure River is a mixed bag, requiring good, highly granular route-finding skills. There are places where exposed, consequential, and difficult traverses may be required high above the river. Lower down, there are multiple places where river crossings are required. That said, the rivers crossings, while numerous, are shallow and short. Bring heavy-weight plastic bin-liner bags to stuff between your ski boot liners and shell to keep water out.

Route Timing
Up | 6hrs
Down | 2hrs

The timings above assume you’re just doing the daytrip. For the hut detour, allow the same 6 hours on the ascent, but 1.5hrs from the summit to the hut. Expect the descent from the hut along the Yufure River to take between 2 and 3 hours.

Transport

Public transport:

The JR Yamabe Station 山部駅 (location) is a 40 minute walk (3.5km) from the Ashibetsu Trailhead (see the route here). Yamabe Station is a 14-minute train ride from Furano Station.

By car:

Parking in deep winter for the Ashibetsu-dake summer trailhead (芦別岳登山口, location) is somewhat of a bottle-neck at present. While the trailhead is only a 20 minute (14km) drive south from Furano City, there’s limited options for parking at the trailhead in winter. Either drive on a little further to either the shrine, or the Yamabe Shizen Park 山部自然公園 (location, only cleared in spring). Either way, make sure to park well off the road, so as to not obstruct traffic or snow-clearing, and be sensitive to locals’ wishes regarding parking, if approached.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Ashibetsu-dake (芦別岳) – map no. NK-54-8-9-4
Official Topo Map 2: Nunobe-dake (布部岳) – map no. NK-54-8-9-3

NOTE: The official 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

Aspect
The main aspect skiers are exposed to on the descent and/or ascent is East. Other aspects that may also be encountered while following the route outlined on this page include: Southeast, North. Therefore, keep an eye on the weather forecast a few days ahead of your trip to monitor wind, snow, and temperature. Also, since this route is in the general vicinity of the Furano area, consider looking at the Furano Avalanche Center (on Facebook). They issue sporadic observations throughout the season which may give extra insight into avalanche conditions.

Snow and
route safety

The final 100m-vertical climb to the summit can be icy, and a fall, particularly from the final few ten meters or so, could be quite consequential. Carry boot crampons. Some form of self-arrest ability is also highly recommended. The descent from the hut along the Yufure River, as mentioned above, requires some high traverses above the river – take care not to fall.

Ashibetsu-dake Shindo Route (plus Yufure Hut) Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

A

40

Time ascending

A

10

Technicality

Altitude

A

10

Hazards

B

12

Navigation

B

12

Totals

84/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy).  More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Ashibetsu-dake
Onsen nearby

If there’s just one thing that the immediate Furano area lacks, it’s good natural onsen. Drive 40 minutes up to the Tokachi Onsen area, and you’ll be in heaven – our pick is Hakuginso’s massive outdoor onsen complex. But if you’re headed back to Furano, try out the pokey but cute Hotel Naturwald Furano ホテルナトゥールヴァルト富良野 (location, 600yen), right next to the Furano ski area.

Extra Resources

In Japanese, there’s a plethora of information about skiing Ashibetsu-dake; here’s a couple of printed guidebooks with useful beta.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other areas of Central Hokkaido together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Takao Miyashita. He’s a born-and-bred Hokkaido based guide. From a young age he cut his teeth on peaks around Tokachi-dake, Asahi-dake, Sandan-yama and others. He has multiple 6,000m-plus peak international expeditions under his belt (including a ski descent from 7,400m on Mt. Manaslu, Nepal). He is one of the leading senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido and Japan. See a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

Ryan from Furano Adventure Tours is arguably one of the most knowledgeable non-Japanese guides when it comes to the Yubari Range and greater Furano area. Also consider getting in touch with him if you’re keen to connect with a guide to help you make the most of your time in the backcountry in Furano.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

We’d been going back and forth about this weekend trip for at least two weeks. The original plan was to climb up the Yufure Hontani Gorge via the Yufure-goya Hut. But being late March, there were concerns that if the temperatures got too high, the crags and gullies on either side of the main gorge might start shaking off their winter coats. We’d seen enough reports from late April and early May to suggest the Hontai Gorge was home to plenty of full-depth avalanches (case in point). “A nest of avalanches,” one climber called it.

That said, if the temperatures stayed low enough, we’d have been keen to have tried it out. As it so happened, however, the Sunday we’d planned on doing the trip was well above freezing, even above 2000m.

Play Video

This was somewhat of a nail in the coffin for the Yufure Hontani Gorge idea. About mid way through the week leading up to the trip, the forecast was still for good weather on Sunday, so we’d head up to the hut on Saturday, and then just head up to the summit from the hut via the Kakutaro ridge and main ridge.

On Friday, however, the weather forecast had nothing but clear skies and cold temperatures, plus no wind, for Saturday. I quickly messaged Tim and Hiro.

“Let’s go for the gorge tomorrow!” I excitedly tapped at my phone. “4:30am pick up for you guys!”

They agreed to the super early start from Sapporo, and thus it was that we managed to get to the mountain before 7am on the Saturday.

But then we saw it. Standing clear, momentous, glaringly proud. Ashibetsu-dake in all his glory.

Seeing this iconic Hokkaido mountain in such perfect weather laid waste to all the wishy-washy plans to climb up the gorge. The climb up the gorge was highly dependent on a number of things going right. The approach to the hut had to be relatively straight forward along the Yufure River (we’d find out the next day it was not easy at all). We had to feel comfortable regarding the avalanche activity and stability of the upper slopes of the gorge. We’d still be climbing almost 3 hours up an incalculably beautiful but also highly risky gorge.

“I have an idea,” Tim and I almost said in unison. We both had the same idea. We decided to head for the summit via the most likely route for success – the Shindo summer trail route. We’d lug our overnight gear and food up to the 1107m  knob, depot it, carry on to the summit, then pick up the gear on our way down to the hut.

There were still plenty of unknowns in this plan. I’d heard of at least one ski party climbing up from the hut to the 1107m point via the old Kakutaro trail, but we had very little beta on the steepness or forest conditions.

Our spring skiing adventure weekend was getting off to a very adventurous start. 

We made good time up the summer trail, despite packs heavy with food and overnight gear. Hiro was carrying some ground venison for dinner, and we’d also split up between us some rice, more yaki-niku style marinated pork and beef, and two big bags of pre-cut vegetables. We were going to eat like kings at the hut…we just had to lug all of that up 700 vertical meters, and then ski down 500m with it at the end of the day.

The air temperature was cool, but the sun was hot. Soon, we were peeling off the layers.

Then, Tim lost balance and fell over on a kick-turn. He slid a few meters down the slope before his ski caught on a small tree. It was an awkward spot to be stuck upside down on the slope. It took him a while to get himself unstuck, but all was well.

“Oh f%#k!” he exclaimed. “My binding is broken.”

Somehow, in the fall, the walk/ski lever on the toe piece of one of his bindings got ripped off. They were new Fritschi Tecton 12‘s. They now only worked in ski mode.

After some fiddling, however, Tim worked out that he could still use the bindings for walking and skiing. He wouldn’t be able to lock them as tight as they would otherwise be in walk mode, but the ski mode still allowed him to walk in them. The trip was not over for Tim.

With the binding drama sorted, we pushed on to our depot point at 1107m. It felt like a long way. A long way of fighting against gravity to schlep overnight gear to. But the relief once we did drop the overnight gear was sweet. We were given fresh legs in the form of significantly lighter packs.

What we foolishly thought was the summit of Ashibetsu-dake also seemed peculiarly close.

It wasn’t until we got on top of Hanmen-yama 半面山 that we realized that while the summit was relatively close, it was hugely more extravagant than the false summit we’d been looking at.

A party of about eight climbers, skis strapped to their packs, were slowly boot packing their way up towards the summit.

“Now this is a real mountain,” I joked to Tim. He agreed. A mountain like this makes the Niseko range feel like a kindergarten. A kindy with the most epic powder ever, yes. But still. This was something else.

We hurried across the flat-lands of Hanmen-yama and then the final long traverse to the base of the final steep climb to the summit. While Tim and Hiro were putting on their crampons, I sent the drone up for some aerial shots.

Immediate vertigo ensued.

Just 15m away, over that edge, was a precipitous drop.

It was both terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time.

Grateful to have snow steps already kicked into the slope to the summit, we set off with skis strapped to our packs and crampons on our boots. It was easy going. Nearer the summit it was clear that we were now above a void below, which got the heart racing just that little extra.

By the time we made it to the crowded summit ridge, the other group was kitted up with their skis, ready to ski down.

Soon after, they launched themselves off the summit and screamed down the slope, ripping up great chunks of crust. It was clearly not great skiing. Varying between only-just-breakable crust to solid bulletproof crust. 

And then one of them was falling. Sliding down the mountain. Actually sliding, and gaining speed.

There was nothing below the skier that would indicate they were about to have a worse time than they already were, so we just watched them speed up…and then slow down as they hit the warmer snow about 100m below.

After the others caught up to the skier, the skier soon stood up and carried on. Only to crash a second time. This time only sliding perhaps 50m.

Ashibetsu-dake. Unforgiving in a forgiving sort of way…so long as you’re falling on the right slope, I guess.

After watching the drama unfold under us, we carried on along the summit ridge a few meters to the summit proper. The compact summit was breathtaking.

Hiro cracked open a miniature 135ml can of Sapporo Classic beer, and we shared in the satisfaction of getting to the Yubari range’s highest peak.

We kitted up and started our own descent from the summit. The going wasn’t as bad as the straight-down-the-slope chap had made it look. Verging on enjoyable even. I couldn’t find my GoPro, so no first person frame-grabs, but here’s a photo of Tim learning how to ski on Hokkaido spring ice.

As we descended, the snow soon transformed into fast spring corn. We were very tempted to head down the gully (as indicated on the map), but we were feeling pressed for time. We still had a huge unknown in the form of the descent from the main ridge to the hut, so we opted to return along our ascent route to avoid having to hike back up to Hanmen-yama. 

The ski from Hanmen-yama to our depot point was fun too. Some narrow ridge skiing, but there were pockets of nice slopes through well-spaced trees. We got excited at one point and almost skied down the wrong ridge, only realizing just in time to traverse back over to the main ridge.

Once we were loaded up with our overnight gear and food again, we started the careful ski down the north-facing ridge to the hut. It was bulletproof crust.

A 15kg+ pack does nothing for one’s skiing confidence, so we were all doing a lot of side scaping and not much turning.

The snow improved somewhat as we descended, and the slope was surprisingly skiable. Steep, but not too steep. Trees, but not too many trees.

Soon, we spied the roof of the hut. 

To our utter amazement (and later immense gratitude), there were people down there at the hut. They were clearing the snow off the roof of the hut.

For a hut so remote, it took us by complete surprise. Even more surprising was that one of the snow-clearers was none other than Yassan from Tree Life Guiding. Haidee and I had taken part in a ‘monitor tour’ with Yassan as our hiking guide a few seasons back.

“Hey Rob! Was the skiing fun?” he asked in his usual upbeat way.

Got started on ferrying our gear across the river to the hut. No feet were wet in the process. Particularly not Hiro, who had brought plastic bags just for the purpose.

We pitched in with the snowclearing. “Take care of the windows,” Yassan ordered. “We want to keep the clear so we get some light in the hut.

Yassan and his team had been working on the roof for over four hours. When they arrived, the roof was one great big mushroom of over 2m of snow. One of the team was fixing up the chimney, even as smoke was rising out of it.

Soon, we were tasked to find some more firewood. “There’s only a little bit left in the hut from last season,” explained Yassan. 

Hiro and I had brought foldable saws for the purpose, and soon had a good stack of old, dry-ish deadfall. 

This kept us going for the night, allowing Hiro to whip up a storm on the wood stove. Tonight, it would be wild venison hot-pressed sandwiches (Hiro is a hunter in his spare time).

Sleeping in the hut was cosy with almost ten people in it. There’s much more space for more people, but the upper sleeping platforms are dusty and haven’t been swept out or cleaned for years it seems. I slept well, despite a dripping near my head from melting snow that had blown in from the second story window.

It’s a basic hut, to say the least.

The next morning, the snow-clearing team left at before 8am. 

We decided to climb up to Ochacha-dake 御茶々岳, so I’ll post that route shortly.

THE DESCENT FROM THE HUT

The descent from the hut back along the Yufure River gorge was fairly brutal. I’d heard reports of people saying it was the toughest part of any skiing in the gorge, but not many people wrote the details. In one report I read, the author said “I think that’ll be the last ski adventure I have this season…time to relax and behave myself.”

We now know what he was on about.

I can’t tell you what the route is, or how things will be when you do the route. Clearly, depending on how much snow has fallen, or how much snow has avalanched, or how much as dropped from great heights, one’s route will be quite different to anyone else’s. It’s a roll-with-the-punches sort of a route.

Perhaps most surprisingly from the outset is how steep the gorge is directly below the hut. The hut, situated in some kind of inconceivable sanctuary of calm, lulls one into security. Once one leaves that sanctuary, it’s a fight for one’s sanity that photos really don’t do justice to.

We were vaguely following snowshoe tracks and the occasional old rotten ski track. But sometimes, they would simply end at a gaping hole in the stream. Or they’d be traversing seemingly impossibly steep drops to the river below. Fine-grained route-finding at its finest.

And then came the river crossings. “Since you’re on skis, you’ll probably only have to cross the river a couple of times,” said Yassan in the hut the night before.

Perhaps we were missing the details, but we ended up crossing the river more than seven times. I lost count after that. Sure, there were parts where colossal avalanches had buried the river nicely, but they were few and far between. In the end, we all eventually just gave up taking our skis off for the crossings.

To add insult to injury, by the time we’d made it back to the car with about 1.5hrs of daylight remaining, Haidee had dutifully notified the police that we were well overdue our originally planned completion time. In my excitement to head up to Ochacha-dake on Sunday, I’d conveniently forgotten what I’d communicated to Haidee, and failed to let her know of the change of plans (which I could have done at the summit of Ochacha-dake or indeed using my Garmin inReach).

As it turned out, we arrived back at the car about 20 minutes after the call had been made, so were greeted at our car by two cheerful coppers from the Furano Police department. After a great amount of back-and-forward making sure that we were indeed the three hapless adventurers who had been lost but now found, the officers left us to heaed to Furano for an onsen hotspring soak and dinner.

Adventurous spring-time Hokkaido backcountry adventure…check.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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Ashibetsu-dake Shindo Route (plus Yufure Hut) Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

A

40

Time ascending

A

10

Technicality

Altitude

A

10

Hazards

B

12

Navigation

B

12

Totals

84/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.