With a day-job, there isn’t much leeway for picking the days for ski touring trips based on the weather, so we had our fingers crossed for some good weather on the weekend we’d chosen to head from Sapporo to Hakuginso Lodge in the Tokachi Ranges (lodge details here). On day one we’d try out the Giant Ridge route up Mt. Furano.
With us for this trip were some new friends all the way from Scotland. Alan and Emma had emailed me asking about some of the huts around Sapporo, and I offered that they come with us on our trip to Hakuginso Lodge. They’d got some great powder skiing earlier in the week in Hakuba, so would the promise of even better snow in Hokkaido live up to expectations?
Based purely on the weather forecast, the weekend was not looking particularly promising. Saturday – the day we’d planned to head up Mt. Furano – was forecast for strong winds around midday. We decided to push on with the plan anyway, however, since the guidebook promised some respite from the wind once among the large conifer trees on the slopes. We would climb up as far as safely possible, and if nothing else get a bit of exercise after the long 3 hour drive from Sapporo.
In all, we had 9 in our group: three snowboarders (two on snowshoes) and six skiers. We all converged on the trailhead at around 10:30am, and the weather forecast was playing our to the letter. Very strong winds blew snow into every nook and cranny.
Spirits were high, however. We just needed to get into the shelter of the trees, and everything would (hopefully) be OK.
There appears to be a couple of locations to drop down off the road to the riverbed at the trailhead. We ended up scrambling down the steeper access point right at the t-intersection. The other option is to walk a little bit downhill and drop down at a more civilized angle to the riverbed, although that would likely require two stream crossings, rather than just the one.
All in all, it is quite the inglorious start to the route, particularly when the wind is as strong as it was for us.
Once we were all safely across the precarious narrow bridge across the Nukkakushi-Furano River, we quickly headed into the shelter of the forest. And indeed it was much more sheltered – a calm oasis in the storm.
From here we started up the eastern side of the Beberui Creek gully, crossing at around 1,100m onto the Giant Ridge.
Along the way, we met two groups of skiers, returning the way they had come. They had not gotten very far up the ridge before turning back due to high winds and heavy snow that was not great for skiing.
I was in two minds about continuing up, not only because of the bleak outlook further up the ridge, but also because the two snowboarders in our party who were on snowshoes were struggling in a couple of places with bottomless snow even on the relatively hard-packed skin track.
We decided to push on, however, and see what things were like further up nearer the treeline. We’d turn back if it wasn’t looking too promising.
To our delight, however, the weather only got better as time went by. At times we had views across the Furano Plains through gaps in the trees. Amazing how better weather can lift the spirits.
The weather was indecisive though, so as another snowy squall rolled in, we decided to call it a day, just at the treeline at around 1,400m. The snow on the Giant Ridge was quite wind affected also, so that added to our satisfaction that we’d fought the good fight for today.
We all set about getting ready for the downhill.
Unfortunately for us, the snow was less than inspiring on the way down. While I had heard reports of the lightest, most glorious powder just one day previously, the wind had clearly transformed that into a slightly more compacted, heavy version. We consoled ourselves with the fact that given the roaring wind at the trailhead, we were just lucky enough to have made it this high up on the ridge in the first place.
And really, there isn’t a day in the snow in Hokkaido that hasn’t made me grin from ear to ear.
The way down for this route is essentially back the way you came. From the point that the route crosses the Beberui Creek, we just hurtled along the skin track back to the Nukkakushi-Furano River bed. From there it was a short book-pack back up to the t-junction and the cars.
We were booked in to the Hakuginso Lodge that night (details here), and I am glad we booked ahead. The entire lodge was full that night, bustling with keen backcountry explorers.
Most larger groups (more than ten or fifteen) are put in one of the large tatami rooms, and this is convenient because this allows for both sleeping and cooking. The well-appointed kitchen downstairs is great, but the dining area isn’t really suited to large groups. Our group was nine people, and the staff were concerned that we’d struggle to fit everyone in at the tables in the kitchen.
To alleviate the space pressure, they very kindly allowed us to use a small staff room, adding an extra low table for us to use. The room is used primarily for the overnight staff at the lodge for meals and sleeping. “So long as you’re out by 8pm, you’re welcome to use this room,” the staff member said, apologizing profusely for how cramped and pokey the room was.
Our dinner that night was a shared Japanese hotpot nabe, so the arrangement was perfect. Despite the exploding popularity of the lodge over the last few years, the staff are still down to earth and helpful.
After dinner, some of us walked 10 minutes down the road to the wild Fukiage Onsen hotspring (see the bottom of this post and near the bottom of this post for photos). It was close to a perfect temperature, with a ceiling of clear starry skies.
The final shout-out goes to Alan and Emma from Scotland for bringing some delicious Scapa scotch whiskey. A great accent to the night!