It was one of the drier, warmer Decembers of recent years, so we weren’t super positive about our chances of getting to the summit of Bihinai-yama. “We’ll try to get to the 890m point, and then consider our options from there,” I suggested as we geared up at the carpark. There was another group of four skiers who got ready near us, but they headed over the other side of the valley.
In the end, despite this being a rather challenging trip with it’s fair share of bush-bashing (not uncommon for December around Sapporo), it was great to get out onto the snow.
We skinned across the Toyoha Mine clearing towards the main ridge we needed to get up onto to start the climb up to the 890m flat-ridge. Very soon, we discovered what the guidebook was talking about – it mentioned “bothersome thick trees until you get to the ridge”. With this year’s lean December, it was another level of bothersome. We went on traversing climbs that led to dead-ends, and eventually got to the ridge through a couple of side-stepping scrambles. By this time, almost 45minutes had passed since we left the car, and we’d only traveled about 400m as the crow flies.
As promised in the guidebook, however, once on the ridge it was a bit more easy going. It would have been ten times easier had there been another 1.5m of snow.
The going was getting quicker though – as we climbed, the less bush-dodging we needed to do. The snow was deep and powdery. We were surrounded by giant trees. A light snow was falling. Contrary to the weather forecast, there was hardly a breath of wind.
Despite the doom and gloom shared on social media about this year’s (2019) December and lack of snow, this felt more or less on par for what skiers can expect for December. Guaranteed deep snow and a base covering all vegetation only really consistently happens from early to mid-January.
By the time we got to the base of the short, steep climb to the summit, we were all looking forward to actually climbing something. The flat ridge was a little bit monotonous, but this steep climb, through very deep powder, was engaging.
Largely unsurprising, the weather didn’t allow us any views from the summit. Theoretically we should have been able to see Yotei-zan had the weather been clearer.
The downhill from the summit was over in a moment. If we’d not spent so much time bush-bashing at the start of the trip, we probably would have lapped the upper slope a couple of times. But the day was getting on, so we reluctantly started the flat-ish pole back down the ridge. Once again, had there been more snow, things might not have been as slow going. But as things were, we were carefully keeping speed in check when we could get speed up, to avoid any close encounters with errant twigs and sasa bamboo grass.