Posted on Mar 27, 2020
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Posted on Mar 27, 2020

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Reading time: 5 min
8.7km

Distance

5 hours

Time

570m

Ascent

1446m

Highest point

6.5/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Feb-Apr

Best season

The ski touring route up Chitokaniushi-yama (チトカニウシ山, 1446m) starts high up on the Kitami Pass (北見峠, 857m) in northern Hokkaido. This gives relatively easy access to good snow and amazing views of the surrounding northern Daisetsu mountains. The basic up-and-back route along the southwestern ridge allows some good skiing, but experienced backcountry skiers will enjoy sampling the various faces and bowls from the summit. If conditions are stable, the south-southwest bowl or the steep western face just below the summit are good candidates for laps.

We visited this route on Mar 22, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Chitokaniushi-yama in the Kitami mountains sits just to the north of the Daisetsuzan range in northern Hokkaido. The trailhead for this winter ski touring route up the mountain starts at the entrance to a forestry road, here, near Kitami Pass.

General notes

On a clear day, you can’t miss Chitokaniushi-yama if anywhere near Kitami Pass. Its rounded summit and thick ridge leading up from Kitami Pass is unmistakable. As such, it’s one of the very popular peaks for backcountry skiers and boarders in the Kitami Pass area. It’s worth noting that from the carpark it’s about 2.5km of only very gently ascending terrain before climbing starts in earnest. In order to make this route more of a ski than a walk, skiers will need to make the most of their time at altitude above 1000m by lapping the steep western face just below the summit, or skiing the south-southwest bowl and drainage (note that both of these options will require very stable snowpack conditions).

Hut

Rikugeian AirBnB (full details here)

Somewhere in the AirBnB house notes, this gorgeous down-to-earth Japanese-style accommodation is referred to as a ‘hut’. By any normal standards, however, this fully-featured, incredibly functional ski touring base is anything but a hut. There’s an interior charcoal pit, futons, wood stove, decorative snowboards adorning the walls, heating, water, shower…everything you’d expect from an AirBnB. Rikugeian (六芸庵) isn’t a mountain hut – realistically it’s up to an hour drive to most serious backcountry ski touring terrain. But it’s right next to the delightfully local Pippu Ski area (and attached onsen hotspring), so makes for a really affordable location to base oneself out of for a week or so for exploring the northern Daisetsuzan range. Daytrips to Kuro-dake, the Kitami Pass area, Teshio-dake, and Horokanai are well within reach.

Route details

This route is sporadically marked with tape tied to trees. Such markings are not official, however, so it’s best to assume you’ll be navigating on your own. Clamber up the snow bank at the snowed-in entrance to the forestry road (around here). Follow the forestry road for 1.5km. When the road makes a hard right hairpin, leave the road and continue straight up to the wide plateau-like ridge above. Once on the plateau, it’s another 1km or so on only very gently ascending terrain before the climbing starts in earnest from around altitude 1000m. From here, just follow your nose upwards, and you’ll be funneled up to a false peak at 1258m. If your visit has been preceded by high winds, the final 200m or so of vertical climb may be on hard packed snow and/or ice. In most cases you’ll be on skis to the summit, but be prepared to bootpack if necessary. On the descent, the easiest route down is back the way you came. If you have the time and energy for more climbing, however, the steep western-aspect slope just down from the summit to the skier’s right of the ridge is sublime. This will give skiers about 300m vertical descent on a steep slope with well spaced trees. Just before the slope funnels into a maze of deep gullies, switch back to skins and make a long sweeping climb back to the summit ridge, and head back to the car.

Route Timing
Up | 3hrs
Down | 2hrs

Bank on just under three hours from car to summit, and just under two hours back down. Add on about an hour if skiing/lapping the western face.

Transport

Public transport:

This route is not accessible by public transport.

By car: 

Kitami Pass is very easily accessed via the Asahikawa-Monbetsu Expressway (旭川紋別自動車道). Get off at the Ukishima Interchange (浮島IC) and access Kitami Pass on Route 333. Incidentally, there’s no toll on the expressway from the Pippu Kita Interchange. At the trailhead, there’s room for up to about 10 cars in the cleared parking area. Just up the road is the gigantic Kitami Pass parking area too, so there’s no shortage of parking for this route.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Kitami-toge (北見峠) – map no. NK-54-1-13-4

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).

Snow and route safety

The main southwest ridge is relatively well defined, but when descending down to the flat section of the ridge, there are a couple of spots where one might be tempted to veer off course to the right or left. Take special care in low visibility conditions to double-check your location frequently. Also note that while the south-southwest bowl and steep western face can offer great skiing, avalanches would run far into very tight and deep terrain traps – exercise extreme caution if considering skiing these areas.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Chitokaniushi-yama
Onsen nearby

There aren’t many onsen very close to Kitami Pass, or in Kamikawa Village. If your travels are taking you to Sounkyo, then the Kurodake no Yu (黒岳の湯) in Sounkyo (location | 600yen per person) is a nice place for a soak. This place also serves delicious Italian food (pasta and pizza) in the ground floor restaurant. If staying at the great-value Rikugeian AirBnB in Pippu, then we’d recommend the Yuyu Pippu hot pools just up the road (游湯ぴっぷ, location, 500yen). Yuyu Pippu also serves good value food in their restaurant.

Extra Resources

See the detailed writeup (in Japanese) on p. 352-355 in the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore areas north of Sapporo together with a local certified guide, get in touch with either Wataru Nara or Takao Miyashita. They’re both born-and-bred Sapporo-based guides. They both cut their teeth on peaks including those in northern Hokkaido, have taken part in major international expeditions, and are senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Route blurb from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (2015), p. 352 (translated by Hokkaido Wilds)

Chitokaniushi-yama’s name comes from the Ainu language – Chi-tukan-ni-ush-i – which means the place we always shoot. It’s said that when hunting, the Ainu would fire arrows in the mountain’s direction in order to divine a bountiful catch. In 1975, the Kamikoshi train station on the Sekihoku Line closed, but until then, Chitokaniushi-yama was alive with ski tourers accessing the mountain via rail. The mountain is also referred to with the short form of the name, Chitokani. The peak doesn’t have a summer trail, so winter is the only chance to climb to the peak.

For a while, I’d heard good things about the skiing in the mountains north of the Daisetsuzan range. But this is a mysterious location, often overlooked in favor of the towering, pure alpine peaks of the Daisetsuzan range proper. Finally, I took the time to leaf through the guidebook and see what a generation of backcountry skiers had distilled as truly worthy of one’s attention in the area. This pointed me to Chitokaniushi-yama and Ariake-yama. Online searches of the area further brought Tenmaky-yama to my attention. Three peaks, perfect for a three-day weekend.

The challenge would be accommodation. The resort settlement of Sounkyo Gorge was a vague option, but pricey. And in reality, while it’s close to Kitami Pass as the crow flies, it requires a long circuitous journey to get there. Then I remembered a great looking AirBnB I’d seen a few years back in Pippu Village. A quick search revealed it was still in business, and it was still available for our stay during the three day weekend. It would be up to an hour each way to and from our skiing locations, but there were onsen and supermarkets on the way. Rikugeian AirBnB it was! 

We left central Sapporo at 6am, and immediately got onto the expressway. Just under 3 hours later, we were at Kitami Pass, gearing up for our first route of the weekend. The weather was clear, and we could see our objective in the distance. Rather surprisingly, there was no one else at the car park. We geared up, clambered up the high snow bank, and got on our way.

This was clearly a popular route, with a clear trace of skiers and snowboarders. Along the way we saw pink and yellow ribbons, variously marking the way. In advance, I’d marked a route on my GPS app that followed the main ridge from early on, going via the large radio towers and repeaters. In hindsight, the forestry road route would have been better, as there’d have been less flat-land walking on the way back. In any case, it was a nice leisurely stroll on a long-ish approach through lovely forest.

Soon enough we arrived at the steeper climbing section of the route. The snow surface conditions were pretty abysmal. It was breakable crust. This whole face points south, so the warmer spring weather had done a number on the snow. I imagine deep winter – February in particular – would be amazing here. We cut a number of long zig-zags up the slope, and topped out at the 1258m mark to amazing views of the northern Daisetsuzan range.

There was a cold, stiff wind blowing up here. We all gathered for a discussion. Would we or would we not carry on to the summit? The snow surface conditions were deteriorating fast. We were now mostly on bullet-proof snow and in places ice. And the slope up to the summit was quite steep.

“I’m keen to keep going to see how far we can make it,” proffered Madoka. Everyone else seemed to be in agreement, so we pushed on. I wrapped around the ridge to some softer snow on the steep western side of the ridge, this made going easier for another 100m or so, before the soft snow layer diminished, and it was more like a thick layer of dust on slippery crust. Tim took over the lead and headed back up to the ridge, where the angle was now shallow enough to skin straight up. We were now only a few more steps away from the summit.

We didn’t stop for long on the summit. What felt like a 40km/h+ wind was screaming across the peak. We skied down just to below the summit before ripping skins. The main ridge was hard and icy. The tempting looking south-southwest bowl was surely acres of breakable crust. So, in order to at least get a bit of good skiing in, we decided to ski the steep western face just below the summit. See our actual route below.

The slope was delightfully steep, and the relatively non-sun-affected snow was a welcome relief from the southern aspects. After a great 300m descent, we slapped the skins back on and climbed back up to the main ridge. For the first 10 minutes or so we struggled with the breakable crust on the southern ridge, but this soon softened up and we were enjoying some good spring snow conditions. Our Kitami Pass three-day ski weekend was getting off to a cracking start.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Chitokaniushi-yama, or others nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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