Hiro and I knew that the forestry road to the Fushimi Hut was closed to vehicular traffic due to typhoon damage. But, with almost a full winter’s worth of snow covering the road, we figured it should be fairly easy going most of the way. Hiro was confident enough to pack a sled to make the going easier. We arrived at the entrance to the forestry road at around 2pm, with the idea to stay a night at the hut before summiting the next day.
After only about 700m along the road, any fantasies of a quick, easy skin to the hut were put in their place with a complete washout of the road. Not only this, but in places along the road, there was simply no snow. This was genuinely shocking, and not what we had expected. This area of Hokkaido does get much less snow on average than other snowy areas such as the Furano area and Niseko. But to this extent…this was quite the curiosity, and not to sled-pulling Hiro’s liking.
Overall, I’d advise anyone doing this route to simply assume plenty of scrambles and skis-off walks for about 2.5km to the second bridge (the Keikoku-bashi, 渓谷橋).
From that second bridge, it was mostly smooth-sailing. We diligently followed the forestry road, navigating the odd washout here and there, but with skis on for the rest of the way to the hut. The last large, hair-pin bend before the hut was clearly the victim of the brunt of the typhoon damage, however. A full 100m section of road had simply been reduced to riverbed. Mercifully, there was enough snow covering the rocks and trees for us to skin over the whole lot.
With the last of the day’s light waning, we finally arrived at the Fushimi Hut at around 5:30pm. Triumphant would be the word to describe how we felt. We wasted no time in getting the fire going, and Hiro set about working his magic – the man is a legend when it comes to hut cuisine. On the menu tonight was wild venison (shot by Hiro himself), braised in a pan inside the fireplace.
We didn’t want to take any chances as far as timing goes for the climb up to the summit the next day, so we set our alarms for 3:30am, for a 4:30am start. We were certain there’d be more snow higher up, but with the way the road was coming to the hut, we were expecting some more bush-bashing than usual. It was a groggy start, but we made good time, still in the cover of darkness. We’d never see the sun till we were well up through the morning low clouds, so it was well after 6:30am that we were finally able to climb without the aid of headlamps.
The going on the way up that northeastern ridge was far harder going than it should have been. We were contending with at least 1m less accumulated snow than I’d seen in other posts on the web for this route. Sasa bamboo grass, ivy, and twiggy shrubs thwarted attempts to make nice long climbing traverses along the ridge. In most places for the first 2 hours of the climb, there was simply no base to the snow. Our poles would sink down to the sasa underneath, and so did our skis. It was sweet relief when we made it to the short flat section of ridge at around 1115m, despite there being very little snow cover at all. At least we weren’t sinking.
It certainly wasn’t impossible, but many more kick turns were required than had there been more snow. In better conditions (i.e., a normal year’s snow), this steep ridge would be an amazing place to descend on skis.
As we ascended, it slowly became clear that we may get what we’d been hoping for – a peak popping out of a sea of clouds. There was hardly a breath of wind. A rarity indeed for the Hidaka Range!
Hiro was ahead of me as we finally made it to the main summit ridge. He let out a whoop, and thrust his arm up in celebration. The tough work had been rewarded with a massive clear-sky view of peaks in the distance jutting out of a thick sea of clouds. We could hardly believe our luck. To be fair, I had been somewhat expecting this, as the Windy.com cloud cover forecast had predicted cloud to 1700m. But it was a joyous feeling when it was clear as predicted.
From the summit we discussed whether to descend the way we had come, or take the original planned route via the summer trail ridge. At least for the way we had come, we knew what dog-soup conditions we were in for – lots of twiggy shrubs, but at least some good steep skiing for the first 500m vertical or so. On the other hand, the summer trail route might be all shrubs for all we knew. The summer trail route was the more popular one in winter, however, and we were keen to at least check it out. So off we went.
So good was this initial descent off the summit, that we made it about 100m vertical down before realizing we were on the wrong ridge. A quick traverse over to the right ridge set us back on track. Overall, this was an exhilarating descent, punctuated by making careful decisions on what line to take so as to not end up boxed in by twiggy shrubs. Oh for just 1m more snow.
Back at the hut, we had a full cooked lunch before sweeping the place out and tackling the forestry road back to the car. Overnight, there’d been about 10cm of fresh snow. Just enough to cover any exposed rocks, but not enough to stop them from scratching our skis. It was a nerve-wracking fast descent from the hut to the Keikoku-bashi Bridge. From there, we opted to just walk the 2km to the bridge just before the car.
Overall, despite the lack of snow, this was a great foray into the wilds of the Hidaka Range. It lived up to its reputation as a rough, rugged, and unpredictable place. The ‘other’ Hokkaido that people don’t really talk about too much in the winter skiing scene.