Posted on Apr 15, 2020
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Posted on Apr 15, 2020

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Reading time: 6 min
19km

Distance

8 hours

Time

1300m

Ascent

1258m

Highest point

8.5/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Apr-May

Best season

Hamamasu-dake (浜益岳, 1258m) offers undeniable big-mountain vibes in the impressive Mashike Range. From the summit, expect 360-degree panoramic views of Shokanbetsu-dake, the arrow-head Kunbetsu-dake, Ofuyu-dake, as well as Rishiri Island, Yotei-zan and the Shakotan Peninsula. After a long but technically straight forward ascent, a blistering 10km descent awaits - much of it skiing straight towards the Japan sea coast. With plenty of features to keep the downhill skier entertained, and plenty of challenge for the uphill skier too, this spring skiing epic should be on every dedicated Hokkaido ski tourer's hit list.

We visited this route on Apr 12, 2020

Last updated Apr 16, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Hamamasu-dake sits on the western side of the Mashike Range, about 2 hours drive north of Sapporo City on the Japan Sea coast. This spring ski touring route up the mountain starts, here, at the Poro Shrine, about 10km north along the coast from Hamamasu village. As the spring melt progresses, however, it’s often possible to drive most of the way up to the forestry road junction. In mid-April 2020, we were able to drive about 3km up the hill (to around here), saving about 1 hour of walking.

General notes

Hamamasu-dake is a relatively easily attainable major peak in the Mashike Range. The sheer distance from the coast to the summit is long, however. The 20km or so trek to the summit is therefore usually left till spring, when the days are longer and the snow is more firm under foot. Like most peaks in the Mashike Range, Hamamasu-dake spends most of the winter being pounded by fierce storms straight off the Japan Sea. Therefore, in addition to the epic 10km main descent, there are some extraordinary slopes awaiting the experienced expert skier willing to commit to climbing back up after skiing up to 600m vertical drops on a number of aspects. We recommend this route for a dawn escapade when Windy.com promises exemplary weather for the day, in order to make the most of the slopes on offer.

  • Hamamasu-goten (浜益御殿, 1039m): Goten means ‘palace’ or ‘stately mansion’, and I’ve read that this subsidiary peak, sitting in between Hamamasu-dake and Ofuyu-yama, is said to look somewhat like a stately nishin-goten herring mansion. Regardless of the source of the name, this minor peak on its own is also a very worthy objective if you’d rather not commit to the extra 2.5 hours to get to the Hamamasu-dake peak and back. Whereas there’s some descent involved in getting to the final ascent to Hamamasu-dake peak, it’s all downhill from Hamamasu-goten to the trailhead.
Hut

None

Route details

Start from as far up the access road from the shrine as the snow conditions will allow. Carry on up on your skis to a junction with a more minor forestry road, and follow this minor road for about 2.5km, taking shortcuts across bends where possible. At around 500m in altitude, the road wraps around a 533m knob, locally known as Osaka-yama (大阪山). It’s also possible to shortcut up and over this, but take the road on the return, as you’ll not need to remove skis. Heading across the faint saddle, you’ll pass under some old flags – they say ‘no snowmobiles allowed’. From here it’s simply a matter of following the ridge uphill – there’s not much chance of getting lost, as you’ll naturally be funneled up to the treeline and onto a narrow ridge to the Hamamasu-goten summit. From around 800m in altitude, the views of the Japan Sea behind you are phenomenal, raising the stoke for the descent that awaits on the return. From Hamamasu-goten, there’s a short descent onto a large, featureless, broad saddle before the last steep ascent to the Hamamasu-dake summit. Leave the skins on for this. Also be very wary of low visibility conditions from this point. While the ascent more or less funnels the climber up to the summit, there are multiple false options on the descent, all leading into bluffs, deep gorges, and completely different watersheds. If conditions look sketchy once you’re at Hamamasu-goten, it’s best to cut one’s losses and enjoy the descent from there. From the Hamamasu-dake summit, return the way you came. You’ll likely need skins on again on the gently ascending saddle, but from Hamamasu-goten, it’s all downhill with some very playful features along the way.

Route Timing
Up | 5.5hrs
Down | 2.5hrs

This is a long day in the hills – for the full return route to Hamamasu-dake, bank on 8 hours. With a good clear forecast, however, there’s plenty of variation in the route and in the views, so the time will go quickly.

Transport

Public transport:

There are no public transport options for this route.

By car: 

Depending on how far snow melt has progressed, it’s possible to drive up the road from the shrine (shrine location here). On the 12th of April 2020, we were able to drive about 2km up the road, to around here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Ofuyu (雄冬) – map no. NK-54-13-10-2
Official Topo Map 2: Hamamasu (浜益) – map no. NK-54-13-11-1

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

We recommend as early a start as possible for this route, considering the sheer amount of time required on the mountain. There’s no technically difficult sections of the route (although the last 150m climb to the summit may require ski crampons), but the featureless plateau-like saddle between Hamamasu-goten and Hamamasu-dake would be very tricky in low visibility conditions – make sure your navigation skills are on point, and have the courage to turn back at Hamamasu-goten if conditions are not favourable.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Hamamasu-dake
Onsen nearby

The closest onsen to the route is the Hamamasu Onsen (浜益保養センター, location, 500yen). They have good outdoor baths, basic meals, and often have local produce for sale in the foyer.

Extra Resources

See the detailed write-up in the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook on p. 306-309.

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. See a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Route blurb from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (2015), p. 306 (translated by Hokkaido Wilds)

If looking at the Mashike Range from the Sapporo direction, the mountains in the vicinity of Shokanbetsu-dake all merge into one, and are difficult to make out. Hamamasu-dake, Hamamasu-goten, and Ofuyu-yama, however, all stand out clearly. These mountains don’t have summer trails, and the time for climbing them is during the spring snow months when the snow is firm and weather conditions are stable. That said, summitting requires a long time on the mountain, and calls for good fitness. Adding to their expert-oriented nature are the large snowfields where it’s easy to get lost in bad weather.

It was Sunday morning, and we arrived at the Hamamasu-dake spring skiing trailhead at around 8am. The previous day, we’d managed to summit Shokanbets-dake, a big 6.5hr day with some epic downhill skiing. We’d stayed at the amazing Shokanso Hut overnight, so we could get an early-ish start on Hamamasu-dake. 

On the Sunday morning, we drove the 30 minutes or so around the coast to the small settlement of Poro, and were happy to see that we could drive almost 3km up the minor road from the Poro shrine. At the end of the snow-melt, there were already about 10 cars crammed up against the side of the road. Given the near-windless forecast and blue skies, it was no surprise that Hamamasu-dake was popular today. We kitted up and started on our way.

The snow on the road was very patchy. So much so that we had to walk with our skis for about 300m along the road before finally clipping in and starting skinning. Even then, there were short sections where there was no snow…but not quite long enough to take the skis off – just a couple of gingerly placed steps on grass.

After a fairly monotonous 50 minutes or so trudging along the road, cutting corners where we could, we finally felt like we were in forest. It was scrappy forest, to be sure. Relatively young growth trees, interspersed here and there with larger trees. There was a lot of sasa bamboo grass sticking up here and there. After the little Osaka-yama hill, we crossed under the no-snowmobiling flags, and we noticed red route markers on trees. These route markers are for the recently opened Mashike Sando trail. This hiking trail follows an historic walking route used in the Edo period. It appears the route goes via Hamamasu-goten.

At around 800m in altitude, we suddenly appeared above the treeline. Looking back, there was a gorgeous blue expanse of ocean, and mountains in the far distance. We’d read in the guidebook that this route offered amazing downhill skiing towards the Japan Sea, and we could now see why. The descent was going to be amazing.

As we started to see other climbers descending, or others climbing up the mountain in the distance, it almost felt as if we were in the minority on skis. There were a healthy percentage of climbers either in snowshoes or just in hiking boots. By the time we got to the summit of Hamamasu-goten, we had full-frontal views of our objective – Hamamasu-dake – to our right, the impressive Ofuyu-yama to our left, and the back side of Shokabetsu-dake, the mountain we’d just skied the previous day. I sent up the little DJI Spark drone and captured a couple of scenes.

Sitting directly in our view was the impressive Kunbetsu-dake (群別岳, 1376m), a pointy peak with an incredible north-facing face (see it on the GSI topomaps here). A search online afterwards suggests people do climb the peak, but from a completely different approach.

If you didn’t know it, you’d not think you were ‘only’ at just over 1,000m in elevation. The mountains here in the Mashike Range are quite phenomenal.

We could see at least a few parties as well as solo hikers making the final trek up to the Hamamasu-dake summit. Once we were past Hamamasu-goten, the peak looked perfectly atttainable.

As soon as we gained the final summit ridge, a somewhat unexpected sight greeted us. A massive expanse of consistent-angle slope fanned out from the summit. A colossal northeast-facing slope. Scarring it’s seemingly powdery surface were two or three long, sweeping tracks. Immediately my heart jumped. Surely the conditions right now were too good not to ski this face. Jake confirmed my feelings. “Surely we can ski that face,” he said, visibly excited. “Do we have enough time in the day for the hike back up?” he asked.

He had a good point. There was at least a 500-600m vertical drop to the plateau below. We’d also be effectively skiing away from our ascent route, requiring not only a skin up, but across. We mulled on our options on our hike to the summit. 

As we approached the summit, three more skiers were getting ready to drop into the face. We’d learn later that these three skiers were the ones who had already skied the face once before today. They must have started early in the day.

Even more interesting, we discovered after the fact that one of the skiers was an acquaintance of Jake’s. Afterwards, Jake excitedly shared this drone footage they took of their huge lines down the face.

Long story short, Jake and I did decide to ski the slope – but cut to the skier’s left after about a 200m descent to avoid taking too long on the climb back up. We were working largely on social proof (e.g., previous few skiers jumping off the cornice), visual cues (i.e., no visible recent avalanches on similar aspects elsewhere), and intuition (i.e., relatively consistently cold preceding few weeks) in regards to the stability of the snow-pack, so it wasn’t an entirely care-free skiing experience.

Jake, in his normal style, made it all look easy though.

Hamamasu-dake Spring Ski Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Haidee Thomson

I’d like to say I made the climb back up look easy. It wasn’t easy going, for sure. Steep and crusty, an old icy skin track made Jake slip a couple of times. But we made it in the end, back to the main ridge, and rushed to catch up with Haidee and Saoka, who had opted to start back down the way we’d come.

Jake and I set a blistering pace on the descent. The 20 minutes or so of slogging across the midway plateau – with skins on – between Hamamasu-dake and Hamamasu-goten was a bit of a bore, but from Hamamasu-goten, it was all on again. A consistent, easy angle, with plenty of features to enjoy, and not too many trees.

By the time we’d arrived at the end of the snow on the forestry road, it would be almost 8 hours for us on the mountain. We walked the last 20 minutes or so with skis on our packs back to the car, thoroughly sated, full of two big days in the spring hills of the Mashike Range.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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