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.
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.