The only reason we were over here in the Tokachi region was to go on a momonga flying squirrel tour. But since we were in the area, we figured we’d check out some of the known ski touring options. The first we checked out was the lovely Karikachi-yama on our way over the Karikachi Pass.
Today, after spending the night in the hotel next to Lake Shikaribetsu, we nipped over to Higashinupukaushi-nupuri. It had been a lovely stay in Lake Shikaribetsu – the frozen lake ice festival was in full (albeit less tourist-packed) swing, and it was nice to see the lake in deep winter. The last time we were there was with two canoes and full camping gear.
We made the short 30 minute drive from Lake Shikaribetsu on the Sunday morning, and arrived in the Nupuka-no-sato area at around 9am. We first drove all the way to the end of the snow clearing, at the closed gate on Route 661, but it wasn’t very clear where we could park the car and be out of the way of traffic (not that there were many vehicles around). A close study of the topomap however suggested that it would actually be better to sacrifice 20m or so of elevation and just park in the large Nupuka-no-sato carpark.
It was a beautiful blue sky day. A bit hazy in the distance, but not a breath of wind.
Our objective stood clear in the distance.
Looking closely, we could clearly see a zigzagging uptrack to the right of the main gully, and two clear sets of downhill tracks in the gully itself. From the carpark, there were a couple of day-old skin tracks heading in the direction of the mountain. The place felt deserted, but we clearly weren’t the only ones to focus on Higashinupukaushi-nupuri this weekend.
We set off, and started to make our way towards the mountain across the flat-lands. The snow was typical Tokachi plains snow. Old. Barely-there. In places we were punching down into the long grass below. Around here, you come for the views and expansive grandeur, rather than the blower pow.
Between the carpark and the mountain we had to step over a couple of fences and step carefully over the road.
Once across the large field adjacent to the woods, we found ourselves in a pleasant old-growth forest. We were, after all, now in Daisetsuzan National Park. The snow was old and rotten though. There was hardly any resistance as we punched down through the 20cm or so of snow to the undergrowth below. We soon found the old uptrack, and finally had an easy ride up the eastern face to the narrow ridge at around 1000m. Haidee set a cracking pace, as I lagged behind with unusually heavy legs. It had been a long and tiring academic year of online lectures, and the body seemed to be feeling it.
The photos bear testament to the scant snow cover around here. This is mid-February. Despite the low snow though, Tokachi is always a refreshing place to ski tour. There’s a wide open vibe here. Blue skies. Cows. The fragrant stench of dung and fermented hay.
Before long, we were at the final narrow ridge to the summit. We wasted some breath here and then cursing the gallant folk from the previous day and their steep skin track. But at least it allowed us some reprieve from the unconsolidated snow on either side of said skin track.
On the southern aspect face of the main gully, the snow was heating up fast. We ventured out onto the southern aspects a couple of times to see what was going on, and managed to set off a couple of very small wet slides, perhaps about 5-10cm deep. The northern aspect of the east-facing fully looked much colder, however, so we’d at least have that as an option on the descent. Worse come to worst, we could always brave the thick-with-trees ascent route for the descent.
The summit came soon enough, and we basked in the wide open views. The haze of the day prevented us any views of the distant ocean. At the summit, there were plenty of snowshoe tracks, all coming from the western side of the mountain – that’s where the summer trail approaches the summit from.
Soon we had to face the descent.
It was survival skiing at its best.
Icy breakable crust on the northern aspect slopes of the gully, wet-slide-ish on the southern aspects, and a bit of both in between.
Adding to all that was the base-less corn. Corn snow is nice. But only when it has a base to support it. Here, any corn would happily dissipate into nothing and leave the skis sliding along sasa bamboo grass.
Takahashi-san from HokkaiCamp.com had skied this route in 2017, and remarked how lucky they were to encounter the route in decent conditions.
Looks like it wasn’t our lucky day. Which is a pity, because in good conditions, this gully would be spectacular skiing.
We managed to get down with only one mildly sprained ankle. Haidee took a fall (almost losing her ski in the process), and strained her foot. It would plague her for the next few weeks.
Strangely enough, this is a peak that I’d like to get back to some time. In better conditions. Revenge will be sweet….hopefully.