“We should go do Horobetsu-dake,” said Chris in a chat message to me. The first thing I did was Google Horobetsu-dake. I’d never heard of it. “I can see it on my morning walks around my cabin,” Chris explained. My Google search produced about three decade-old Japanese posts, and not much else. But the views promised to be great, so we agreed to take a look in spring.
Fast-forward, and we’d finally got together to take a look at the route up Horobetsu-dake. Chris’s neighbour in Rankoshi wasn’t too optimistic about our chances of good snow. “It is quite a low mountain for this late in a season with not much snow,” he explained. It was, after all, mid-April. Like many of our Hokkaido Wilds trips, however, I argued that we could just consider it a hiking trip on skis. So we gave it a shot.
Being mid-April, we discovered the access road to the route was more or less clear of snow. Not quite clear enough to get all the way up the farm access road, but just clear enough to get stuck. If only Chris hadn’t been the responsible citizen he is, and left his snow tires on for another week.
20 minutes of digging and reversing later, we parked up in a sensible spot and got on our way. The indignity of walking our skis a few hundred meters was certainly less than having to dig a car out of the snow. The snow was well in its recession stages as we skinned up the road to the bridge, where we’d start climbing in earnest towards the Horobetsu-dake peak.
Whereas I had originally marked on the map that we should cut up the gully directly past the bridge, I decided in the end that we should carry on about 50m past the bridge, and climb up onto a small plateau. In the end this achieved only having to descend a little in order to get to the ridge we wanted to be on. Once at the ridge, however, it was all uphill, weaving our way between relatively densely-packed trees.
While the snow on the ridge was no issue at all, on all sides of the ridge it was literally dropping away as we watched. We saw one large full-layer slide, and saw plenty of signs of others. Glide-cracks abounded. This was not going to be a care-free lap-the-slopes kind of trip. Up and back along the ridge was the order of the day. The views were great and certainly made up for the lack of downhill potential.
Approaching the treeline, we could see some very prominent cornices along the summit ridge. From where we were on the approach ridge, it looked like one long impenetrable line of cornice. We agreed to head up to a hump on the ridge where we could get a better view, and then decide whether to carry on. From where we were, it looked all decidedly sketchy.
From the top of the hump at around 830m, however, it was clear that there were a couple of options for getting the final 60m or so up to the summit. Either wrap around to the north, or head straight up towards a gap in the cornices. The gap in the cornices seemed the most straight-forward option, so we carried on straight up.
And with that, it was more or less job done. We stayed at the summit just long enough to stuff down some food, before we transitioned for the downhill. There was a chilly, stiff breeze blowing, which contrasted with the balmy temperatures on the way up. We kept well to the ridge on the way down, resisting as much as possible not to drop down into the gorgeous-looking slopes on either side of the ridge. There was a lot of heating going on, and we didn’t want to aggravate further already aggravated slopes.
There was one section of up on the way down, but the snow was firm spring snow, so it wasn’t too much of a chore. From there it was all downhill to the road, where it was a matter of poling or skating back to the car. Glorious “more of a walk than a ski” spring skiing.