After the morning’s “we bought the packraft all this way so we’d better use it” trip down the Iwaki river, we drove back to the eponymous mountain under a darkening sky of Altostratus; the warm weather we knew was coming had finally decided to show up… certainly not a sight of delight for the four of us.
The starting off point for today’s tour was the Iwaki Hyakuzawa ski resort (岩木山百沢スキー場) which is on the south eastern slopes of Iwaki-zan. It’s basically on the exact opposite side from our previous day’s tour at Aomori Spring. Hyakuzawa has three fixed grip chairlifts, nothing fancy to be sure, but with a few solid days touring under our belt already, the 400m of free (well ¥250) lift serviced vertical was much appreciated to get us started on up the hill. We’d driven ourselves there in my Honda adventure van and had arranged a pickup by our very gracious host at Pension Wonderland as the descent runs down a completely different drainage.
Rob’s heel piece was once again refusing to turn into walk mode and given that we were now ‘in civilization’ we were able to sort things properly. The combination of my extensive knowledge of appropriate lubrication and Rob’s ability to translate “just needs some CRC mate” into Japanese meant things were soon sorted for the rest of the trip.
The overview photo from the Hyakuzawa website provides a pretty good view of the first section of the uptrack. It also gives a view of the potential/peril to lookers right. Some very tempting terrain that has large slopes above it and high consequence terrain traps in the bottom. Contemplate with great caution and and be aware that you’ll be skinning out as well.
We climbed the ridge immediately above the lift. The ‘cut block’ of vegetation is obvious and then we stuck in the trees as we climbed further. The now gathering cloud base meant that visibility was coming in and out but we were still able to make out the obvious gentler slopes to lookers right. We traversed these and stopped for a snack break and a few photos.
With cloud still coming in and out we continued to contour around to the north so as to be certain of dropping into the correct drainage. Depending on snow and wind conditions it’s likely that there’s reasonable skiing straight down the obvious ridge as well. Visibility notwithstanding, the first pitch produced some great turns for all of us through a wide open and well supported bowl. We then tracked around the ridge and into some of the now familiar old growth starkly deciduous Tohoku birch forest. Snow conditions were holding up, but, it was a bit of a stop-start process to ski down the ridge in order to maximize quality turns on each pitch of skiing. With a bit more exploration there’s probably a good session of tree-laps to be had even just in this section.
As we descended further the year’s lighter than normal snowfall began to come into play and we found ourselves bashing through the undergrowth and then eventually moving into walk mode to hike out along the gully floor. While we didn’t make the summit on this trip this does look to be a reasonable route to take as an approach. We’ll be back again for sure.
The last turns of the day were gentle bum-wiggles through open apple fields; the Japanese approach their [boutique] horticulture with the same pride and perfection that they apply to most pursuits and even now, late into the afternoon on a mid-winters day, local farmers were out pruning and pampering their trees. It was close to dark once our ride arrived and we all headed back to Pension Wonderland for dinner with our host family.