I’d been eyeing up this ridge for a while, as an alternative approach to Iwanai-dake that avoided the Iwanai Resort area. While the good folk at Iwanai Resort allow hikers up the northern ridge (see that route guide here), the terrain it gives access to is a bit limited. The large Kenbuto Gully bowl is interesting, but limited in vertical meters on the descent.
This northeastern ridge, however, promises a much more mellow and long descent.
It was well into the spring season when I did the route. A real t-shirt layering sort of a day – very warm.
The river crossing was somewhat of a wildcard for me – there wasn’t much information online about exactly what sort of situation I would encounter. In the end, there were plenty of rocks and concrete blocks to step on. It was a hassle to have to take the skis off, but at least I didn’t have to take my boots off.
The trek across the flood flats was quick, and I was soon starting to gain altitude on the main ridge. Lower down, the trees were tight. These soon thinned out, however, to reveal some great playful terrain. The slope was mellow, but there were small spurs and micro-features that would be fun on the way back down.
The sun came and went as I ascended. Hot beaming sun one moment, cold air the next. I knew there was some rain forecast for later in the afternoon, so I was hurrying, trying to get to the summit and back down again before things got very damp.
Once above the treeline, the full Niseko Range stretched to my left eastwards. It’s not often one sees the range from this side, and certainly not from this side with such an expansive view of it. The western side of Iwaonupuri caught my eye – steep, rocky, remote.
To the north across Iwanai Bay was the Tomari Nuclear Power Plant – the only nuclear power plant in Hokkaido. Currently sitting idle while politicians twiddle their thumbs, waiting for public opinion to waver back towards support for less carbon-intensive electricity production.
I’d had high hopes of making it to the summit of Iwanai-dake. However, at around 2pmm, about 100m vertical below the summit, clouds were beginning to fill the sky more than before. The cloud cover started dropping in altitude, enveloping the summit.
With the forecast of rain later on, I decided this was my cue to head back for the day. I was about half way up the alpine section of the route, so I’d certainly not miss out on too much downhill. I ripped skins, sent the drone up, and tried my best to ski one-handed.
I was solo on this trip, but wanted to capture something of the amazing backdrop that Iwanai-dake offers to the hiking skier.
Once back into the trees, the mellow downhill did not disappoint. Rolling features kept things interesting until the new growth nearer the bottom of the route. From there it was a typical low altitude slalom back across to the river. Mercifully, I did not need to put skins back on for the short flatland section to the river.
I once again removed skis for crossing the river, and was back at the car just in time for the skies to not open with rain, but to clear gloriously into blue sky – for the remainder of the day.
I patted myself on the back for being willing to turn back so close to the summit, but at the same time trued to swallow the irony of being ‘rewarded’ with blue skies and a clear summit…