Konbu-dake has always taunted me. It’s so brazenly there. You can’t avoid it anywhere on the Niseko range when looking towards the southern horizon.
As attractive the thought was, however, of scaling it’s knife-edge ridge, the approach had always held me back.
“You’d be mad to head up there on anything other than a snowmobile,” people would say.
“You want to waste a perfectly good day walking forever?”
We’d skied up Nishi-konbu-dake previously. It was a walk in the park, and on that day I’d looked longingly at the Konbu-dake summit in the distance. In between Nishi-konbu-dake and Konbu-dake, however, were a number of up-and-downs. One thing was sure, Konbu-dake isn’t a peak where you get both epic downhill skiing and an epic summit…unless you want to add to an already very long day.
But today was the day. The weather forecast was for an incredibly calm spring sort of a day. Mid-March and spring had come early.
Haidee and I car-camped in the Niseko View Plaza parking lot the night before, and woke to gorgeously clear skies.
As we drove towards our chosen trailhead, Konbu-dake stood as she always does. Dominating Niseko’s southern skyline.
We arrived at the trailhead at around 7am. Being an early spring, there was plenty of room to park next to the side of the road. We geared up in the morning coolness and got on our way.
It was a Monday, and it was clear that the mountain and forestry road had seen a weekend of busy snowmobile traffic. Today, though, we had the mountain to ourselves.
We walked along the heavily tracked forestry road for about 1.5km before climbing off the road to the ridge above. The snow was firm-packed spring snow, so even off the tracked road, we could make good time without the need to break trail. It was nicer to be walking through the forest rather than on snowmobile tracks.
Before long, we came upon an incredible snow meadow at around 650m. We took a long break there, enjoying the views of Yotei-zan in the distance.
During our climb up the northern ridge, we saw snowmobile tracks here and there, well spaced out between the old-growth forest.
As the ridge narrowed towards the false peak at 835m, however, all those snowmobile tracks started to converge towards that natural apex on the ridge. We were now on a 12-lane snowmobile highway.
We were, however, now closer than we’d ever felt to that iconic shark-fin peak of Konbu-dake. She was a beauty.
I’ll be honest. It was a little bit of a shock to face the reality of what the topomap had always been telling us. We were close to the summit, but still far. That reality made all the more jarring by the fact we had to drop almost 100m down to a saddle and then make our way back up to the summit proper.
“I’d be perfectly happy to call it a day here,” mused Haidee.
With skins still on the skis however, we side-slid our way down to the saddle, and continued on towards the main prize.
As we approached the 900m mark, the snow surface started to deteriorate somewhat. It was getting icier. And steeper. We decided to switch to boot crampons.
From my Yamareco.com scouting of the route, it appeared to me that a vast majority of winter visitors to Konbu-dake approach the summit via the knife-edge (ish) ridge. We’d later discover that in fact we could have happily approached it from the south, via a much less committing slope. Had we known that the southern face of the summit proper was so accessible, we would have taken our skis with us on our backs. As it was, assuming we’d have to go there and back via the ridge, we deposited our skis at around 950m and carried on on crampons.
Despite it being an early spring, the ridge itself was still in fairly good shape. It was Haidee’s first experience of a scary ridge with drops on either side, so she was feeling the exposure. With the assurance in the grip of the boot crampons, however, we made short work of the ridge, wrapping around to the north when we needed to in order to get around obstacles.
Once we got to the summit proper, we found that we could have made it all the way to the summit by wrapping around the southern side of the peak…we could have been on skis all the way. Oh well…at least we got an exciting ridge to walk along on the final approach to the summit. On the descent, however, we decided to head straight south from the summit, and wrap around the peak via the southern face back to our skis…again we were kicking ourselves for not bringing the skis with us all the way to the top.
Once back to the skis, we now had to start the up-down process of getting back to the trailhead.
We first enjoyed a short but fun descent down to the saddle below the 835m false peak.
At the saddle, we put skins on again, and made the short skin back up to the false peak. From there, we enjoyed mellow, fast spring snow on the descent down the northern ridge, all the while taking in the views ahead of the entire Niseko Range and Yotei-zan on our right.
I won’t lie. The final few kilometers along the forestry road were a bit of a chore. A season’s worth of snowmobiles had rendered the road a wavy, rutted mess. If you managed to time your pumping just right, it was possible to use the snowmobile corrugations to gain speed along the flat road, but it was hard work.
We were happy to see the van at the end of the trip. But we were also happy to have ticked the venerable Konbu-dake off the list. It’s likely we’ll be back to check out other approaches, but overall it was a worthwhile day out.