“There’s no firewood in the hut,” said an apologetic Furano City staff member on the phone. This was a year ago, March 2019. Hiro and I were all set to make the trek the hut, but at the last minute plans fell apart. We put Maefurano on the next-year list.
Fast forward to March 2020. Once again I called the Furano City Council to arrange to pick up the key. “I heard there’s a wood stove but no firewood in the hut,” I said to the Furano City staff member on the other end of the phone. “That’s right,” she said apologetically.
This wasn’t a deal-breaker. We knew that despite it being up to about 7km, the approach to the hut was on a road the whole way. We’d be able to pull sleds loaded up with firewood, enough for a couple of days. Hiro and I recruited two more unsuspecting guinea-pigs, and our merry troupe of firewood haulers was now four.
We arrived to the road-closed gate at 9:30am. We had just started unloading the sleds and gear when I realised I’d forgotten something important. “The hut key! I forgot to pick it up!” I exclaimed.
Luckily, the Furano City Council office where I was supposed to pick it up from was only 20 minutes drive away down the hill. We got all the gear unloaded from the car, and I left the boys to load up the sleds while I hightailed it back to Furano.
40 minutes later, I was back, just as the last of the sleds were being roped up and secured. Finally, at 10am, we were on our way.
The sleds were heavy. In total, we had just under 50kg of firewood split across the two lager sleds. Hiro had his own sleds – two smaller ones trailed behind each other. Probably the smarter choice. Tim, Jake and I decided to take turns hauling the heavy sleds. 30 minutes at a time, with 15 minutes break between each haul, rotating on tight shifts. The sleds were heavy, but the gradients so far were perfectly manageable. There was even some minor downhill.
After about 2km of relatively easy hauling, we turned onto the main hut access road, and things got a little more serious. We were now gaining altitude at a much faster pace, which slowed our forward progress somewhat. Far in the distance we could see our ultimate objective – Maefurano-dake – standing proud against a perfect blue sky. We put our heads down and kept hauling. The promise of having a roaring wood stove was more than enough of reward for the effort to get firewood up to the hut.
At a small reservoir dam, we were almost at the Daisetsuzan National Park border, and we only had another 1.5km or so to go to the hut. But once again, the angle of the road increased, and we were having to really lean into our packs to haul the heavy sleds up the slope. Left to their own devices, the sleds would happily slide backwards. We were well and truly working against gravity.
When we finally made it to the hut, it was a sight for sore eyes. Nestled into a clearing at the Genshi-ga-hara trailhead, it was forest cabin perfection. I unclipped my sled and hurried to get the hut unlocked.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Very much contrary to what I’d been told on the phone by the Furano City Council staff member, the hut was full to the brim with firewood. Behind the hut were large cages full with extra firewood. There had to be about a cord of wood in the hut, and one and a bit cords of wood outside the hut.
The lads were stoic about the discovery. “I guess that’s our contribution to the hut,” chimed Tim.
He was right. There was no fee for using the hut. We would end up leaving the bundles of wood we took to the hut in the hut wood pile.
We got the fire going and had lunch. With the window shutters open, the hut interior was bathed in glorious sunshine. It was the perfect stay-in-a-hut-in-the-woods weather. We were impressed with everything about the hut. There were clean toilets accessible from inside the hut, the stove was a beautiful cast iron affair, and the floor was covered with clean tatami.
That afternoon, we made the most of the rest of the daylight hours by going for a 2-hour skin up to the Genshi-ga-hara plateau. This vast marshland stretches most of the way along the southern side of the Daisetsuzan Range. We were at the very southern terminus.
As the light was fading, we skinned back to the hut, got the fire roaring again, and cooked dinner. Our plan was to make an attempt on Maefurano-dake the day after tomorrow – the forecast was for blustery easterlies tomorrow, but blue skies on our final day at the hut.
Fast-foward to our third and final day at the hut. The previous day we’d explored some interesting looking north-facing slopes at the foot of Dairoku-yama (大麓山) – route overview coming soon.
The preceding few days had seen us suffer on south-facing slopes. The snow on northern slopes was beautiful powder, but on southern aspects it was difficult breakable but variably breakable sun crust. This made us nervous about what we’d find on the expansive southern aspect face of Maefurano-dake. For me, if the lower reaches proved to be breakable crust, then so be it. It would be a miserable downhill ski, but we’d make do. It was the upper sections that had me more concerned. In the alpine, we had vast swaths of treeless slopes, some quite steep. If these were acres and acres of bulletproof rime and snow, we’d have little chance of getting anywhere near the summit – only I was carrying ski crampons.
We decided we’d skin most of the way towards Genshi-ga-hara, and if the snow looked too toublesome, we could always abort and explore some more of the northerly aspects of Dairoku-yama, on the other side of the marsh.
Soon after gaining the broad eastern-most ridge up Maefurano-dake, however, we started feeling glimmers of hope that we might actually make it a fair way up the mountain. We were breaking trail on the gently ascending plateau through gloriously soft powder snow. The previous few days’ snow had not been stripped off the mountain as we’d expected.
The soft layer of new snow remained most of the way up the ridge. To our joy, this made long sweeping upward traverses a breeze. We kept plenty of space between us all on these open slopes, but the snow felt solid and well consolidated underfoot.
Even more exciting were the views that greeted us part way up the climb. We’d been climbing in on-and-off mist, but at around 1300m we finally got above a prominent inversion layer. Stretching to the northeast was the entirety of the Daisetsuzan Range, emerging out of a sea of clouds. We were all buzzing.
As promised by the topomap, we were soon funneled to a false peak, and from there we had a short flat ridge-line walk to a crux-like scramble onto the main summit ridge. Luckily the short traverse to the right was relatively soft underfoot. Had it been bullet-proof snow, it would have been a very risky crux, with a steep slope below.
On the summit ridge, Furano-dake sat in the distance behind us, and Maefurano-dake stood tall in front of us.
The final push to the summit had looked insurmountably daunting from lower on the summit ridge. Approaching it, however, it looked more and more manageable. We were able to get up to the summit with the help of a few airy kick-turns on ever-hardening rimed snow. And then we were there. On top of the world
There was a stiff, cold breeze blowing at the very summit, so we only stayed for a few minutes before heading back down the way we came on the summit ridge. We scratched and scraped cautiously down the ridge, only opening things up once the snow finally started to soften up a bit.
Just below the crux-point, we stepped out on the the gloriously tempting south-facing bowl. The snow here was perfection, but the terrain was not confidence-inspiring. There was a convex roll heading down to the gully, and the easterly wind from the last few days had obviously loaded the slope further down. We dug a pit and did a compression test. On one light tap from the wrist, a 20cm layer of snow slipped a couple of millimeters. This was enough to convince us that we may as well ski the southeastern slope we’d skinned up. The snow wasn’t as good on that slope, but it was still not at all bad.
In all the excitement of screaming down the mountain, I didn’t get any photos of the descent. Pure, unadulterated fun. We cut into the bowl slope just below the treeline, and continued down into the gully, weaving a perfect downward ski through the well-spaced trees.
“This was the best skiing I’ve done all season,” beamed Hiro.
“This is the best skiing I’ve done in my life,” gushed Tim.
Despite the warm temperatures, we had excellent skiing all the way back down to the summer trail. From there, we waddled up short inclines and roared down the skin track to the hut.
This was our last day at the hut, so we scoffed down some lunch, and cleaned up the hut.
The return back to the car was surprisingly easy. There was plenty of angle to the road, enough that we could ski without skins, and let gravity do most of the work.
An absolute blast of a trip with another great crew.