Posted on Mar 22, 2022
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Posted on Mar 22, 2022
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13.5km

Distance

5.5 hours

Time

1025m

Ascent

1220m

Highest point

6.5/10
Difficulty
Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-Mar

Best season

Mekunnai-dake (目国内岳, 1220m) is one of the finest peaks in the Niseko Range, with grand sweeping views from its distinctive bouldery summit. From all approaches the summit is remote, requiring plenty of time and a clear forecast. This route approaches the summit from the south-southwest, taking in some beautiful old-growth forest slopes along the way. The final pitch from the plateau below the summit offers some excellent skiing and is well worth lapping when conditions allow it.

We visited this route on Mar 9, 2022

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Mekunnai-dake is the first major peak west of Niimi Pass, the “half-way point” in the Niseko Range, in southwestern Hokkaido. This route up to the peak starts in the Yoshikuni area of rural Rankoshi Town, on the southern side of the range.

General notes

This southern approach to Mekunnai-dake has gained in popularity since the 2020 demolishing of Niimi Onsen and winter closure of Route 268 heading to Niimi Pass. Previously, Mekunnai-dake was a popular peak for free-ride oriented backcountry skiers keen to escape the crowds, in a nice longish half-day package. Now, that Niimi Onsen route requires an extra 4km hike along an uninspiring snowed in road. This road-bound hike on Route 268 now makes other approaches to the peak much more appealing.

One such approach is this southerly approach to the peak. While there are some decidedly flat-ish spots along the way, there are also a number of excellent downhill sections. The initial 250m vertical descent from the summit is fantastic on a clear day. Then the descent off the 900m plateau is mellow but inspiring – about 250m vertical of some of the most gorgeous old-growth forest skiing the range has to offer. Overall, if on skis, there’s no need to put skins on at any point in the descent.

Hut
None
Route details

Park up at the junction in Yoshikuni, taking care not to block access in any way. Head north along the snowed in forestry road, heading east after the dogleg, then north for a bit before leaving the road to hike up a small gully. At the head of the gully you’ll cross a flat section of sapling forest before starting the mellow climb through old-growth gold birch ダケカンバ and white birch 白樺 on a broad ridge. This mellow low-angle terrain is prime downhill skiing on the return. During this climb, you may catch glimpses of Mekunnai-dake peak, but they’re fleeting at best.

Quite suddenly at around 900m, you’ll emerge onto the large wetland plateau below the peak. Standing in front of you is the slightly conical and very bouldery peak of Mekunnai-dake. It’s one of the most distinctive summits in the range. Pray for favourable wind conditions up here – it’s fully exposed to the elements. Another 40 minutes or so (in spring time) of climbing will get you to just a few meters from the summit proper. The final scramble to the summit is on beautifully rimed boulders. No need for crampons, but you’ll likely need to depot your skis.

From the summit there are views of the Japan Sea, Iwanai-dake, Raiden-yama, Shirakaba-yama, Shakunage-dake, Chisenupuri, and Niseko Annupuri. If it’s not obscured by clouds, Yotei-zan will be in crystal clear focus too.

The descent is via the ascent route. Savour some great pitches of downhill skiing punctuated by a little bit of poling across the flats, and a good dose of skintrack skiing lower down to keep the speed up.

Route Timing
Up | 4hrs
Down | 1hrs

The timing above assumes spring conditions with no deep snow trail-breaking. Add on up to an hour if attempting this route in deep winter.

Transport

Public transport:

There is no public transport to this route.

By car:

There is a small space to park a couple of cars at the trailhead/intersection here. The roads around the trailhead are narrow, so if you do need to park on the side of the road, you may need to spend up to 20 minutes carving out from the snowbanks a few meters off the side of the road, in order to avoid blocking the lane.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Chisenupuri (チセヌプリ) – map no. NK-54-20-7-4
Official Topo Map 2: Raidenyama (雷電山) – map no. NK-54-20-11-2

NOTE: The official 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

Aspect
The main aspect skiers are exposed to on the descent and/or ascent is South. Therefore, keep an eye on the weather forecast a few days ahead of your trip to monitor wind, snow, and temperature. Also, since this route is in the general vicinity of the Shiribeshi area, consider looking at the Japan Avalanche Network avalanche bulletins (updated Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays at 8am) or the daily Niseko Avalanche Information website. These may give extra insight into avalanche conditions in the greater area around the route.

Snow and
route safety

Once you’re above the treeline at the 900m plateau, the terrain is featureless. It would be a bad place to be in whiteout conditions without a GPS device. The route also gains a lot of altitude – conditions will be much colder in the alpine than down at the trailhead – bring the appropriate gear.

Mekunnai-dake South Face Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

A

40

Time ascending

B

6

Technicality

Altitude

B

6

Hazards

D

0

Navigation

B

12

Totals

64/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy).  More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Mekunnai-dake
Onsen nearby

For a nice local vibe, check out the Rankoshi Yusenkaku Onsen 蘭越町交流促進センター 幽泉閣 (location, 500yen). They’re right next to the Konbu JR train station and have outdoor baths. A bit further up into the range is Goshiki Onsen 五色温泉 (location, 800yen, 10am till 7pm), a gorgeously rustic natural onsen a few km drive up the road on Route 58. It is a must visit onsen for the region, with 100% pure hot spring water, flowing into outdoor baths surrounded by meters of snow. Yukichichibu Onsen 雪秩父温泉 (location, 700yen, noon till 7pm, closed Tuesdays) is on the way to Goshiki Onsen too, so is a worthy option too. It’s a good natural onsen option, with a larger outdoor bath area. Yukichichibu also has an attached restaurant (11am till 2pm). Yukichichibu is a very sulphurous onsen and so you do tend to stink for a bit afterwards.

Extra Resources

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other Niseko areas together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Jun Horie. He’s a Niseko-resident guide with seven years experience advanced-level ski instructing in Austria (he speaks German as well as English and Japanese). He has also guided in New Zealand and has previously led guiding operations in Hokkaido before going independent. See a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Spring time in the Niseko Range means longer tours are more often on the cards. So with a fine, calm forecast, we checked out a popular southerly approach on Mekunnai-dake. I’d first heard about this route via Yamanomakochan, the prolific Hokkaido mountaineering Youtuber. His report made it sound like a worthy alternative to the now defunct Niimi Onsen route.

Haidee and I met Ben at the trailhead. It was just after 6am when we started hiking. The sun was just coming up over the hills, bathing everything in a golden glow behind us.

As we made our way up the mellow approach, it was soon our turn to get some sun. It was going to be a scorcher of a day.

The terrain was all rather flat-ish. We were following tracks from a party from the day before though, and it appeared that they had no issues on the descent – there were just clean downhill tracks with no apparent poling. I turned around a couple of times just to check, and indeed we were climbing – the terrain descended away behind us.

At the very least at this point in the climb, it appeared we wouldn’t be skinning back.

Soon, the climb became steeper. Not so steep that we had to kick-turn, mind you. But steep enough that things started looking up a little more for the descent. 

And then before we knew it, Mekunnai’s rocky peak emerged from a knoll. I remembered that nipple-like summit from the last time I was up at the summit, a few years ago. It’s hands down my favourite peak in the entire Niseko Range.

I sent the drone up for a few aerial shots of the peak and the vast marshland plateau.

I then promptly crashed the drone into a tree on the return. The drone fizzled out of the sky and into the snow. At least it was easily retrievable. There was snow packed in most of the openings in the poor thing. I picked out what I could, blowing into cracks and crevices in the drone. Turning it on, I was happy to see that at least the propellers were operating. The gimbal didn’t like being wet, or perhaps there was still a few crystals of snow lodged in there – “Gimbal Stuck!” it would complain to me for the next half hour.

It was a lovely day though, and not a breath of wind. We kept pressing on across the plateau, and reveled in the final long climb to the summit.

The final push to the summit was mellow too. Mellow enough to not need to execute any kick-turns the whole way.

Just straight up the guts of it.

Ben had his signature second wind in the latter part of the hike and sped on ahead of us to claim the summit.

We were somewhat prepared for arriving at the foot of the bouldery summit. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how good the views were along the range towards Mt. Yotei. Yotei’s summit itself was in cloud, but Niseko Annupuri was clear as a tack.

Herein lies the beauty of Mekunnai-dake. Perfectly situated just west of the half-way point along the range, to give perfect views both to the bustling resorts to the east and the Japan Sea to the west.

Of course we had to clamber the final few meters to the summit proper. 

The drone had sorted out its issues in the interim, so I sent the wee fella up for a blat around the summit. From the looks of things, it appeared that someone the previous day had skied the north face. It looked like a nice short run.

The weather was so nice, it was hard to drag ourselves away from the summit, the sun, and the views. We knew, however, that the longer we spent up here, the slower and stickier the snow would be lower down, as everything warmed up.

So we took turns carving down the beautiful long run from the summit down to the plateau.

This one shot more or less sums it all up. Nice, fast snow, with one of the most iconic alpine backdrops in Hokkaido.

The return across the flats was not nearly as painful as I’d expected. For sure, we were locked into our skin track, but there really was very little poling involved.

And then the 250m of so drop off the plateau was also surprisingly good. Wide open well-spaced glades with perfect cold spring snow. It was so good that I decided I was just going to enjoy myself and take no photos. 

Predictably, the spring snow in the final 1/3 of the mountain was slow and variable. Not corn. Moist. The Japanese call it “Stop-yuki” (yuki is snow in Japanese).

But we made it, and congratulated each other on a fine spring mission.

Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Mekunnai-dake, or others nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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Mekunnai-dake South Face Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

A

40

Time ascending

B

6

Technicality

Altitude

B

6

Hazards

D

0

Navigation

B

12

Totals

64/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.