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.