Reminiscent of last year’s Mt. Okuteine overnight trip with the boys from France (here), we had some new acquaintances join us for this overnight trip to Mt. Soranuma-dake. Ziggy and Joel from Australia had finished a Germany to Australia bike ride a few years ago, and contacted me via Warmshowers.org to see if we would host them and their girlfriends (Tash and Rachel) for a night. They were going to be in Hokkaido for a couple of weeks, trying to do as much backcountry skiing as possible. I said sure why not, and also proposed that they come with us on the overnighter, since it was scheduled for when they’d be here. After some last-minute re-scheduling of accommodation, they managed to come with us.
From a 35 degree C Australian summer to a below-freezing Hokkaido winter, it must have been a shock to the system.
The trail up to Bankei Hut in winter follows the summer trail marked on maps. Starting from a large quarry at the foot of the valley, the route meanders along a flat approach before crossing the river and heading up steeply beside the Bankei Stream.
The route is not particularly well marked beyond a few signposts, but for the most part it follows deep troughs – only after particularly heavy snowfall would you lose grasp of where the trail heads. The sign in front of one massive Hokkaido pine reads:
- Height: 25m
- Diameter: 90cm
- Volume: 6.67m³
- Estimated age: 250 years
- From this one tree…
- How many sheets of newspaper?
- How many 55m rolls of toilet paper?
- How many boxes of tissue paper? (with 200 tissues in each)
- Answers on the back of the sign!
The only technical bit for us at this time of the year was the bridge crossing at around 810m. Later in the season, and this would have been a wide, well formed snow-bridge. For us, it was a hairy balance across the foot-wide bridge, most of us opting to carry skis over.
While we had started out just the four of us, Rick and Jeff caught us up on snowshoes, and headed past us to the hut. By the time we arrived, they had sussed out the fireplace, and were making arrangements for a fire to be started. As mentioned in the Bankei Hut Essential Information above, the hut runs on a donation and cooperation system, whereby people drop a donation into a box inside the hut. Copious amounts of firewood is supplied inside the hut, and should be topped up upon leaving from the stores under the hut. The massive fireplace, once going, pumps out a lot of heat. On the second floor of the hut is one large sleeping area.
On our menu for the night was one of my specialties for an overnighter with a group – Japanese hotpot nabe. I got the idea from the legendary Leon “Hokkaido Bush Pig” Roode, who was and will always be the master of the hut nabe. Essentially it is a large soup with a mass of veges, tofu, and thinly sliced pork. The sesame and citrus (ponzu) dipping sauces are essential.
Surprisingly, we were the only ones in the hut that night. Both Rick and I were expecting half of Sapporo to be up at the hut, considering the amazing weather forecast and the fact that this was a long weekend. Ziggy and Joel took advantage of the space and opted to sleep downstairs next to the stove.
The next morning, we were up early at 4:45am. The plan was to see a sunrise of some sort on the way up to the summit of Mt. Soranuma-dake. The early start would prove to be a blessing in disguise as the way up to the summit was slow going – we were breaking trail in soft snow the entire way. While I had a GPS track on my smartphone, Rick guided us on the due south bearing from the hut to towards the summit. The winter route to the summit does not usually go via Misu-numa Lake, and rather goes more direct.
As the sun rose, it became clear we would not be getting the sunrise we had hoped for. A thin, eerie mist surrounded us as we climbed.
It also became more and more apparent that we would not be spending a whole lot of time ripping downhill on the way down. The topography between the hut and the summit is convoluted. Ups and downs which make it tempting to leave skins on for the downhill. I was feeling increasingly sorry for the boys from Australia – so much for their hoped of endless days of deep downhill powder in Hokkaido. They seemed happy enough though!
Approaching the summit, we were thrust into an icy wonderland. Everything was cased in frost. Unfortunately the weather did not clear enough for a big view, but we were all happy to be at the top.
Of course, as Murphy’s Law would dictate, as soon as we started descending off the summit, the weather started to clear in a dramatic fashion. By the time we had returned to the hut, it was a perfect sunny day. Perfect for a long brunch in the sun, cleaning the hut, and re-supplying the interior firewood stack.
The way down from the hut generally mirrors that of the way up. Be prepared for either racing down the skin track, or weaving your way between trees. It was a trial by fire for Haidee for her first time skiing down a narrow track – it is a skill all unto itself!