The weather forecast called for a long day in the hills, so Muine-yama it was. Tim and I had just finished parking up on the side of the road at the trailhead, and were about to set off, when another skier let us and another car know that technically we weren’t allowed to park on the side of the road. There were no signs to this effect, but then the walls of snow were over three or four meters high. We quickly threw our stuff back into the van, sped off up the hill to the larger parking area, and returned as quickly as we could on our skis.
I’d been up towards Muine-yama before, in the very late spring. In winter, everything looked different. On the way up to Senjaku Plateau, we ended up on the snowshoer’s trail. There was some up and downs that we would later find out weren’t there if one was following the more popular ski touring route. The snow was good for now. A little heavy, but deep. Being a popular route though, we didn’t need to break trail.
As we approached the plateau, an older snowshoer was descending. “How far are you going?” she asked. We told her we’d be keen to get to the summit of Muine if possible.
“It was a total white-out up there, I couldn’t see a thing,” she said. “I had to turn back.”
Right above us was blue skies, but indeed, further on over the plateau, there were some clouds. Before we carried on, we wrapped up in an extra layer each and put on our goggles. Even if it was windy, we were keen to see what it was like up on the plateau.
As it turned out, however, the weather forecast was correct. It appears the snowshoer had got the early morning low cloud, but by the time we got up there in late morning, the forecasted clear skies had appeared. It was late winter ski touring perfection.
Once up on the plateau, we could already see Mt. Yotei in the distance. Not a breath of wind. Looking further up to the summit of Muine, however, we could see that a fierce wind was whipping across the summit, sending tortured clouds of turbulence flying. And it was still a long way off.
“Not many people go to the summit on skis,” mused the old snowshoer we’d passed earlier. Now we can see why. It was a long, flat-ish way from this half-way point. Mercifully, there were some snowmobile tracks for part of the way through the softer snow – this made the going pretty quick.
Soon we were up on the summit ridge proper. The landscape dropped away down to the left and the right. Somewhere down there was the Muine Hut, although I couldn’t see its iconic red roof.
The uma-no-se dip in the ridge was somewhat surprising to us. We’d not really expected it, and it took us by surprise. It was nothing too difficult, but after trudging away towards the summit for at least an hour, it was just one last little thing separating us from our goal.
We made it to the 1464m point on the map. The official summit (trig point) is actually slightly lower at 1460m. If the weather conditions had been better, we might have been more inclined to go take a picture at the summit sign. But it was blowing a gale, and the view of the surrounding peaks was appearing and disappearing as every gust new gust of wind whipped up more clouds.
We ripped skins and started our clattery wind-scoured descent.
After we’d crossed the upper parts of the summit ridge, the snow was less wind affected. The slope was only just descending though, so we spent far too much time poling and stomping our way along the flat-ish plateau, before we finally gave in and put skins on again. With skins back on, it was a much easier hike back to the Senjaku Plateau. We dug a pit and decided the snowpack was stable enough to have a crack at the Senjaku Plateau bowl, marked as avalanche terrain on the map.
It was clearly a popular spot, as we were sharing the slopes with another few sets of fresh tracks from the morning. Ideally, we would have lapped the slope a couple of times. But we’d just spent over 3 hours walking across flatlands to get to the summit…lapping would have to wait for another day.
The remainder of the ski back down was a playful rip down the skintrack through tight trees at times. Before we knew it we were back at the trailhead. We dropped out skis and backpacks, walked up to get the car, and that was our Muine adventure done and dusted. Next time we’ll probably just lap Senjaku Plateau.