We were out east visiting Gerry, and had already ticked off a couple of well-known established ski touring routes on the edge of the Akan-Mashu National Park. Today we had to make the short 2 hour drive to Aibetsu to take part in a first aid course. But we had the whole morning to kill. We were all keen for a ski somewhere, but it had to be near Kitami City. The weather wasn’t great either, so we were looking for something low altitude and non-committing.
The solution came in the form of the hopelessly local Nikoro-yama.
According to Yamareco.com, thousands of people climb Nikoro-yama in the winter every year. But only a few do it on skis and/or snowboards. But the fact that a few do, sometimes, do it on skis, was enough for us to give it a go too.
It all felt a bit overkill to be lugging full alpine ski touring gear – including beacons and emergency gear in our backcountry packs – up a mountain where we were passing locals in gym shoes, a water bottle in their hand, and a jacket tied around their waist.
As we passed one elderly gentleman, he said in a surprised tone, “wow, that’s quite some gear you’ve got!”
About 20 minutes into the hike up, I decided we needed a bit more of a challenge, so we took a steep ‘shortcut’ to cut off some of the switchbacks in the road we were on. It was a struggle for some in the team, so we abandoned this idea part way up, escaping to the relative ease of the road.
As we approached the summit, the weather came in, and we got snow flurries and low clouds. While this put a damper on the view, it didn’t diminish the amazing hospitality of the mountain association that manages the trails.
“I built this igloo,” an elderly gentleman announced with pride at the summit. “What do you want? Tea or sweetened rice milk?”
He was quite insistent that we have hot drink before heading down. We could hardly refuse.
The descent down the central access road was manageable. The snow was ever so slightly breakable crust, which put a damper on things slightly. Given the amount of snow that falls in this area though, really we were happy with what we got.
Back at the trailhead, the webmaster for the official Nikoro-yama website happened to be there, snapping pictures of everyone and anyone who came down the trail. He let us know a few days later that he’d made mention of our escapades on the mountain – check it out here.
All in all a great way to spend an otherwise average-weather morning in Kitami!