“Even assuming it will take us up to three hours from the hut back to the car, we’ll still have just under two hours of daylight left,” we mused, as we considered the option to climb up Ochacha-dake on the second day of our foray into the Ashibetsu-dake area.
But was the detour to Ochacha-dake worth the police call-out? For us, selfishly the answer would be yes. The views and the skiing above the hut were amazing. But sorry to Haidee for not letting her know we’d be later out of the hills than planned. And sorry to the Furano police for the drive up to the trailhead….
But I get ahead of myself. The day before, we’d lugged out overnight gear half way up Ashibetsu-dake, deposited it at the point we’d drop down to the hut, summited, and then skied down to the hut. It was an unforgettable day with perfect weather for it.
We got off to a fairly relaxed start from the hut. It was about 8:30am when we finally clipped into the skis and made our way up the picturesque valley towards the Ocahacha-dake saddle. True to the weather forecast’s word, it was hot. We were down to our t-shirts not soon after the first few kick-turns.
This did nothing for our nervousness about the avalanche conditions. Already we could see recent debris that had run down from the high couloirs above the valley. We picked our way up the valley carefully, trying to keep on islands of safe(er) terrain.
As we climbed towards the saddle, it was hard to reconcile the topography and views with what we’ve come to expect from Hokkaido. This was not mellow terrain. All around us, we were surrounded by jagged, craggy, steep cliffs and chutes. This was all very refreshing.
After picking our way to the climber’s right, across mellow gullies and spurs, we found our gap in the cornices on the saddle, and reveled in the inspiring views south towards Fufu-iwa 夫婦岩. I struggle to remember anywhere else in Hokkaido where a photo I’ve taken in Hokkaido has been so thoroughly framed by pure rock and cliff.
The steep ridge climb up to the Ochacha-dake plateau was a bit of a twiggy mess, with tight trees to contend with. But it was less of a struggle than it has initially looked like it would be, from below. Hiro, with his super wide telemark skis and grippiest-skins-on-the-planet, did his trademark straight-up-the-mountain trick, and essentially made it up with hardly a kick-turn.
The access to the plateau had us scratching our heads for a few moments, as we were greeted by some tall cornices. About 100m north along the ridge, however, there was a glorious sand-dune-like slope. The juxtaposition with the craggy mountains to the south was uncanny.
At the summit, we stood transfixed at the entirety of Ashibetsu-dake’s north face. The top portions of a few of the couloirs were in full view. We had to double-check that we were still indeed in Hokkaido.
On the descent, we opted to ski down a steep roller off the plateau, just east of the saddle-ridge we’d climbed up. The surface of the snow was warm and slushy. Everything around here was well and truly heating up.
To our dismay, the upper portion of the valley descent to the hut was a mess of slow, warm snow. Tree shadows were fast. Then BAM. The snow would kick on the brakes. Curiously, the snow was better lower down…perhaps just less direct sun exposure.
Back at the hut, we were a bit shocked to find the time to be almost 1pm. I’d already lit the fire for a lunch-time fry-up though, so we spent the next one hour gorging on all the extra food we still had in the hut – bacon, some beef and pork, mushrooms, and two large bags of veges. A lunch of champions…and we’d need it for the adventurous descent from the hut that awaited.