We’d been going back and forward about a potential trip up Pekerebetsu-dake in the Hidaka mountains, but the past few weekends just didn’t give us the confidence-inspiring weather and snowpack conditions we were looking for for a big trip into the Hidakas.
“How about we head south?” asked Saoka. “Oshamambe-dake, for example,” she proffered.
And so it was that we committed to a two-day trip down south, staying the night at a cheap hostel near Lake Toya on the way down from Sapporo City.
We arrived at 7am at the trailhead, and met Ben there – he had driven over from Niseko that morning.
Tim, Ben and I talked shop as we took our sweet time to get ready, and by the time we got going, the others already had a solid head-start on us. We hurried to try to catch up.
It was an interesting start to the route. The wide open landscape, a large wide river valley, had a unique feeling to it, not like other places I’ve skied into in Hokkaido. We soon picked up on the ski-tour-specific route markers as we entered the forest.
I won’t lie, it was a long way in to get to anywhere resembling decent climbing. We took turns breaking trail in the deep snow along the access road. Fifteen minute rotations to keep people fresh. There were a few bridges missing, so this kept things interesting, as we had to find suitable places to cross the streams.
The day was rapidly warming up, and the snow surface was suffering. The blue skies kept sprits high though, as did the glimpses of Oshamambe-dake’s impressive eastern face.
Navigation for the most part was made easy due to the regular large route markers. Unlike the scary-looking eastern face of Oshamambe-dake, this market route was pleasant, head up through old-growth forest, along interesting topography.
We soon found ourselves at the saddle below the summit. Here, the blistering heat from the sun was replaced by a stiff cold wind. We soon discovered the final approach to the summit would not be a walk in the park. We all switched to ski crampons and started up the ridge.
Very soon, however, it was clear that this very exposed, steep, and mildly sastrugi-like ridge wouldn’t be suitable for the whole group, with a range of members with differing experience with hard, icy, steep snow. So I veered us off to the northern slope, in hopes of finding some less wind-affected snow. This improved things a little, but not enough for Haidee’s liking. Madoka still had a slightly sprained ankle from a fall a few weeks ago, so she returned to the saddle with Haidee, where they dug in to wait out return from the summit.
Tim, Ben, Saoka and I pushed on, on a very steep, sometimes very hard surface. We did get reprieves every now and then in the form of soft snow. Saoka was having issues with her G3 ski crampons coming off at very inconvenient times, and my ski pole decided to fold in half along the way. We made it to the north-northwestern ridge heading up to the summit, and were happy to see it was, as anticipated by the contour lines, less steep than the northern ridge. The snow surface was still rock-hard though, so we made our way up very carefully.
Our progress had been slow, but finally we made it to the summit. Or so we thought. As it was, we were now on a very prominent false peak, with the actual marked peak about 100m away along a flat summit ridge. Between us and the peak proper was a large wind-blown cornice. All things considered, we figured we were as atop this icy peak as much as we every would be, even if we made it to the sign, so we decided to call it good.
The views were incredible. Pacific Ocean. Japan Sea. Niseko ski resort. Kariba-yama. Komagatake. Extraordinary.
The joy of getting to the summit was somewhat dulled by the fact that we still had a sketchy descent waiting for us. Icy, rock-hard snow. I was feeling confident, but not all the party was. “I think I’ll just keep my skins on for the descent,” said one, who will remain nameless. We managed to talk them out of that option, owing that edges would be the only thing keeping them from skidding all the way to the bottom of the valley on that bullet-proof snow.
After some harrowing turns getting down the ridge, we made it onto the northern slope, and made a long traversing beeline to the saddle. We were happy to see Haidee and Madoka, who had sat out in a dugout, out of the wind.
Time was getting on, and we were aware that we still had a long way to go to get back down to the cars. We weren’t 100% sure how easy the flat-ish approach would be. Would be we poling all the way? Would we, god forbid, have to put the skins back on?
In the end, it was a mostly rip-roaring time back down. Yes, the snow was grippy and warm. Yes, the approach road was flat-ish, but keeping to the skin track, we made good time, hardly having to pole at all.
Towards the end of the approach road, we came across ski mobile tracks, which allowed for a bit of skating here and then to speed things up even more.
Everyone was pretty happy to see the cars at the end of it all though. And even more happy to see the onsen! A fitting, relaxing end to a very worthwhile, eventful trip.