For weekend warriors from Sapporo City, accessible backcountry routes with reliable powder snow are relatively limited, particularly if one doesn’t want to commit to a long drive to the Niseko area. Jozankei and the surrounding area have some excellent options (see the routes here), but north of Sapporo is limited to Horokanai (see those routes here).
Somewhere in between Sapporo and Horokanai, however, lies the often over-looked Irumukeppu volcanic group near Fukagawa City. We finally made it there this season, and it did not disappoint. 1.5 hours on the expressway, and you’re right there.
Haidee and I had spent the night in Hokuryu town nearby, and made it to the trailhead at 7am. At that point we were the only ones in the car park, but there was a faint skin track visible on the uncleared road heading towards the mountain. It was cold. Haidee’s thermometer was registering -15°C.
I sent up the drone for some trailhead shots, but quickly regretted it. Standing in the cold, my fingers were freezing.
Haidee wisely hurried on ahead of me to keep warm. By the time I had caught up with her, I almost had feeling returned to my fingers.
It was easy going along the faint skin track. We were grateful for it – stepping off the skin track reminded us just how deep and soft the snow was. It would have been much slower going without a solid track under our feet.
Soon we arrived at the summer trail head. The summer sign was still visible. Later in the season I imagine it would probably end up buried. There was a faint skin track carrying on up the forestry road, but we decided to stick to the plan and follow the more well-travelled trail up to the saddle.
It’s an interesting route, this one. It involves crossing a low ridge to access the higher main ridge further on. But if one makes a careful contour around the far side of the minor ridge, one can avoid having any climbing to do on the return. That’s the only tricky bit about this route, but not a fatal one. Even if one follows all the ski tracks down to the gully floor after the saddle, you’ll still make it to the base of the main slopes.
After questioning our decision to take the contour route to the stream crossing, we finally made it and joined up with the main up-track again. From here, we made the final long slog up the main northern-aspect slope. Once again, we were happy to be following an established (albeit half-buried) skin track. The soft, dry powder was deep.
At the summit ridge, we were greeted by a stiff, frigid wind. We donned our goggles and pushed on the final few hundred meters to the summit. Despite a clear-sky start, we were not graced with good views at the top. We made a hasty transition and headed on down.
I was having too much fun on the steep powdery slopes to take any photos of the descent. Sublime.
Our careful contouring on the ascent paid off on the descent – dodging sticks and branches along the way, we were able to mostly coast along our up-track with no side-stepping required.
Considering we only saw one other person on the mountain (a solo snow-shoer) we were very surprised to see a full carpark when we arrived back at the car. It was a Monday on a long weekend, so it seemed we were not the only ones seeking the famous Otoe-yama pow.
I recognized the red x-Trail to belong to an acquaintance, and sure enough a few days later he posted his report from their trip to Otoe-yama: http://hokkaicamp.com/yama/2021/0111/index.html