Pekerebetsu-dake had thwarted us a couple of times during the 2020/2021 winter season. Once it was because of a very high wind forecast. Another time it was because of a very unstable avalanche forecast by the good folk at the Furano Avalanche Center.
Today, we had nothing but blue skies and settled weather on the forecast, so we decided it was our chance to get up onto Pekerebetsu-dake.
We were a hodge-podge group of skiers and snowboarders. One skier hadn’t been out in the backcountry much this season, so was huffing and puffing on the ascent. But the weather was good, and spirits were high. We all arrived at the car park in order to get going at 9am.
Once we were on the snow, initial indications of snow surface quality were not good. Breakable crust. Ugh. If we were lucky, the sun would soften things up a little for the descent, despite the cold air.
Somewhat characteristic of this route are the wind/snow-drift breaks along the lower plateau on the approach. The large clearing would give us prime views of a very steep-looking eastern face in front of us. The northern ridge was definitely looking less intimidating.
Before long, we shimmied down into the main creek gully to assess our options for the main climb up to the summit. Most skiers opt for the Center Ridge to the west-southwest, and it certainly seemed to have the easier climb on to the spur. The North Ridge directly west would theoretically give us a more gradual final approach to the summit, but the head of the spur was more or less a bluff.
Confident we’d find a spot to gain the spur, we headed west up the due-west gully for about 300m, before finding a rather bushy but doable slope to switch back on to gain the spur. It was a bit messy, but we all made it up onto the ridge. The surface conditions were softened somewhat by the sun. We had high hopes for some half-decent skiing on the descent.
From there, we were now heading up through well-spaced trees on a broad ridge.
The softened surface snow combined with still-cold shadows made for some challenges for some of the crew. We had glop-stopper and scrapers, however, so the iced-up skins were soon dealt to.
Our progress was a little slower than we’d hoped for. Our less-uphill-fit backcountry skier in the group, while smokingly fast on the descent, was taking her time on the ascent. Time was getting on, but we did stop about 3/4 of the way up to check on the snowpack conditions. Everything looked solid…including the breakable crust…the descent was going to be interesting.
The final 100m of the ascent to the summit ridge was a bit of a chore. The breakable crust became not particularly breakable in places, and out in the front breaking trail, I was feeling all rather exposed. Ben was on snowshoes, and found it much eaiser going on the narrow but very hard-packed steep summit ridge. Those of us on skis or splitboard stuck to the upper face as far as we could, searching out the last pockets of soft-ish snow to set our skin track.
We eventually gained the summit ridge though, and from there it was smooth, albeit very hard-packed, sailing. Typical of the Hidaka Range, the western side of the summit ridge was scoured, with creeping haimatsu pine still exposed.
The views, however, were magestic. Across to the Daisetsuzan Range, and also way over to Yubari-dake to the northwest.
Unfortunately, despite our elation at the wonderful views and finally getting to the top of Pekerebetsu-dake, the descent was anything but awe-inspiring. Our descent slope was now in the shade, and we had breakable crust the entire descent. It was very much survival skiing.
I vowed to come back some time in more favourable conditions!