“Well that makes it 7 hours and 50 minutes,” I said to Haidee as we finally made it back to the car, after a long but rewarding spring day out, skiing in the Mashike mountains. It was 2:50pm, and we’d left the car at 8am that morning.
I knew it was going to be a long day. The total suggested time in the Hokkaido Yuki-yama Guidebook was 6 hours. It was Haidee’s first time properly bush-bashing to access snow though, so the going was slow at times. We started out with high hopes, as we were able to skin along a small patch of snow along the forestry road, not far from the gate.
It wasn’t soon after we got onto the minor forestry road that we realized it wasn’t going to be as smooth sailing as we’d hoped. The extra vegetation had protected the road from a certain amount of snowfall, meaning we found large sections more or less void of snow, or at least large gaps between those islands of snow.
As we neared the stream crossing, things opened up a bit, but we were still picking our way from snow island to snow island. There were quite a few trees down, presumably from typhoons in the last couple of years. There wasn’t a snow bridge over the stream, but it was small enough to be able to easily lunge across in one step. As we carried along the forestry road, there were fewer and fewer gaps between the snow, until we found ourselves able to skin without much hindrance.
Once we were actually skinning (as opposed to walking and sometimes skinning), it was pure spring skiing bliss. It was certainly more of a walk than a ski, but we had all the time in the world, and as we ascended the forest only got better. Gorgeous shirakaba white birch, huge kumagera black woodpeckers, crystal clear blue sky…and a discarded jeep 🙂
We were following a number of vague tracks in the snow. They looked to be a few days old, perhaps from the weekend – we were here on Tuesday, having worked through the weekend to give us time to make the most of the forecast good weather. We stopped at around the 745m mark for a bite to eat for lunch.
“The peak looked close from back a bit further,” mused Haidee. “Now it still looks really far away.”
I sent the drone up to get some aerial photos of the upper portion of the route. All around were amazing looking downhill slopes. If only they all didn’t take four hours of walking to access them, we’d probably have been tempted to lap a few.
From the 745m point, things only got more amazing. We were now climbing uphill through rolling hills and meadows of snow and old-growth shirakaba white birch trees. It was like something out of a fairy tale. The snow surface was film crust on nice sherbet snow underneath. I was very much looking forward to the downhill run on this.
We were now getting close to the treeline, so the mountains around us came into stark relief. To our right was Kogane-yama, a prominent volcanic peak rising abruptly out of the ground. We’d hiked Kogane-yama in autumn last year, and I’d enjoyed the airy summit traverse.
Eventually, we came to the crux of the route – a 30m very steep ‘step’ up to the 1044m point. Haidee struggled on the sherbet snow, slipping a couple of times. We were carrying ski crampons with us, and in hindsight should have put them on for an easier zig-zag up the face of the slope. Indeed if this slope had been frozen, we definitely would have needed them to get to the top of it.
From the top of the steep slope, it was another hefty walk along a gently sloping ridge to the summit. The summit gave us 360 degree views of the interior Mashike mountains, and down to the Japan Sea coast. A stiff, cold wind was blowing, which hurried our descent.
I didn’t take many photos of the main descent – it was just too much fun. The snow was very fast – that very slightly frozen film crust sped us on our way back the way we’d come. Down the thrilling 30m shoulder, through the meadows of old trees, and on down to the flat plateau. The snow was hard-packed enough that we were able to cross-country skate along the flats with ease. It wasn’t until we finally made it to the end of the snow that I though to pull the camera out. Haidee was still mostly smiles, despite now contending with sasa bamboo grass sticking out of the snow.
Once the snow became too patchy, we threw the skis on our packs, and walked the remaining 1km back to the car.
It was a long and varied day, but despite the low altitude bush-bashing, it was a very worthwhile outing!