The idea was to try to put together an overnight trip, keeping things as cheap as possible – Geraldine has a long-term cycling trip coming up, so she was keen to keep funds liquid for that trip. We couldn’t travel far, as we had to leave Saturday morning, and get back by Sunday night, starting from Sapporo City. Being that tricky in-between season of mid-winter and spring skiing, we were also keen to try to find north-facing slopes, so as to up our chances of getting some of that late season March pow.
So I pored over the great Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook, and settled on two northern Hidaka range peaks of Shamansha-dake and Odasshu-yama. If we stayed in the basic but comfortable Tsurugi-zan Trailhead Hut, we’d be able to keep costs down (you can’t even donate if you wanted to at that hut). Plan sorted, we left Sapporo at 6am and were at the Shamansha-dake winter trailhead by 9am.
To our delight, the forestry road had been cleared recently. “The forestry road may or may not be cleared,” declared the guidebook. It was our lucky day – this cut out almost 1km of flat-land walking.
Once on the trail, we trudged along a relatively flat section of road and then forest. Slowly but surely, the angle of the ridge increased, and soon enough we were climbing in earnest. It was tough going in places. We were on gorgeous fresh snow, but this was sitting on a hard rain crust. As we skinned up the steep ridge, our downhill skis would occasionally slip out, breaking our stride.
After a solid 30 minutes of effort, however, we were rewarded with a sudden clearing of the trees. A wide, white ridge stretched out in front of us. We were gaining on the Takenoko-yama summit fast. The air was cold, but the sun was warm on our backs. Brief snowshowers would come and go. Looking back the way we came, we could see the Minamifurano Village in the distance.
Soon, the Takenoko-yama summit was well within our sights. The large cornice along the final approach to the summit was wide, and to my surprise, it was covered in soft snow. I’d been somewhat expecting hard packed snow, but this was easy going. The large eastern bowl below Takenoko-yama looked sublime.
Far below, we could see ice-fishing tents spread out on the frozen surface of Lake Kanayama.
We didn’t spend too much time on the top of Takenoko-yama, as we were keen to get all the way to the Shamansha-dake summit. The weather was great, and everyone was keen to ski the northern bowl on the way down. We kept our skins on, scratching and sliding our way down to the saddle.
The summit itself was hardly worth writing home about. It was a small, compact affair. Understated. There wasn’t even a summit sign. We took the obligatory photos, ripped skins, and got on our way.
The downhill from just above the saddle was even better than we’d expected. The north face had kept the snow in prime condition. It wasn’t deep per se, but gorgeously consistent. Was this some of our best skiing this season?
After the euphoric rush, the reality soon set in – we had to break trail through deep snow up a steep slope back to our ridge-line skin track. This was slow, hot work. After what felt like an hour of hard slog (but was in reality only about 40 minutes), we were back up at the summit of Takenoko-yama.
“Oh no!” cried Haidee. “My other mitten is missing.” She figured she’d dropped it near the bottom of the skin back up to the up-track. “Should we go back and get it?” she asked sheepishly.
The gallant Tim offered to head back down to get it. I was ambivalent, but decided to join him. We told the others to drop down to a sheltered spot off the summit and dig a hole to wait for us – we figured we’d be away for about 40 minutes.
In the end, we were only away for about 20 minutes. Soon after leaving the summit ridge, Tim and I decided just to ski the heck out of the tree-dotted slope we’d skinned up. “We can look for the glove on the return back up the skintrack,” I suggested.
As it happened, the glove was sitting near the skin track most of the way down the slope. We’d not only done a good deed in finding the glove, but we’d also got an extra lap in. The skin back up the track was quick and easy this time – at least it felt that way for me; I was the one breaking trail all the way on the previous ascent.
Waiting for us at the summit of Takenoko-yama was the much anticipated eastern bowl. In hindsight, we should have cut across to the skier’s left side of the bowl from the beginning, and skied the long, open, shallow gully on that side. Instead, we wasted the first 75m of vertical descent weaving through thick trees somewhere in the ‘island’ in the middle of the bowl. Eventually, I popped out onto the skier’s right gully, and was greeted with gloriously open, treeless perfection. It really felt like some of the best, most consistent skiing I’d done this season.
Even the short flat-ish blat back to the car was great fun.
One of the most fun ski touring routes I’ve done in Hokkaido, for sure.