Quentin and I had spent the previous four days scratching about on icy surfaces on Mt. Rausu (an overnight trip) and Mt. Unabetsu. Overall, they’d been mostly Type-2 fun sorts of days. Low cloud, wind, and cold. To be honest we’d not expected much else, considering the forecasts, and the time of year. Anywhere out east in March is going to be pretty hit and miss with the snow conditions. But, with the area having the least amount of snow in recorded history, we’d spent our fair share of time dodging low pines, sticking out of the surface of the icy snow.
It was, therefore, with great glee that we parked up at the Shari-dake eastern trailhead, under blue skies and with a glorious 10cm or so of fresh snow. Driving towards Shari-dake from Utoro, this beautiful mountain stood clear and crisp against the sky. We were like giddy kids, at last with the prospect of getting great views and even perhaps a summit!
We clearly weren’t the only ones on the mountain. There were six other cars, with another pulling up as we were just hitting the trail. This time around, we chose to take the most common route up Shari-dake, across the plateau on the eastern side of the mountain at the Konpoku Pass. There is also a less-traveled gully route directly south of the plateau, which in hindsight would have been better for us on this particular day, even though we’d have been turned back by the weather either way.
When we set out, though, it was picture-perfect skinning along a very gently climbing plateau through quiet woods.
It wasn’t long after we started up the steeper ridge-bound climb that the weather started to close in. And before long on the ridge, we also hit the dreaded wind-stripped icy snow we’d battled with the previous four days. We dropped down to the lee side of the ridge to get out of the wind and found some softer snow, but the relative lack of snowfall this year made the going tough. At times we were bush-bashing through springy brush. Less than half the usual snow fell around this area this year in March, so had it been a usual year, all of this would have been covered.
After a while we retreated back onto the ridge. Better to be blasted with wind than take hours to force our way though the undergrowth. Not long after emerging onto the now wide ridge, the first flakes of driving snow started. We persevered for another 15 minutes or so before taking stock of our situation. The forecast was for deteriorating conditions in the later afternoon. Obviously those conditions had come early. We’d been genuinely positive about our chances on Shari-dake. But turning back was the only decent option for us.
The ski back down from where we were was great fun. There were some decent faces with some decent snow. And the final blast along the descending plateau was fast and thrilling.
A few days later, a notification popped up from my favorite Hokkaido ski touring Youtuber, Yamanomakochan. Along with a few others, he’d started early on the same day, and managed to summit Shari-dake via the gully route. Predictably, they had atrocious conditions near the summit. Next time, I think I’ll be trying this gully route.