The weather forecast was less than ideal. 60-70km/h winds at noon from the southwest, with some snow, and low cloud cover. But on these sorts of days in Niseko, the lower peaks and northern aspects tend to be great candidates for leisurely lee-side walks. So it was that Shirakaba-yama became our mission for the day.
We were driving from Rankoshi on the southern side of the Niseko Range, so it was a 45 minute drive around the Japan Sea end of the range. Four of us squeezed into Tim and Madoka’s mighty turbo-charged 660cc Suzuki Jimny, and made the trip in relative comfort.
Along the way, Tim developed a splitting headache. “Maybe not enough liquid yesterday after the onsen,” he groaned.
I gave him one of my sure-fix loxoprofen painkillers. That, combined with a 15 minute sleep in the car at the trailhead as we were getting ready seemed to perk him up somewhat.
“Let’s get this,” he said groggily as he emerged from the car.
We had met Tom and Timbah at the trailhead, but we set off not long after a much larger group of people had started their way up the mountain. This gave us an easy climb, as they seemed to be breaking trail for us.
For the first 700m or so, we were skinning along a partially cleared road. It appeared some work was being done further up the road. Soon we left the road though, and kept pushing on south up the broad ridge.
True to the peak’s name, we were climbing up through tight stands of shirakaba for a while. Gorgeous white birch for which Hokkaido is known for.
This soon gave way to more widely spaced forest.
This was only the second time I’d skied with Timbah, a recent arrival in Hokkaido from the US.
“If you let him,” Tim warned me in advance, “he’ll break trail the whole way up any mountain you walk up together.”
True to Tim’s word, Timbah strode in lockstep beside me most of the way, seemingly effortlessly breaking his own trail as we discussed all sorts of topics (as I hogged the existing ski track).
Topics ranged from the place and privilege of adventure in today’s society, harmony and Japanese culture, and no few musings about cross-cultural theories of human behavior. That we were able to get so involved in discussions speaks to the nature of Shirakaba-yama as a peak. It’s one of those peaks you can go for a walk on. To think on. To chew the fat on. It’s nice like that.
Soon, we were nearing the treeline. We stopped for a snack before we hit the ridge, as the weather forecast suggested we would be hammered as soon as we emerged from the lee of the wind. I battened down the hatches by donning my goggles too.
I was glad I did, because as per expectations, the saddle just below the summit was blowing a gale.
As if like clockwork, however, we arrived at the summit with relatively clear conditions and only a moderate wind. I was happy with the result, as given the weather forecast I was extremely bearish on our chances of summiting.
No sooner had we taken the requisite photos and bumped the requisite fists, however, the weather packed in. We were being pummeled by gale-like winds, strong enough to be concerned about the wind picking up a carelessly-placed ski.
We transitioned as quickly as we could, and made our way down to the lee of the gale in low visibility.
Once off the summit ridge, we were now on the lovely mellow slope below the lower of the two peaks on the summit ridge.
“Family-friendly is how I would describe this,” hollered Tim as we skied the playful powder.
Before we’d started our descent, we saw the large 10+ skier group descend before us. Knowing they’d likely be skiing along the uptrack, we tried to stay skier’s right of our ascent route. This gave us more or less untracked turns the whole way down.
It was fun enough that I didn’t get any more photos on the descent than the ones above.
We were soon back on the skin track, and sped along it to get back to the trailhead.
Along the way there were a couple of steeper slopes and gullies to the skier’s right which kept things interesting. It’s certainly not a freerider’s dream peak, but given the conditions of the day, we were all happy.