Posted on May 23, 2019
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Posted on May 23, 2019

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33 2
Reading time: 7 min
16.2km

Distance

8.5 hours

Time

1220m

Ascent

1254m

Highest point

8.5/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Mar-Apr

Best season

Shiretoko-dake (知床岳, 1254m) is the last major peak on the wild Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido. It offers inspiring views across to the Kuril Islands, and offers some great skiing on its steep eastern-approach slopes. It is the eastern-most peak on the Shiretoko Peninsula that is practically climbed in a single day, and there's only 12km between the peak and Cape Shiretoko. There's no summer trail to the summit, and skiers will start from the end of the road in Aidomari. All together a very remote-feeling route.

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This route up Shiretoko-dake starts here, at the end of Route 87, northeast of the town of Rausu, in eastern Hokkaido. It is near the tip of the World Heritage Shiretoko Peninsula.

General notes

The Shiretoko Peninsual is a wild, exposed place at the best of times, particularly in the winter. While it is certainly not impossible to do this route in mid-winter (the road to Aidomari will still be open), favourable weather conditions during January and February will be few and far between. It is a long way to go for bad weather, so we follow most Japanese guidebooks’ recommendation of leaving this area mostly alone until March and April.

Snow conditions in March in particular will be quite variable, with warmer temperatures during the day softening the snow in preparation for it to freeze again overnight. I managed the route entirely on skis, with ski crampons added on the steep climb from around 500m to 1000m in elevation. Softer snow may be found in the upper slopes of the large bowl to the climber’s right, but this is prime avalanche terrain with a prominent convex roll in places. If you must venture off the icy haimatsu low pine infested ridge for softer snow on the climb (and on the descent), err on closer rather than further away from the ridge.

  • Accommodation in Rausu
    There are plenty of options for accommodation in Rausu. There’s the free campground across the road from the free open-air Kuma-no-Yu onsen to start. The campground, here, is closed in winter, but you’ll be fine camping in the snow. Moving up in budget options is the converted karaoke riders’ house here, where a night in winter will cost about 2,500yen in your very own converted karaoke booth. Take a look on Google for other options.
  • The Disputed Kuril Islands
    The islands off the coast of Shiretoko Peninsula are currently occupied by Russia. Who the islands actually should belong to is up for heated debate. Just take a look at the Kuril Islands Dispute entry on Wikipedia; this page is edited almost weekly. What is clear is that currently, the Japanese government insists that the southern-most islands of Etorofu Island (択捉島 Etorofu-tō), Kunashiri Island (国後島 Kunashiri-tō – the one most clearly seen from Shiretoko Peninsula), Shikotan Island (色丹島 Shikotan-tō) and the Habomai Islands belong to Japan. Russia maintains that they have every right to be there.
Hut

None

Route markers

This route is not marked. There’s a large parking area just after the Aidomari River bridge, here. This is as far as the general public is allowed to drive. From here, skin along the sea shore past old fishing shacks until you come to the Kamoiunbe River, here. There used to be a footbridge across this river, however it seems to no longer exist. Just walk downstream to the sea’s edge, where the river fans out – you might need to remove your skis, but the river can be crossed without any need to balance precariously on slippery rocks. Directly after crossing the river, make the 30m scramble up a steep spur to the mostly-flat plateau above. From there, continue northwest, keeping the river on your left. At around 170m in altitude, you’ll cross a snowbridge at the confluence of two small streams. About 400m beyond this, you’ll exit the woods into a clearing where you’ll start climbing in earnest up the ridge to the 474m mark on the map. Beyond 500m in altitude on this ridge, it is a very steep (just over 40 degrees) climb up to a plateau at just under 1000m in altitude. You can pat yourself on the back here, because that’s most of the climbing done. Beyond this, traverse across the featureless plateau at 1000m towards the peak. The descent route is the same as the climb up.

Route Timing
Up | 5.5hrs
Down | 3hrs

The Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook puts the total moving time on this route at 10.5 hours. This seemed a little on the high side, and sure enough, I managed to do the route solo, with few stops, in about 6.5 hours. As such, I’d put my money on a more reasonable 8.5 hours for most fit and experienced skiers willing to stop and smell the roses. Note however that there is one particularly steep section that may take more time if a climber has to change to crampons.

Transport

Public transport:

There is no bus service to the start of the route (here) in winter. The closest you’ll get is the town of Rausu, which is accessible by bus from Kushiro. See the timetable here (in Japanese). Times will differ slightly during winter.

By car: 

There is a large parking area just across the Aidomari River bridge, here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Shiretoko-dake (知床岳) – map no. NL-55-30-11-4

NOTE: The official 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

Snow and route safety

The greatest concern on this route is the rather surprising expanse of distance climbers have to cross on the plateau directly below the summit. It is almost 2km of mostly flat, slightly climbing terrain across this plateau, with plenty of opportunities to get lost in low visibility conditions. The route off the plateau is the same as you came up, with other route options possibly leading to cliffs above the sea further around the coast. Make conservative decisions when visibility is low and wind is high. The risks involved in getting lost are made more serious by the sheer remoteness of this route. As always, ensure someone knows when you plan to be back. Finally, from April the bears start rousing themselves from their winter slumber. Shiretoko Peninsula has one of the densest population of Hokkaido brown bear on the island. Even in mid March, I was advised to carry bear spray with me, as well as a bear bell.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Shiretoko-dake
Onsen nearby

The obvious choice for a post-ski congratulatory soak is the free open-air Kuma-no-Yu (熊の湯, literally “bear’s bath”, here) near the road-closure gates to Shiretoko Pass above Rausu. This outdoor bath is consistently the hottest I’ve ever experienced, but there’s a cold water pipe you can use to help sooth the sting. Enjoy the locals, submerged to their necks, laughing at you as you can’t get past your big toe in the scalding mineral water.

Extra Resources

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other areas of Eastern Hokkaido or Shiretoko together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Takao Miyashita. He’s a born-and-bred Hokkaido-based guide. From a young age he cut his teeth on peaks including those in far eastern Hokkaido. He has multiple 6,000m-plus peak international expeditions under his belt (including a ski descent from 7,400m on Mt. Manaslu, Nepal). He is one of the leading senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido and Japan

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Shiretoko-dake is at the very tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula, which protrudes into the Okhosk Sea. It is not a very tall mountain, but it is home to a peculiar climate where very windy days are frequent, meaning deep-winter climbing of the peak is very tough. There’s no summer trail to the summit, so the climbing is limited to a short period at the end of spring. Only if you’re blessed with good weather and good conditions can you stand on the summit. The topography at the upper reaches of the route is void of defining features, so we’d class this as a peak for experts with good experience, judgement, and map reading skills.

Translated from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (2015), p. 412.

I’d never intended to climb Shiretoko-dake solo. Particularly with a promise of 10.5 hours on the mountain by the guidebook, it was one that I was looking forward to doing with an experienced buddy. However, Quentin had to bow out of the mission despite his keen desire to do the trip, due to a strained foot. He had five day of wandering the Kyoto streets ahead of him, so he didn’t want to aggravate it any further. With a reasonable weather forecast, however, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass, since we’d come all this way. I’d miss having a model in my photos of the trip, but I decided to give it a go. The forecast was for deteriorating conditions from noon, so I set my alarm for 2am, in order to be at the trailhead by 3am.

“I’d better get my sunrise over Kunashir Island,” I muttered to myself that morning, swigging back an energy drink for the 30 minute drive from Rausu to the end of the road.

Mercifully, there’d been almost 10cm of fresh snow overnight. Not a huge dump, but welcome nonetheless after a few days of scratching about on icy conditions elsewhere. From the road end, I skinned off into the night, not even needing my head torch switched on – it was an almost-full moon, with plenty of light on the white snow.

There were only a couple of head-scratching moments during that skin along the seashore. One was a missing bridge. In my early morning grogginess I didn’t take a photo, but the main river crossing was now a scramble across rocks, requiring removal of the skis. The second head-scratcher was the 30m scramble up from the seashore to the mostly-flat approach to the main climb. There was a clear snowshoe track ahead of me, where the snowshoers had just climbed straight up the steep spur. I opted to side-step the whole way up, balancing precariously on the 50cm wide spur.

With all that excitement behind me, I began powering on, following the snowshoe tracks. This was quite the bonus, as I was wanting to make as quick time as possible to beat the weather. Apart from checking the route a couple of times, I just followed the tracks on auto-pilot. Easy.

I exited the woods at a clearing just as the sky was starting to get light, at around 4:30am. I could now see most the ridge-line route up to the plateau at 1000m. It didn’t look very far, but I knew there was a steep section ahead of me. I carried on up.

I was just approaching the bottom of the main climb when the sun started to light up the horizon. I could hardly believe how spot on the location of the sunrise was. Right over the top of Kunashir Island, the southern-most island in the Russian Kuril Islands.

The direct sunlight didn’t last for long though. No sooner had the sun risen over the islands, than it disappeared again behind some low cloud.

I pushed on, now at the dreaded haimatsu low pine infested steep ridge. It was icy, snaggy, steep, and overall not fun. I very soon put my ski crampons on, and stuck to the ridge for only a few more minutes before risking it on the softer snow just to the climber’s right of the ridge. This was infintely easier going, as I was able to get more purchase on the edge of my skis. I made good time, making a number of kick-turns up the slope, hugging the ridge. There was some sign of recent small avalanches further to the right.

Every now and then the sun would peek through the clouds, lighting up the land’s curves and ridges. Far in the distance to the southwest, Io-zan’s (硫黄山, 1562m) volcanic gullies were put in stark relief.

The overall isolation that I felt here was somewhat akin to what I’d only felt many years ago cycling across a remote pass in Kyrgyzstan (story here). Except up here was much colder, a lot harsher. I’d not want to be up here in a storm, I thought. At the top of the steep climb, there was a somewhat demoralizing expanse of plateau still between me and the summit of Shiretoko-dake. At this stage, the summit was still clearly visible. The surface left much to be desired, however. Hard, rimed, and crusty. Sastrugi spawned out from still-exposed haimatsu pines, and ice clung like a thousand sharp knives horizontally to the poor tortured souls of trees that dared to stand taller than the snow cover.

By the time I’d got to just below the summit, I realized I’d been moving for about 4.5 hours without much of a break. The wind was picking up, so I took the opportunity to scoff down some dorayaki (sweetened bean paste sandwiched between two hotcakes) and daifuku (sweetened bean paste enveloped in smooth mochi rice). All washed down with some hot green tea from my thermos. I threw on another layer, and continued upwards.

The summit was an anti-climax for a couple of reasons. First, by the time I got there, the cloud had rolled in and I had about 10m of visibility. Second, there is no sign marking the summit. The only alternative to a selfie with a summit sign was a quick screenshot of a marker on my GPS app (I use AlpineQuest).

I resigned to seeing no view whatsoever of the precipitous cliffs directly to the north of the summit, and quickly set up for the rickety, icy descent. I had got about 200m from the summit, however, when the skies cleared for a moment. I quickly removed my skis and boot-packed back to the summit. This was rewarded with partial views down the cliffs towards Shiretoko Cape, some 12km away. Some last slithers of drift ice were visible on the northern side of the peninsula. Everything around me was caked with rime. 

A grateful sense of achievement accompanied me as I finally started in earnest back down the mountain, across the wide expanse of the plateau. Another snow shower was clearly rolling in, so it was time for me to get off this hill. The going was tough on the downhill. The self-inflicted inconvenience of a careful, slow descent was the price I’d pay for indulging in this personal quest to put a dot on the map right at the eastern tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula.

The descent only got fun once I’d dropped off the icy plateau and into the wide gully below. I wasn’t game to ski the center of the gully, but even on the sides, there was a gorgeous layer of only slightly wind-affected snow on a thrillingly steep slope. This entire bowl, in fact, looked great for skiing, including the generously spaced trees on the opposite side. It felt important to enjoy this pocket of good skiing, because it was sandwiched between almost 4km of flat wooded approach below, and a 2km world of icy stastrugi above. This mountain definitely felt like a place to put a narcissistic notch in one’s belt rather than a place to revel in pure hedonistic pow turns.

At the bottom of the steep section, I passed an older couple on snowshoes. They were taken aback at my early 3am start, but with the wind increasing, I doubt they would have made it beyond the start of the plateau above. I pushed on down, along more mellow downhill slopes now, until I hit the approach plateau. The woods I’d skinned through by moonlight were really quite beautiful in the daylight. Natural untouched forests of the Shoretoko Peninsula National Park. This plateau spat me out onto the seashore, back where the adventure had started some 6 hours ago. 

I spent some time taking gratuitous self-portraits and unnecessary gear-porn shots for if I ever get around to doing a review of these new skis of mine…

Before making the final 1km skin along the deserted sea front. Back at the car I had a euphoric moment of achievement – Shiretoko-dake had been high on my list of places to go in winter. Not for the snow per se, but the pure exploration factor of such a remote peak. Everything about it ticked boxes – starting from the end of the road, skinning along a snow-covered stony beach, mother Russia in the background, and just a (very hard) stone’s throw from the tip of Shiretoko Peninsula. 

As with each ski touring, cycle touring, and hiking route guide published on hokkaidowilds.org, should you choose to follow the information on this page, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road/track closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow leave-no-trace procedures. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this information, associated GPS track (GPX, KML and maps), and all information was prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. hokkaidowilds.org, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following the information contained in this post.

hokkaidowilds.orgに掲載されるすべてのスキールート、自転車ツーリングルート、ハイキングルートと同様に、本ページに掲載される情報を利用し行動する場合、必ず自己責任で利用することを条件とします。出発する前に現地の天候や状況、通行止め情報などを確認しましょう。行動中は、公有地/私有地に関係なく必ず現地の利用条件を守るようにし、適切な安全装置や、コンパスや地図などのナビゲーション道具を身に着けてください。いうまでもありませんが、自然に与える人間の影響を少なくし、ゴミの持ち帰りをはじめ環境を傷をつけない(Leave No Trace)ようなアウトドア行動にしましょう。本サイトに掲載される情報はあくまで計画を立てるための一つの情報源に過ぎなく、行為者の先んじて払ってしかるべき正当な注意義務及び努力と合わせて利用することを条件とします。本ページのGPSトラック(GPXとKMLと地図)を含む情報は提供者のできる限り正確な調べにより提供しているものの、その情報の正確性や、提供者の行動判断は、hokkaidowilds.orgは一切の責任を負いかねなく保証できません。また、本ページに掲載される情報を利用することによるいかなる怪我、器物損壊等、その他事件 ・事故等においてhokkaidowilds.orgや本サイトの関係者は一切の責任を負いかねます。

Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Shiretoko-dake, or others nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

2 thoughts on “Shiretoko-dake Ski Touring (Kamoiunbe-kawa Route)”

  1. “Views into Russia”… you mean, into “Russian occupied land”. It’s still Japan, they just ceded it to Russia due to disputes over other land. It very clearly shouldn’t be Russian land and was originally claimed by Japan.

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