Shiribetsu-dake Northwest Gully

尻別岳 | Pinneshiri

Posted on May 23, 2022
0
WNS
Posted on May 23, 2022
0 0
WNS
6.7km

Distance

2.5 hours

Time

580m

Ascent

989m

Highest point

6/10
Difficulty
Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-Mar

Best season

This route up the northwestern corner of Shiribetsu-dake 尻別岳 (1107m) is, relatively speaking, a mellower route to the popular 989m false peak on the mountain. It offers relatively lower-trafficked access to the false peak than the West Bowl, easily one of the most popular backcountry zones in Hokkaido. The 989m peak offers a number of appealing descent aspects for the experienced backcountry traveller prepared to carefully assess snowpack conditions. Locally, Shiribetsu-dake is known as Hokkaido's most avalanche-prone mountain, so extra care must be taken on this very accessible, attractive peak.

We visited this route on Mar 07, 2022

The crew: Ronan and Paul

Last updated Nov 25, 2022

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Shiribetsu-dake arguably sits as the southeastern terminus of the string of volcanoes that make up the Niseko Range and Yotei-zan line of fire. They’re all dormant volcanoes, sitting in the southwest of Hokkaido, near the popular Niseko ski resort area. Shiribetsu-dake is home to the sprawling Rusutsu Ski Resort on its southwestern foothills. This route up Shiribetsu-dake starts at the end of the snowclearing on a minor road just off Route 257, on the northwestern side of the mountain.

General notes

Shiribetsu-dake has somewhat of a folklorish presence within the Hokkaido backcountry skiing community. On the one hand, it offers some of the most easily accessible steep skiing in southern Hokkaido. The snow, too, is extremely deep and dry. There’s a reason it’s home to Hokkaido’s only heliskiing operation – the snow is that good.

On the other hand, it’s also known locally as a melting pot of every sort of avalanche you’ll encounter in Hokkaido, all in one convenient package – colossal glide cracks (the ‘crevasses’ of Hokkaido), full-depth avalanches, loose dry and loose wet activity. This peak sees it all, on all aspects, all season long. That said, with good terrain management on the part of skiers, Shiribetsu-dake can be a fantastic place to ski.

The route outlined here accesses the 989m peak from the northwest, via a relatively mellow gully through well-spaced old-growth forest glades. On the descent, there are a few options available that can be dialled according to the day’s avalanche conditions and one’s own appetite for and experience with exposure to avalanche terrain. This route accesses the 989m peak from a different direction than the more popular West Bowl route.

Hut
None
Route details

Park up well to the side of the road about 20m north of the intersection where Route 257 heads east, around here. Further north, the road is closed in winter. Start skinning east on the snowbanks along Route 257, to where Route 257 veers north again. Don’t be tempted to cut across the fields. The general public is asked to keep off the National Seed and Seedling Center’s land. Soon after where Route 257 veers north, start heading south along the eastern border of the National Seed and Seedling Center – there’s a clear boundary seen on Google Satellite. After about 1km, start climbing in earnest east up the distinct western gully. It won’t take much time to arrive at the saddle between the 805m and 989m peaks. From there, head south up the ridge to the 989m peak.

On the descent, there are a number of options. Either head back the way you came up to keep exposure low, or ski the northern slopes from the 989m peak down to the western gully. Once in the gully, return the way you came.

Route Timing
Up | 2hrs
Down | 0.5hrs

Transport

Public transport:

There is no public transport to this route.

By car:

Route 257 is a relatively busy road, with quite a lot of heavy truck traffic at times. Hence our recommendation to park off Route 257 near the end of the snow clearing north of where Route 257 heads east, around here. Even then, make sure to park well to the side of the road, taking precautions not to block traffic.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Kimobetsu (喜茂別) – map no. NK-54-20-4-1

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).

Aspect
The main aspect skiers are exposed to on the descent and/or ascent is West. Other aspects that may also be encountered while following the route outlined on this page include: North, South. Therefore, keep an eye on the weather forecast a few days ahead of your trip to monitor wind, snow, and temperature. Also, since this route is in the general vicinity of the Shiribeshi area, consider looking at the Japan Avalanche Network avalanche bulletins (updated Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays at 8am) or the daily Niseko Avalanche Information website. These may give extra insight into avalanche conditions in the greater area around the route.

Snow and
route safety

The route as outlined on this page is described as relatively mellow, but there is still a very real exposure to remotely- or skier-triggered avalanche from above when travelling along the gully floor. The first 1/3 of the climb up through the gully is, essentially, one long terrain trap. At the risk of flogging a dead horse, 1) check the avalanche advisory, 2) keep aware of your surroundings, and 3) seek safer terrain if in any doubt.

Shiribetsu-dake Northwest Gully Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

C

30

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

B

6

Hazards

A

20

Navigation

C

6

Totals

62/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy).  More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Shiribetsu-dake
Onsen nearby

You won’t be very far from the Rusutsu Onsen ルスツ温泉 (location, 1,300yen). It’s a bit pricey, but the views are amazing from the large outdoor baths. If you’re heading direct back to Niseko, we recommending dropping by Makkari Onsen まっかり温泉 (location, 600yen) – the outdoor baths have incredible views of Yotei-zan.

Extra Resources
No extra English resources that we know of. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other Niseko areas together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Jun Horie. He’s a Niseko-resident guide with seven years experience advanced-level ski instructing in Austria (he speaks German as well as English and Japanese). He has also guided in New Zealand and has previously led guiding operations in Hokkaido before going independent. See a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

Whiteroom Tours also regularly guide on Shiribetsu-dake. If you’d rather not hike, Hokkaido Backcountry Club runs Hokkaido’s only heliskiing operation, to the peak of Shiribetsu-dake.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

The bread and butter Shiribetsu-dake backcountry route is one I’ve skied a couple of times. It’s nice. It’s accessible. But I wanted to see something different this time around. I mentioned to Ronan and Paul that I was keen to take a look at the Northwest Gully, and we agreed to meet up at the trailhead.

In the morning, I parked up at the spot I’d seen on Yamareco.com, some skiers parking. The plan was to cut across the National Center for Seeds and Seedlings grounds. A quick look over the snow bank showed that while some people may have done that in the past, it wasn’t the done thing any more. 

As I was flying the drone to get some aerial shots of Shiribetsu-dake, Ronan pulled up. “Hey the trailhead is back up the road,” he said.

I said I would catch him up.

After getting the drone down out of the sky, I drove back up the road to where Ronan and Paul were getting geared up. Problem was that it was the West Bowl trailhead.

“I’m keen to head up the northwest gully today, if that’s OK with you guys,” I said apologetically.

It seemed there had been a misunderstanding, but Paul quickly caught on. “Oh, people usually park up at the pumpkin patch for that route,” he said. “It’s a big ploughed concrete pad that’s accessible even in the middle of winter. It smells like rotting pumpkins though.”

My curiosity was piqued, so we all piled into the cars and headed north to an impeccably snow ploughed area just off the road.

It was incongruous. There didn’t seem to be any reason for it to be cleared of snow. “It’s like this all season,” Paul insisted.

Curious orange stains dotted the huge piles of snow at the sides of the clearing.

Later, after our tour had concluded, I visited the Kimobetsu Town Council to see if they knew anything about this curious parking spot.

“Are you sure it’s within the Kimobetsu town boundary?” A clearly disinterested clerk seemed perturbed by my intrusion on his post-lunch work time.

After I showed him the location on the topomaps, clearly within the Kimobetsu town boundary, he fobbed me off. “You’ll have to talk to the Hokkaido Transport Bureau, as they deal with anything to do with that main road,” he said curtly.

I had a feeling I wasn’t going to get anywhere with the transport bureau, so after some brainstorming, I decided I would try asking at the Japan Agriculture (JA) office in Kimobetsu. If there were rotting pumpkins on that patch of concrete, then maybe it has something to do with agriculture.

This hunch paid off, as the visibly confused JA clerks instantly knew what I was talking about, and directed me to a company called Cradle, a Sapporo-based food processing company with a processing plant in Kimobetsu.

I drove over to the processing plant, and nervously let myself into the main office building – an early turn of the century wooden building oozing history and character. A clerk greeted me just inside, and I explained the reason for my visit.

“I believe your company owns or leases a concrete pad off Route 257 that is cleared in winter. I wonder if it’s OK if we park there when winter hiking on Shiribetsu-dake,” I asked.

There was some consternation on the clerk’s part, as she clearly didn’t know how to answer the question. She gingerly walked over to her superior, who had clearly overheard my query, but was, it seemed, allowing the clerk to deal with it. With the patience of a saint, the superior allowed the clerk to relay to him what my query was.

“No of course you’re not allowed to park there!” he snapped, seemingly displeased at my intrusion upon his break time – he was reading a newspaper at his desk when I arrived.

I decided to press just a little more. “Are there any situations where a hiker might be able to apply for permission to park there?”

I tried to be as amicable as possible, and this seemed to soften his demeanour.

“Well it’s not a huge issue if people park there, but we do regularly dump compostable waste there, and if cars are in the way, then that’s a problem,” he explained. “If there’s someone at the car who can move it if necessary, then that’s fine, but otherwise we can’t have too many people parking there.”

I thanked him for his time, and headed out. It was clear that this wasn’t a sustainable solution for parking on this western side of Shiribetsu-dake…the search will just have to continue.

A few days later, Haidee and I returned to the area and decided that the least bad option for parking at this northern end of the western side of Shiribetsu-dake is to the north of the intersection where Route 257 doglegs to the east (around here). The road that continues to the north is closed in winter, so parking along that cleared section of the closed road should be the lesser of all evils.

Not ideal, but hey, that appears to be the reality of parking around Shiribetsu-dake.

Back to the skiing with Ronan and Paul.

We cut along the northern border of the National Center for Seeds and Seedlings, and made our way south to the main gully. It was overcast, but there was much less wind than we’d been expecting.

As we ascended, we were surprised at how wind affected the snow was in the gully. Clearly there’d been a lot of wind ripping up this gully the previous day.

It appeared there was little surface unaffected by the wind. A solid windpack slab on top of softer snow. The snowpack was definitely feeling the wrong way up.

After gaining the main ridge, however, the snow improved marginally. The previous day’s storm had enveloped the forest with a new cloak of white.

We gained the 989m peak, joining another party who were taking a break, having broken trail for us the entire way up the mountain. We chatted for a bit before heading to the peak proper. We peered down the appealing western gully, and momentarily considered skiing it. The snow looked good. Much better than what we’d climbed up on.

It was, however, well in the lee of the previous day’s storm. It was committing too. We opted to stay conservative and ski what we’d climbed up.

The descent off the peak seemed effortless for Paul and Ronan. Not so much for me. With my poor skiing form, the thin breakable wind slab grabbed at my skis, denying me of my usual hack downhill.

As we descended Yotei-zan slowly lost more of its cloudy cloak, allowing us more of a view of its impressive hulk.

The final descent back to the car park was surprisingly straightforward, with surprisingly little poling required. A fast blat back down the skintrack.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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Shiribetsu-dake Northwest Gully Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

C

30

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

B

6

Hazards

A

20

Navigation

C

6

Totals

62/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.