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.