Posted on Jan 1, 2020
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Posted on Jan 1, 2020

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41 0
Reading time: 6 min
15.7km

Distance

5 hours

Time

687m

Ascent

1023m

Highest point

5/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-Mar

Best season

Taruame-zan (樽前山, 1041m) is a very active volcano on the southern side of Lake Shikotsu caldera, about 40km south of Sapporo City. The summit gives expansive views of Lake Shikotsu and the Tomakomai Plains, as well as the impressive smoldering cork in the summit crater. While we call this a 'ski tour' an almost perpetual wind strips the upper ridges of snow, so most climbers will approach the mountain on ski, but may find they'll need to depot skis part way up - crampons are likely to be required. The hut at the summer trailhead has a hutkeeper year round, and is a perfect spot to drop in for a warm up beside the huge cork stove.

We visited this route on Feb 23, 2019

Rick Siddle contributed photos to this post.

Last updated Mar 23, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This winter route up Tarumae-zan starts from the junction of Route 141 and Route 276, next to Lake Shikotsu, here. Note that this is nowhere near the official trailhead, which is here, next to the hut. In winter, Route 141, as well as the gravel access road to the hut, is not open.

General notes

Tarumae-zan is a popular volcano to climb in the non-snow months. It is known as a relatively easy half-day hike for some amazing views of Lake Shikotsu below (see our Tarumae-zan hiking route overview here). In the winter months, however, persistent wind howls cross its crater, stripping snow from its exposed ridges, leaving ice and rock in its wake. The 6.5km from the main Route 276 next to the lake to the hut can’t be driven in winter either. This means it is a long walk along relatively flat terrain just to get to the trailhead. If you’re willing to make the trek, however, Tarumae-zan can be a fantastic good-weather winter hike. “I actually like it precisely because you have to make the effort, and it’s a wild and gnarly place,” says Rick. Making the approach on skis is highly recommended, as this will make the return much faster.

Hut

Tarumaezan 7-gome Hut (full details here)

The Tarumaezan Hut is unique in Hokkaido. It is located on the northern slopes of Tarumaezan in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, and there is a year-round hut keeper, but the hut is officially classed as an emergency hut so cannot be used for overnight stays (except in an emergency). The hut, kept warm with a giant coke stove, is a welcoming place to stop by for a quick visit on a day trip. Get the hut keeper talking about photography (his gorgeous photos adorn the hut walls), and you’ll get on like old friends.

Route details

The route is not marked in winter.

Route Timing
Up | 3hrs
Down | 1.5hrs

About 3 hours total from the Route 276 road junction to the summit. Expect around 2 hours to the hut. On the return, expect about 1.5 hours – there will be some poling to be done, as Route 141 is not particularly steep. If you’re on skis, you probably won’t need skins on the descent along the road.

Transport

Public transport:

There are no public transport options for this route.

By car: 

There is room for about 10 cars in a cleared parking lot at the Route 276 junction (here).

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Tarumae-zan (樽前山) – map no. NK-54-14-12-2

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

Tarumae-zan is not to be taken lightly in winter. There are no defining features once you’re past the hut, so it would be very easy to get disoriented in low visibility. The wind on the treeless slopes can be fierce.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Tarumae-zan
Onsen nearby

For cheap-and-cheerful, try the Kyuka-no-Mura Shikotsuko (休暇の村支笏湖) here. They don’t have an outdoor bath, but they’re open later (till 5pm) than any other onsen in the area. For something more upmarket, Mizu-no-Uta (水の歌), here, can’t be beaten. The onsen on its own is about 1,000yen per person, but their 2,000yen buffet lunch and onsen set is a pretty good deal, so consider booking ahead and treating yourself (NOTE: The price indicated on the Japanese page is 2,000yen, on the English page it says 3,240yen…we’ve only ever paid 2,000yen).

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’s like to ski this route and/or explore other hills south of Sapporo together with a local certified guide, get in touch with either Wataru Nara or Takao Miyashita. They’re both born-and-bred Sapporo-based guides. They both cut their teeth on peaks including those around Sapporo, have taken part in major international expeditions, and are senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

It had been on the to-do list for far too long. Friends had done it. “Make sure you take crampons,” advised Rick. And we’d even seen the rare unicorn-of-a-trip-report on the Internets with pictures of someone slaying the downhill on gorgeous deep powder. It was time for Haidee and I to check out this enigma of a winter mountain for ourselves.

Tarumae-zan is not a popular mountain in the winter. Those driving past for the first time might wonder why not. It is a gorgeous conical mountain, just begging to be skied. But as we can now attest to, the approach in winter is long. About 2 hours of endless ever-so-gentle uphill skinning along a mostly featureless access road. While the hutkeeper has permission to use his snowmobile to access the hut, the general public requires a permit to use snowmobiles. Furthermore, the most accessible slope – the northerly slope – also bears the brunt of the prevailing wind. It’s a rare day on Tarumae-zan when there’s enough snow to ski from the summit all the way back to the hut.

All that said, for those willing to accept her shortcomings, Tarumae-zan can be a very rewarding long day out…or so we were told.

We began our slog up the road just on day-break. We started early, as we were hoping to get to the summit before the forecast bad weather rolled in. At this point in the day, it was glorious sunshine, and warm enough for short sleeves.

We made relatively good time, and by the time we made it to the hut road turn off, it was still glorious sunshine. We were feeling good about our prospects of getting to the summit with unobstructed views.

As we approached nearer to the Tarumae Hut, we could see that it was unlikely we’d get any skiing on the northern face of the mountain. The bare, rocky, sandy face was in it’s usual winter form – stripped of snow. We kept our hopes high for some better snow on the easterly aspects.

As we passed the hut, we said hi to the hutkeeper – he was outside and clearing some snow from the entrance.

We kept moving on, still hopeful for a sunny summit.

It wasn’t long after emerging from the treeline, however, that we could see the forecast northwester rolling in. In a matter of about 10 minutes our wonderful view across Lake Shikotsu was obscured by low cloud.

We’d only made it about 15 minutes up the main hiking trail before we made the choice to switch from skis to crampons. There were exposed rocks, and it was clear we were not going to be skiing down the slope. We depoted the skies, and with icy conditions underfoot, we were feeling more secure with spikes.

The next half hour saw us stumbling into mostly a white-out, until we finally made it to the summit ridge. “This is hardly the views I was expecting,” commented Haidee.

At the summit ridge, a strong wind was blowing. Not strong enough to push us off our feet…but enough to give us pause as to whether we really wanted to see the summit sign or not. But the ridge was mostly void of snow, so visibility was OK. So we pushed on, trying to stay to the right of the ridge, out of the wind. The summit sign was almost worth the effort.

The descent was less than ideal. The summit ridge was OK, because we could see some form of outline in the topography. Once off the ridge, however, we were once again stumbling into a disorienting whiteroom. Our up-tracks were completely buried, despite coming this way only 20 minutes earlier. We kept relatively high as we descended on a traversing arc around the flank of the mountain. At least on this sheltered eastern side there was less wind. Eventually we made the call to start dropping down towards where we figured we should find the faint outline of the edge of the summer trail, stripped bare of snow.

Sure enough we found it, and used it to guide us back to our skis. Funnily enough, we’d depoted the skis at the perfect spot – they sat at some sort of invisible layer. Above it was white-out. Below it was great visibility.

We made the switch back to skis, and high-tailed it back to the hut. The skiing wasn’t great, with crusty, thin wind-slab packed snow on top of softer snow underneath.

Back at the hut, we decided to knock on the door and ask if we could sit for a while next to the fire to warm up and scoff down some lunch.

The Taruame Hut is not open to the public for overnight stays, but it is very much welcome to day visitors. The cheery hutkeeper ushered us in with grand fanfare. The roaring coke stove was pumping out the heat. A slice of pure bliss in an otherwise blustery, snowy, cold environment.

Once we extracted ourselves from the warmth of the hut, the descent back to the car was a mix of straight-shot zooming, some skating, and a couple of spots of side-stepping. It wasn’t amazing. “No wonder not many people do this trip in winter,” I mused to Haidee.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d probably do it again, with a guarantee of better weather. The winter views from the top of Tarumae-zan promise to be amazing. 

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.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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