Posted on Apr 1, 2020
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Posted on Apr 1, 2020

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Reading time: 6 min
6.7km

Distance

3.5 hours

Time

558m

Ascent

1052m

Highest point

5/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Jan-Mar

Best season

Tenmaku-yama (天幕山, 1052m) is a low-lying but prominent peak in the Kitami mountains, known for its easily accessed, sublime powder snow. With lappable slopes to the west and south of the summit, keen skiers with a day to kill will love a nice-weather day out on Tenmaku-yama. This route, accessing the southern ridge via a steep climb up the ridge's eastern flanks, tries to make the most of the downhill slopes available. In the middle is a gorgeous wander through old-growth trees on a flat ridge.

We visited this route on Mar 22, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

Tenmaku-yama sits about 10km east of Kamikawa Town in northern Hokkaido, to the north of the northern reaches of the Daisetsuzan range. This ski touring route up Tenmaku-yama starts at the entrance to a forest road, here, off Route 274. See the Transport section for notes about alternative parking if this forestry road entrance is already full with cars.

General notes

There appears to be ‘many ways to skin the cat’ on this route, when it comes to ascending up the mountain. It appears (on Yamareco.com) that one of the more popular options is to walk slightly down National Highway 274 to join with the southeastern ridge at its terminus near the train tracks. Don’t do this. Crossing train tracks in Japan anywhere other than a level crossing is 100% illegal. The only feasible option for getting across the train tracks on this route is to cross at the level crossing on the snowed in forestry road. This leaves two options for routes. One is to follow the forestry road for just under 1.5km before climbing up to the upper ridge. This appears to be a relatively popular route. The route we took involves less trudging along the forestry road, and rather climbs up the well-anchored but steep eastern flanks of the southeastern ridge, after about 500m on the forestry road, under the high-tension power lines. This allows for a steep tree-run on the way back, and still treats skiers to the gorgeous, mostly flat-land ridge-line walk through the forest along the southeastern ridge. Either way, the important thing to note is to only cross the train tracks at the level crossing.

  • Crossing railway level crossings in winter: Never ski across level crossings in winter in Hokkaido. This is not only because of the obvious trip hazards involved. If metal ski edges happen to touch both rails at the same time, this can, under certain circumstances, cause barrier arms to descend. Always walk across with skis removed, after checking both ways.
Hut

Rikugeian AirBnB (full details here)

Somewhere in the AirBnB house notes, this gorgeous down-to-earth Japanese-style accommodation is referred to as a ‘hut’. By any normal standards, however, this fully-featured, incredibly functional ski touring base is anything but a hut. There’s an interior charcoal pit, futons, wood stove, decorative snowboards adorning the walls, heating, water, shower…everything you’d expect from an AirBnB. Rikugeian (六芸庵) isn’t a mountain hut – realistically it’s up to an hour drive to most serious backcountry ski touring terrain. But it’s right next to the delightfully local Pippu Ski area (and attached onsen hotspring), so makes for a really affordable location to base oneself out of for a week or so for exploring the northern Daisetsuzan range. Daytrips to Kuro-dake, the Kitami Pass area, Teshio-dake, and Horokanai are well within reach.

Route details

With skis in hand, walk along the forestry road to the level crossing. Check both ways and walk across if it’s safe to do so. Don’t cross with skis on (see General Notes for reasons for this). Once on the other side of the tracks, put the skis on and skin about 400m up the forestry road to where high tension power lines, marked on the topomap, cut across the valley, high above.Find a suitable snowbridge to cross the creek on and cut tight zigzags up the steep slope to the top of the southeastern ridge. From here, it’s mellow 1.5km walk through a mix of old- and new-growth forest to the base of the main southeast slope below the summit. Cut a long, sweeping, climbing traverse to the summit. Yamano-makochan notes the south-western face from the summit has some good lapping potential. The final return, however, is back the way you came – good skiing down the southeastern face, then some flat-land poling along the ridge before a final steep tree-run back to the forestry road. Remember to remove skis before crossing the level crossing on the way back.

Route Timing
Up | 2.5hrs
Down | 0.5hrs

Expect around 2.5hrs on the ascent, and about 40 minutes on the descent. Add on up to another hour if lapping the south, west or east faces.

Transport

Public transport:

There are no public transport options for this route.

By car: 

At the trailhead, there’s room for about 5-6 cars. If this is full, there’s a much larger official Route 274 parking area here, about 450m up the road. The trailhead is easily accessed via the Asahikawa-Monbetsu Expressway – get off at the Kamikawa-Sounkyo Interchange (上川層雲峡IC, here) if coming from the Asahikawa direction, or the Ukishima Interchange (浮島IC, here) if coming from the Engaru direction.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Nakakoshi (中越) – map no. NK-54-7-1-2

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

At the risk of flogging a dead horse…skiers should take care when crossing the railway level crossing. Do not ski across the tracks – walk across with skis in hand. In winter, the level crossing warning lights and bells are not in operation – check both ways and cross if the way is clear.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Tenmaku-yama
Onsen nearby

There aren’t many onsen very close to Kitami Pass, or in Kamikawa Village. If your travels are taking you to Sounkyo, then the Kurodake no Yu (黒岳の湯) in Sounkyo (location | 600yen per person) is a nice place for a soak. This place also serves delicious Italian food (pasta and pizza) in the ground floor restaurant. If staying at the great-value Rikugeian AirBnB in Pippu, then we’d recommend the Yuyu Pippu hot pools just up the road (游湯ぴっぷlocation, 500yen). Yuyu Pippu also serves good value food in their restaurant.

Extra Resources
  • See Yamano-makochan’s write-up (in Japanese) here.

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore areas north 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 in northern Hokkaido, have taken part in major international expeditions, and are senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido. See a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

Yamano-Makochan's Video Report
Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

The previous day’s drama with the one pair of skis had not ended with those skis being found, so two of the troupe decided to head to the Pippu Ski Area, just up from the Rikugeian AirBnB. Haidee, Geraldine and I stuck to the plan, however, and headed east to Tenmaku-yama, with a warm, sunshine-day forecast.

We arrived at the trailhead at around 8:30am. There was one other car there, and soon another two pulled in to park. This was clearly a popular route. We kitted up and got going.

We were somewhat switched off, following the skin track in front of us along the forestry road. About 200m past where we’d planned to cross the creek, I noticed we’d gone too far. The skin track continued along the forestry road, but not knowing exactly where it was going, we decided to back-track a little, cross the creek, and ascend up the steep slope on the other side, as we’d planned.

Even at this relatively early hour, this eastern face was warming up fast. The snow was heavy. Despite this and the steep slope, however, the going was fast as we cut tight kick-turns up the slope to the top of the ridge.

From the top of the ridge, massive views opened up south towards the Kita-daisetsu mountain range. Niseikaushuppe-yama, Aibetsu-dake, and Antaroma-dake stood clear under patchy skies.

We were now on the mostly flat southern ridge, skinning through gorgeous old-growth forest. There were a few ups and downs along the way, and soon enough we were at the base of the final open slope below the summit.

We’d caught up with another party of two splitboarders, one skier, and one snowshoer with a snowboard strapped to her pack.

This season, Gerry had taken up skiing after spending a number of seasons carrying a snowboard into the backcountry. “I’m glad I’m not carrying a snowboard on my back anymore,” she mused.

From the rather flat, non-descript summit, we had full view of the Daisetsuzan range mountains. As we sat down, eating snacks and admiring the view, flurries of snow rolled in from the northwest. This hastened our resolve to get down the mountain sooner rather than later. I’d toyed with the idea of skiing the southwestern slope below the summit, but we decided against it. There was a strong wind blowing up from the valley – the snow appeared to be well wind affected and crusty. That would have to be left for another trip, in deeper winter with better, colder snow.

To the east was Chitokaniushi-yama, with its rounded summit standing white against a patchy blue sky.

We geared up for the downhill, and enjoyed some good turns on the south eastern slope below the summit. The snow was somewhat heavy – not quite perfect spring snow yet. In the distance, the Daisetsuzan mountains were calling my name…I resolved to make sure to visit some of these northern peaks in the coming weeks as access roads open up.

The return along the ridge involved less up and down than I remembered on the way up, so it was pretty easy going. The descent down the steep eastern side of the ridge near the high-tension powerlines was nice and steep, but the snow was deep, wet, and warm. We crossed back over to the forestry road and rode the rest of the way back to the level crossing, where we removed skis and walked the remaining 70m or so back to the car.

At the car, I made some calls to the Abashiri Development and Construction Department of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Hokkaido Bureau (国土交通省北海道開発局網走開発建設部) to see if I could get in contact with someone about whether their road crews had picked up the skis we lost from our car’s ski rack yesterday. In the end, I called their weekend and disaster emergency number (0152-44-6171), as the other office numbers were all giving me automated messages that the office was closed for the weekend. 

A sleepy security guard told me that it was the weekend, and there was no one about. After explaining to him our predicament, he gave me the after-hours number of the Kitami City branch. I called this number, and they gave me a number for the Engaru branch. I called that number, and got a salty, surly representative, clearly miffed that I’d called him on his day off. “You lost what? Where? You know this is my day off, right?”

He explained that he’d need to contact the road crew on patrol yesterday. “Give me 10 minutes,” he grumbled into the phone.

Ten minutes later, he called back, still grumpy, with the good news that the skis were, indeed, in the possession of the road crew. We then spent the next five minutes ascertaining exactly where I was, so that he could deliver them to me.

“I can come to you,” I insisted. But he insisted back that a staff member would come to us. “Just don’t go anywhere,” he said. “Stay where you are, and we’ll find you. Give us 1 hour, and we’ll find you.”

So we sat at the Tenmaku-yama trailhead for one hour, waiting. I had some sausages that needed cooking up, so I cooked some up for lunch.

Just over an hour after the call, sure enough a road-crew vehicle pulled up in a great hurry. A friendly worker jumped out, and pulled the skis out of the back of the truck. Haidee tried to give this saviour of a man a can of beer and pack of Kit-Kats as thanks, but he wouldn’t take them. He handed us the skis and took off again in a great rush.

We were very happy to have the skis back (as was the owner, who shall remain nameless), but unfortunately it appeared they’d been run over by a truck. The bindings were completely destroyed. The skis themselves seemed to be structurally sound though. Just some superficial scratches and divots on the underside.

So thus, we mostly happily ended a very eventful three-day weekend out spring skiing in northern Hokkaido!

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 Tenmaku-yama, or others nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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