As mentioned above, Tobetsu Maru-yama had piqued our interest for a while, being a rather low-lying peak not too far from Hokkaido. We’d previously canoed the Tobetsu River, and loved the back-blocks vibe of the general vicinity, so that made us want to visit in winter too.
It was a long weekend with a rather changeable weather forecast, so Haidee and I decided it would be a good time to tour around some of the lower peaks in the area, including Tobetsu Maru-yama.
Predictably, there wasn’t anyone else at the trail head that day. A little after we set off, a group of snowmobilers arrived and headed up the forestry road, but besides hearing them on the flatlands below us, once they were around the other side of the mountain, all was quiet again.
We made it to the small erosion-stop dam next to the forestry road, and had to make a choice – carry on up the forestry road, or hit the southern ridge. We’ve always been more fond of skiing through forests rather than along a man-made road, so we opted for the ridge. The first steep haul up the terminus of the ridge, however, was surprisingly steep. Steep enough to make us wonder if we were in the right place. According to the guidebook we were. Perhaps in spring, with more consolidated snow, it would have been easier going. As it was, the lead trailbreaker (A.K.A me) was treated to good practice kick-turning on very steep, deep powder terrain.
Once on the southern ridge, however, it was easy going. Pleasant ridge-line walking. A few ups and downs. Nice trees. Interesting-looking gullies below.
After about 30 minutes we joined up with the forestry road again for about 100m. The snowmobilers has since been through the area, leaving a well-compacted trail and petrol fumes in their wake.
We soon peeled off the forestry road due north along the final ridge-line approach to the slopes directly south of the cliff-banded summit. In reality it wasn’t much of a cliff band at all. In stable snow conditions skiers might even feel confident to head straight down from the summit. We played it safe and cut across the slopes to the climber’s left of the cliff bands marked on the map, and gained the summit.
At least we gained what seemed to be the summit. According to the map, the summit was still about 50m east of us, but we seemed to be at the highest point on the summit ridge. We didn’t bother to find out, as the wind was starting to pick up. Time to head down.
The descent back down to the forestry road was quick and fun. A couple of slopes to get a few turns in. At the forestry road, we opted to follow the snowmobile tracks back down to the trailhead. We knew there were some rather hefty undulations on the southern ridge route, so we figured the forestry road might be more straight forward. In reality, the forestry road, despite the hard-packed sled tracks, was still frustratingly not-quite-steep-enough to allow for pure sliding down to the trailhead. There was some poling involved.
All in all though, we were happy we’d checked the route out. Personally I’d be keen to return in more stable weather, as I imagine there’d be plenty to explore on the wide southern face below the summit.
Back at the car, we packed up and headed towards our accommodation for the night – the quixotic Sunflower Park Hotel in Hokuryu Village. Apparently styled after Dutch architecture, the entrance to the large onsen facility is flanked by dragons.
The clear highlight of the drive over there, however, was an ural owl, keenly spotted by Haidee. Perched on an electricity wire, the attentive bird was keeping an eye on something in the snow below, and every now and then an eye on me, with my camera snapping away…