Posted on May 30, 2019
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Posted on May 30, 2019

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Reading time: 4 min
16.2km

Distance

6.5 hours

Time

1296m

Ascent

1419m

Highest point

7.5/10

Difficulty

Snow Icon | Hokkaido Wilds
Mar-Apr

Best season

Unabetsu-dake (海別岳, 1419m) receives a lot of wind during the winter, and gets relatively little snow. This limits its nice-snow potential, but it makes up for this in epic views on the descent, skiing towards a drift-ice covered Okhotsk sea. If you're lucky enough to climb it in good weather, you'll also get great views southwest towards Shari-dake (斜里岳, 1547m) and northeast towards the mountains of the Shiretoko Peninsula. There's nothing technical or steep on the approach, so that makes it one of the least technical major peaks in the Shiretoko mountain range.

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This route up Unabetsu-dake starts on the west side of the mountain, about 13km east of central Shari Town, in eastern Hokkaido. The actual start will depend on where the snow has been cleared to on any given year. It could be quite close to the guidebook-start of the route, such as here, or it might be as far as 1km west of the guidebook-start of the route, here.

General notes

Unabetsu-dake is one of the least technical big-mountains in the eastern Hokkaido Shiretoko mountain range. There’s nothing super steep, and given the right weather, navigation can be a breeze too. It is a relatively long approach, however, so skiers will need to be fit and prepared for around 4-5 hours above the treeline. On a good day, you’ll have views northeast towards Rausu-dake and other peaks on the Shiretoko Peninsula proper, as well as great views of the majestic Shari-dake to the southwest.

Hut

None

Route markers

This route is not marked. From the forestry road t-intersection here, head straight across the field due east to the deer-fence. Depending on snow levels, you may need to walk along the fence for a bit to find a suitable crossing point. From there, cut across the forest southeast to join up with the remnants of an old forestry road. Follow this all the way up the valley, past a large dam. About 750m beyond the dam, find a suitable slope to climb up onto the main broad ridge that will take you all the way to the summit ridge. On the descent from the summit, the valley directly west of the summit can be good skiing in stable conditions. In anything but the most stable of conditions, return the way you came down the broad ridge for some fun skiing.

Route Timing
Up | 5hrs
Down | 1.5hrs

Budget just under five hours from the end of the snow clearing to the summit, and another one to one-and-a-half hours back down.

Transport

Public transport:

There are no public transport options for this route.

By car: 

If the road is cleared to the t-intersection here, then park well to the side of the road. Consider digging out a parking spot so as to not block the road.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Shuen (朱円) – map no. NK-55-31-1-4
Official Topo Map 2: Unabetsudake (海別岳) – map no. NK-55-31-1-2

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

Calm pleasant days on Unabetsu-dake are few and far between, so don’t be too stubborn if the wind is up and visibility is low. Make conservative decisions and enjoy the wander through the forest. The broad ridge up to the summit is featureless, and on the descent it is very easy to head in the wrong direction. When visibility is low, stop and check your location often.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Unabetsu-dake
Onsen nearby

Koshikawa Onsen (越川温泉) part way up the Konpoku Pass, here, is a unique experience – a natural onsen housed in a simple building, with gender-separate bathing areas. Payment is via an honesty box, 200yen per person. There’s no staff there, so it is open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. If you’re carrying on in the opposite direction towards Utoro, then the Utoro Yuhidai Onsen, here, is highly recommended for its sunset views. If heading back to Shari, then there’s the old-school Yumoto-kan at the northwest corner of town, here (400yen per person).

Extra Resources

Guide Options

If you’d like to ski this route and/or explore other areas of Eastern Hokkaido or Shiretoko together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Takao Miyashita. He’s a born-and-bred Hokkaido-based guide. From a young age he cut his teeth on peaks including those in far eastern Hokkaido. He has multiple 6,000m-plus peak international expeditions under his belt (including a ski descent from 7,400m on Mt. Manaslu, Nepal). He is one of the leading senior figures in the local guiding and outdoor associations here in Hokkaido and Japan

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Unabetsu-dake is the last western-most peak on the Shiretoko Peninsula. It sits next to Shari-dake like a swan with its wings spread out wide. It has long been known as a skiing mountain, with gently sloping plains at the base of the mountain. The Okhotsk region is home to strong winds, and relatively little snow falls here, so unfortunately you’re unlikely to enjoy powder snow. However, the true, unique charm of Unabetsu-dake is being able to ski towards the Okhostk sea, covered with sea ice.

Translated from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide (2015), p. 424.

Unabetsu-dake is not the first mountain people tend to think of as far as Shiretoko Peninsula peaks go. Rausu-dake, with its prominent southeastern chute, or the conical Shari-dake (which isn’t actually on the Shiretoko Peninsula) tend to get all the attention. Nonetheless, it is a prominent mountain on the eastern Hokkaido skyline, if not rather understated. Any hardcore Hokkaido local backcountry skier will have a notch in their belt that has Unabetsu-dake’s name on it though, so I had to go and check it out.

Along for the trip was Hiro and Quentin. The weather was marginal for our attempt on the peak, with worsening winds and some snow forecast for the early afternoon. We were expecting about 4 hours from trailhead to summit, so we left our accommodation in Abashiri early, to get on the trail by around 7am. I’d seen recent GPS tracks on Yamareco.com that suggested the minor road accessing the guideboook start to the route might not be cleared of snow any more, but to our delight, we were able to drive all the way to the start of the route, at the t-intersection here.

From here, it was a straight shot east across a field to the deer fence, which we were able to step over. Later in the season, the snow might have melted so much that you’ll need to walk north along the fence to a nearby gate. From here, we cut diagonally across the wide river valley to an old forestry road which took us all the way to a large dam across the Junisen-gawa river, at around 365m in altitude.

Already the cloud was lower than had been forecasted, but visibility remained relatively good. From the dam, we carried along above the river for another 750m or so, until we found a suitable slope to skin up onto the broad Shuen Ridge. Overall, the surface so far was a mix between breakable crust and very hard icy crust. Hiro’s acquaintance in Abashiri had warned us that the last few weeks had seen warm days followed by cold nights, so the snow might be quite hard. And it was.

The forest along the Shuen Ridge was beautiful though. Quiet with large mature trees.

As we neared the treeline, the cloud was quite thick. As expected, despite a strong wind forecasted from the west, we were sheltered in this eastern approach. There was not much wind at all. We were hopeful that even if we didn’t get a view, we might get a summit.

Our hope was short lived. as we approach the more exposed upper summit ridgelines, we came more and more into the brunt of the westerly wind. There was a large cornice on the western side of the summit ridge, and on the non-corniced side the slope was covered with exposed haimatsu low pines. Visibility was down to less than 30m. As we climbed, the wind just got stronger.

We were about 300m as the crow flies from the summit. We’d done most of the vertical gain, and the summit was in clear reach. 

But we turned back.

It was already a physical struggle to remove skins and set up for the downhill. The summit would have been worse. On the way down the summit ridge, Hiro almost inadvertently skied off the cornice. We had no idea what was below, so it was a lucky reminder to take it easy. Lower down, we finally made it onto some haimatsu-free slopes, but now it was the breakable crust that was making the going tough. Back in the relative shelter of the lower valley, things were better going between the trees, but it was certainly not care-free skiing. 

We resigned to accepting our fate, and enjoyed the curiosities of the forest on our way back down. The holes in the tree below looked almost too perfect to have been created by a bird, but indeed that’s what they are. A tree with a rotten center is a smorgasbord for the local woodpeckers around here.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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