One of the useful things about making it all the way to the secluded car park at 6am before you realize that you’ve forgotten your climbing skins is that no one can hear you scream. We piled back into Rob’s [much more sensible to get a hybrid this time around Rob!] Nissan Note and started the 45 minute round trip back to my cabin to collect them.
I’d landed from the UK into Hokkaido a couple of days after Christmas to find what Lizzie Windsor might call a December horribilis. Very little snow had fallen over the season to date, there was sasa-grass sticking out everywhere and so it was clearly going to be a bush bash wherever we went. But, we’re stoic Kiwis and we were keen to get out for a tour on the second of the four Yotei-zan routes that we’d try and hit on this trip.
With skins collected, dawn now well broken and our head-torches relegated back into the car we started the climb.
The Makkari route starts from the main summer trailhead for the park about ¾ of the way between Niseko town and Makkari town on Route 66. Park as high up the road as the state of the snow clearing will allow and then skin straight up the road to the obvious trail head signage. We’d had reasonable overnight snowfall and it kept lightly snowing throughout the tour; the Japan Powder Tap had at last been turned on.
As with our other tours this week we weren’t targeting the summit, rather, our objective for the morning was a nice walk up to the prominent terrace at about 1000m. The tour starts with a short sharp pitch to gain the ridge on skiers right and then proceeds pretty well straight up the hill. There was already a skin track formed and this made progress nice and quick; maybe those forgotten skins weren’t so &^&%$ after all? But, being a Japanese skin track, it was stupidly steep in many places and I was down to operational layering* mode 1 (an icebreaker tech T-shirt) in no time. All of the primary Yotei ski touring routes we’ve written up here on Hokkaido Wilds are somewhat sheltered from cold NW winds that predominate the winter weather of Japan.
* I really like this recent post on ski touring layering from the folks over at WildSnow. Despite out proximity to the ocean, when we ski in Hokkaido it’s important to dress for a continental snow climate as our snow systems are much more like that of say Utah; we have cold Siberian air picking up moisture from the sea of Japan as opposed to frontal weather systems of New Zealand or the Pacific North West. Prefer softshell to Gore-Tex, more layers to fewer and keep in mind that with ambient temperatures sitting pretty consistently in -5 to -15 degrees centigrade you’ll need to focus on controlling heating and sweating when working hard.
We made the 750m climb to the terrace in about 1hr 45min which is about in line with the 4 to 5 hours rule of thumb for the climb to the Yotei summit. The terrace itself is longer than it is wide and, while not completely flat, looks like a fantastic place for a winter camp sometime with plenty of large old growth trees.
We had a pretty good idea where the thick vegetation was and decided that we’d try and ski down the skiers left hand side of our ascent route. This actually turned out to land us into the edge of the ‘Delta Slope’ that’s the primary ski terrain on the Jinja no Sawa route (a.k.a. the Cemetery Route).
The surface conditions were surprisingly good and, apart from my binding DINs a little light thanks to a long forgotten last season ski loaner, we got some great turns in on the upper section. Rob and I took pitch-about weaving our way down the left-hand-side of the ridge….
… when we really needed to be making our way down the right-hand-side of the ridge.
The map showed that it would be a challenging task to get back across to the car. Ample undergrowth only served to further complicate the system and at times I was skis-off and clambering over large logs. Proper safari-skiing!
With more snow this hard-traverse route would probably work quite well, you might even consider dropping lower down the Delta Slope and finishing with a quick skin back up to the ridge. It’s probably similar from a time point of view to the longer skin-in and pole-out of the Jinja no Sawa route.
With wives (and kids) awaiting patiently at the cabin we were on borrowed time and so skipped out on an onsen post trip.
We can highly recommend the Makkari Onsen [website dead at time of writing] (真狩温泉) for a soak looking back over your day’s objective. There’s a basic onsen restaurant in the building or, if you really want to splurge, we can vouch for the Maccarina fine dining restaurant a short walk away (lunch ¥3,500 to ¥8,00. dinner ¥8,800 to ¥12,000). We do note that sweaty-ski-touring clothing is unlikely to be appropriate attire for a swish meal though.