It was a mild spring day, perfect for a fast and light(ish) mission up to the crater rim of Yotei-zan. Skiing the north aspect of Yotei-zan had long been on my to-do list, and today seemed to be the right day to at least go for a walk and see what I would see. Haidee had other commitments for the day, so she dropped me off at the trailhead and I got on my way.
It was a misty morning, fog low on the ground. I hoped like mad this wouldn’t be my lot for the day. The forecast was calling for clear weather even in the morning, so I held hope the mist would burn off in later in the morning.
It really didn’t take long, or much climbing to realise the mist was only a very thin veil over the lowlands. As soon as I climbed just a little higher, the enormity of what I was aiming for came into startling view.
The high upper entry to the 148 Gully was clear as day. Wide, appealing, inviting. Either side of the gully looked classic upper Yotei crust and ice. I was glad I’d packed my boot crampons and whippet heads.
I sent the drone up to get a better view of what my topomap appeared to be telling me was the most expedient route to the crater rim – up a triangle island of a ridge, narrowing at its apex to a low knife-edge spur. Looked easy enough.
I was keen to get eyes on the gully itself, so I skinned up and to the climber’s right, so I could climb up along the looker’s left side of the gully. Large trees were blocking my view, so I sent the drone up again to scout the innards of the lower part of the gully.
Overall it looked good. No indication of slides or of hairy steep gully walls I’d need to traverse along. Granted, from this perspective, it looked extremely steep. But it was wide, even this far down low. I didn’t see the two waterfalls I’d heard about, so at this point I assumed they must be completely filled in.
As I looked up from my drone’s controller screen, I spied a squirrel in a tree close by, watching the intruder and his noisy machine.
Pushing on, I eventually ran out of planar slope to zigzag my way up, and I became confined to bushwhacking my way up an increasingly narrow spine. Soon it became too narrow and bushy to continue on the spine, so I stuck out onto an inviting-looking gully slope to the left. This proved more difficult than planned, however, as the surface was very variable – dust on crust was not ideal on this very steep slope. With only my ski crampons for purchase in the slope, I found a rare patch of softer snow to stamp in a platform, and switch to boot crampons.
Once on boot crampons, the going became infinitely easier. This was especially so as I ascended well beyond the treeline into the creeping pine haimatsu zone.
Putting one foot in front of the other, I finally made it to the crater rim. The northern aspect I’d climbed up was clearly well protected from a frigid cold wind blowing at the top. I’d entertained the idea of skiing into the crater, but a thin cloud layer was adding to a lack of contrast, and I had a gully of potentially questionable surface conditions to navigate. And I wanted to get it all done by 1pm, for a lunch date with Haidee.
I snapped a few photos of other parties far in the distance across the crater, and got geared up to ski the gully.
In contrast to the pastel pall that hung over the other side of the mountain, the 148 gully was still bathed in sunshine. Thankfully so, as it had warmed up just the very top surface of the snow such that I was never scratching down the surface. Had I not had one hand holding a drone controller for much of the ski down, it would have been great fun.
The entry into the gully was very straight forward. No scary convex roll or skiing blind over cornices. Just straight into business.
True to expectations, the upper 30% or so of the gully was wide open, but it soon became more gully-like with walls soon towering overhead. It was always wide enough to carve wide turns.
The first waterfall appeared at around 900m. It felt sufficiently obvious from above, and I was able to take a high traverse to the right before taking the fall line back down to the gully floor.
Earlier in the season, I can imagine this being more of a challenge, but again taking a high right traverse should be sufficient. Later in the season as the gully walls shed more of their winter coat, things might get a bit more hairy.
The second waterfall was about 100m downhill from the first, and took up more real estate in the gully floor. I opted to launch myself off the thing on the left, but again a high right traverse would have also been OK.
For the remainder of the slalom down the gully, it was fairly straight forward. Being so late in the season, I didn’t have my usual qualms about skiing gully floors and there being great holes ready to swallow me up.
Soon, the gully walls receded sufficiently that I was able to regain the skier’s right ridge, to link back up with my uptrack. All in all, a nice spring outing on what is arguably a classic Yotei north aspect line.