Winter 2020/2021 started off with a bang, with what felt like the best December snowfall in decades. In reality, it was plumb average, but after last year’s relatively low tide season, it felt like Christmas every day. Francesco and Mara were up in Hokkaido from Tokyo too, so it was a good opportunity to hit some spots that really deserved some more Hokkaido-esque photos for the site. First on the list for me was Yotei’s Jinja-no-sawa route, just east of the more popular Makkari route, on the southern side of the mountain. Mara had to pass on the day due to deadlines looming, but Francesco and splitboarder Luke joined for the day.
We met at just after 7am at the end of the snow clearing, next to the graveyard and water tank. We would be the first on the route today.
Across the lower flatlands, we opted to follow a faint skintrack that veered off the usual forestry road approach. It seemed to be going in the right direction, so we went with it. As we climbed it became clear that the track might not be going exactly where we wanted to go. This wasn’t a disaster, as we could cut north-northwest to the main valley, but necessitated a bit of up and down across lots of humps in the sapling forest. Lesson learned. Keep to the wiggly forestry road, even if you need to break trail. It’s a consistent ascending gradient – much more practical on the decent.
Francesco, the Italian machine, breaking trail through fresh snow as effortlessly as if he was out for a leisurely morning stroll, lead the charge once we got on top of the route again. Soon we were off the flatlands and gaining altitude quickly.
A standout feature of today’s hike was the sun-pillar/diamond-dust that followed us up the mountain. Only visible when it’s really cold, this phenomenon happens when moisture in the air freezes, hanging in the air, with the sun shining through it. Absolutely gorgeous.
It was relatively straight forward going up the route, with long climbing traverses punctuated with kickturns. Luke took over trail-breaking duties part way through. Being one of his first big hikes for the season, it was apparently a trial by fire. “I’m outa shape!” he cursed.
I strategically hung back near the back, claiming selflessly that I needed models in my photos.
As is the case with a conical volcano like Yotei, the gradient seemed to increase exponentially as we climbed. Mercifully, there was hardly a breath of wind. Perfect conditions for a hike up a notoriously temperamental Yotei.
We soon arrived at the point at around 1200m where the Jinja-no-sawa Route and Makkari Routes converge. After spending the last three hours or so feeling very much alone on the mountain, we were surprised to join multiple parties that had come up from the Makkari route. We had essentially all converged at exactly the same time at the same spot. We exchanged greetings and carried on up in single file for another 100m or so.
At 1400m, we paused for a snack break. From here, the crater rim felt tantalizingly close. From here, the snow also looked good and soft for as far as the eye could see above us.
We were within earshot of two separate solo hikers, sharing their intentions.
“If you’re keen on the summit, today might be the day,” said one.
“Yeah, I wasn’t really intending to keep going though,” said the other.
“What about you guys?” asked the seemingly more keen hiker.
We discussed it among ourselves, and considering our initial plans to only ski to around 1300m and then lap the upper portion, and the overall condition of our party, we decided to forego the summit this time around.
“Hmmm…that makes me reconsider a bit,” laughed the keen hiker. “But I’ll keep pushing on a bit more,” he said as he carried on up.
We watched him go with more than a little jealousy.
Francesco dug a shallow pit to take a look at the snowpack. “Looks pretty right-way-up to me,” he reported.
We ripped skins, and less than five minutes later, as the slopes opened up in front of our skis, all inklings of regret dissipated into great clouds of powder.
The consistency of the snow, at an even pitch, with well-spaced trees, made for some of the best skiing I’ve had on Yotei. It’s quite incredible that such an exposed free-standing mountain can hold the snow so well. All hail the great North West Snow Making Machine that is the Hokkaido winter weather. These southeastern aspects on Yotei are really quite sublime on a good day.
Everyone was having a stupidly good time.
We dropped down to 700m, a solid 700m of descent on gorgeous powder. With a well established skin track back up the mountain, it was a no-brainer to lap the middle section again. We slapped skins back on and made our way back to the skintrack. We made good time back up to 1150m, to give us a nice total of 1560m of vertical for the day – certainly the most for Haidee and I this season.
For the second descent of the day, I packed my camera away and just focused on the skiing. Enough pictures…more skiing!