Mid-Winter Youtei Hike
This hike took place on 26 February 2011
It is 5:45 and the sun is only just making an appearance. The first of us are waiting for the last of our group to arrive as they are dropping a second car off a few k's away so we can ride a different line home, one that is so visible from the centre of Kutchan. The sun seems to rise quickly and before we know, our group of six is all snow shoed up and making it from our start point hangetsu ko [half moon lake] across the flat and through the lower mountain trees in light snow, the low cloud becomes closer as we make our ascent. The forecast is for low cloud and snow in the morning and sun in the afternoon so it is quite refreshing to know that at some point we will break through the cloud to a clear day above.
The first few hours sees us get into the tree line of the ascent before we take a break. With a nice relaxing 15ish minute break on a flat spot under some trees, we chat, have a snack and hydrate before starting the 2nd third of our ascent. It's not long before we break the tree line and now only the odd tree is dotted here and there in the 4 metre snow pack. In actual fact most of the trees are just under the snow, possibly thick impenetrable sasa [bamboo grass] or matsu pine, a low lying 2 metre high bush that is quite common in the upper 1000 metre altitudes. Onward we hike with the leaders taking turns at breaking trail on the fairly steep aspect that lyes directly across from the main ski village of Hirafu. A few more albums are listened to and we make a ridge line on right side with the sun just coming over it. We chill just below this ridge out of the fairly brisk wind on our second break of the day. Now well above the winter tree line we are looking down on the village of Hirafu.
With another refuel it is time to make our way up the ridge to the faux peak, another little milestone to make before the final straight. Over the faux peak and I can pretty much see the top. A few of the faster in the group are already a fair way up in a whisk of cloud that was passing by that gives me the real feel of been on a mountain top. As I make it closer to the top the cloud is quickly whisked away and I am standing on top with the others looking all around from the crater on one side to Lake Toya in the south then Annupuri and the sea of Japan to the west, a spectacular well deserved view.
With all of us re-energized we strap in and traverse to the top of the gulch we plan to ride, Thorsten heads off first and charges down this daunting aspect into the distant. Glen then makes his way down to position himself to takes some photos. One by one we drop in to this about 1000 metre vertical gulch thats is as wide as a football field is long and carve up the packed powder in the northeast facing aspect that may never get to see the sun. I am last to drop, past Glen I slide making fast large turns to about 2 thirds down where I find a small ridge in the middle that divides a shorter chute to the riders right. From here I manage to get the camera out just in time to shoot Glen cruise on by and down to the gulch bottom where it gets narrow and steeper sided. We all reach the waterfall one by one where we unstrap and hike up the narrow valley wall to a ridge which will again lead us to end of the gulch we started in a 1000 metre above. We ride this now stream bed for 2 or 3 kilometres dropping small man-made waterfalls every 100metre or so until we find a road and then a line out to a snow covered potato patch at which our cars is parked on the other side, we are done. What an awesome day, now just a short mission and we will be home.
Thanks to Paul, Miho, Thorsten, Christian and Glen for a great adventure!
Designer, photographer and Internet and digital media professional who has lived and played in Hokkaido since 2001.