Joined: Sat Nov 12, 2011 4:08 am Posts: 124 Location: Melbourne, Australia
In late January a skier buddy ( ) and I embarked on our annual hokkaido road trip.
We usually start with a few resort (niseko, rusutsu) days to satisfy our "powder" hunger and assess the conditions (generally somewhere in the range from thigh to neck deep ).
It was classic Hokkaido january conditions i.e. continual snow, 10 mins getting snow off the car in the mornings etc.
This is at rusutsu, a local resort.
Yes I know what you're saying, this is a splitboarding forum, right? So after a couple of deep turn resort days, we decided it was time to earn some ...
Day 1 - Finding our Feet on Mt Shiribetsu
Our first day of backcountry looked decidedly snowy (just for something completely different), but our target for the day, Shiribetsudake or Mt Shiribetsu, is an all-weather destination as it's pretty much all below the treeline. It's got a great fall-line, pretty close to 40 degrees with zero traversing. The gullies tend to be quite protected with widely spaced trees, so there's great snow.
Here's the terrain map.
There was another car at the trailhead, which was both good (we weren't gonna be breakin' trail ) and bad (we might actually cross someones track ).
The snow picked up a little for the first part of the skin up!
The japanese backcountry crowd seem to love to draw a straight between where they are and where they wanna be and just blaze a trail, even if it's super steep. Being slightly, errrr um, older , most likely than the average splitboarder, I tend to prefer a more "efficient" (i.e. lower angle!) skin track, so in sections we had to break trail.
Also, there appeared to be a "slow-shoer" in their party (splitboards haven't really taken off in a big way in japan... yet...) and we all know that snow shoes aren't kind to a skin track, particularly when it steepens up.
Skin Track Porn...
Japanese snow simply defies the laws of physics.
As we got the the top of the NW ridge, we got a view of a cloud covered Yotei-San.
The push to the west summit is pretty exposed.
... but worth it for the deep snow, I think I used more energy post-holing the 10 metres for this photo than I did on the skin up.
Dreamy tree runs
And a white room towards the bottom of Shiribetsudake
Day 2 - Bluebird (ish!) Shiribetsudake and a huck-able cornice
Our second day in the backcountry showed a marked improvement in the weather and the previous day we had peeked into the north bowl of Shiribetsudake and really liked what we saw, but thought it'd be better not to bite off more than we could chew and leave it for the 2nd day.
More Yotei Views
It was back to breakin' trail as the full reset button had been pushed overnight.
The north bowl definitely required a certain level of caution, not because of the avalanche danger (the typical fairly low risk hokkaido mid-winter snowpack), but because there were quite a few glide cracks. I had seen a nice, stable-looking cornice at the top that I just H-A-D to huck.
North bowl entry
Up until now, we hadn't really taken any "on the way down" photos as we didn't want to interrupt our rhythm down to stop and take photos of each other.
One thing that had slightly frustrated me about my splitboarding was that a I hadn't logged much airtime, other than a few little hits here and there. Of course, I don't have death wish and I'm far from being Xavier De Le Rue, so I tend tone things down a little riding in the backcountry. This cornice, however was just screaming to be hucked. At worst , I was going to tomahawk a little way in soft snow!
We skinned back out of the north bowl for the run home down from the west peak.
Mmmmmmm, creamy and TOTALLY untracked.
It was nice and clear at the top and we enjoyed postcard views of Yotei and the Sea of Japan. How cool is it when you can see the ocean from a peak you've skinned up?
After an onsen (hot volcanic water bath) and some mandatory post-touring 7/11 fried chicken we hopped in the car for the 4-5 hour drive our next BC destination, the Daisetuzan National Park, on the other side of Hokkaido.
Day 3 - The EPIC day...
The terrain in the Daisetuzan National Park is a little more serious and we enlisted the help of a really good Aussie IFMGA-certified guide I'd used numerous times previously, Chuck Olbery (http://www.hokkaidopowderguides.com/).
Our goal was the north face chutes of Furanodake, which has awesome terrain and seriously deep powder.
This is a sunset shot and the north faces are in the shade of the big peak, which is Furanodake (or Mt Furano).
We had total bluebird (well the odd cloud did appear now and then throughout the day ) with just a breath of wind on the ridgelines. All-in-all, pretty perfect weather and certainly "carpe diem" in mid winter on Hokkaido.
The first skin started to get a little "kiwi" (i.e. icy) at the top of the ridgeline and it looked like, for the first time ever in japan, I was going to have to deploy the split crampons !
... Instead we just switched to bootin' it. Chuck was having to dig steps with his shovel as it was getting quite icy, no-one had an ice axe.
I thought I should receive an honourary "skier" award as I A-framed my split for the boot up!
When I said "bluebird", I meant "hokkaido bluebird"
We found some jeremy jones style lines off the peak of furanodake. It's not that I wouldn't do these, but it's a long, serious and technical approach to get to this line over my left shoulder. You'd have to be quite confident about the stability and I'm not sure the snow quality'd be great. I'd love to do it though!
The first run wasn't that great, we got white'd out right when we descended so we left the photography and enjoyed the ride.
Of course, by the time we hit the bottom, it'd cleared up
We skinned back up for a shot at the furanodake north chutes.
Believe it or not, but we'd seen a fox sprint up the ridgeline and it was either skin with a million switchbacks or "steep and deep" (no verts, d'oh!) straight up in the fox's bootpack!
That's wot I'm talkin' 'bout!
Our guide, Chuck
The descent was when sh!t start to get real, real good that is!
Even though having a guide cost us some $$$, it meant there was some-one to take some photos!
I don't wanna sound full-of-shit or anything, but I replay this toeside white room turn in my head every single day. I can still feel it.
Furanodake, the north face.
I was even blessed by the deeper, further, higher king of backcountry snowboarding, Jeremy Jones when he retweeted a twitter post I made joking about finding some terrain for his next movie!
The skin out
That evening, about 500m down the road from the trailhead, we went to a totally wild onsen and by "wild", I mean no buildings with changing rooms and heating, it was literally a man-made hole in the side of the hill where volcanic hot water would naturally pool. This meant getting nude at around -15C. The water was pretty hot, allegedly around 45C.
It's quite possibly the most awesome onsen experience I've had, especially after the awesome day we'd had - thankfully chuck was driving as I was quite ready for a cold beverage!! .
Day 4- And this one time, at band camp... a bear came.
The next day we had hoped to notch things up a little and bag Ashibetsudake, seen here.
However things were not to be, as in the morning the weather was not really good enough for an alpine assault, so we opted for a local tree-line option near Minami-Furano. It was actually a good thing as after a big day on furanodake the previous day and a heap of driving we were fairly tired.
The weather actually ended up being quite nice.
On the way up we found heaps of bear claw marks in the trees.
The thing I loved about these 4 days in the hokkaido backcountry, was that everywhere was different.
Ready to drop
Looking at what might've been, Ashibetsudake in the distance, although my legs weren't complaining we missed this .
The End !
I'm super happy with my gear at the moment. Got my solution waxed and it is going like an absolute demon. My karakorams are ace. The heel lockdowns make "skiing" (strike me down from heaven ) those short sections easy. My patagucci shell and bibs are light and tough. My driver Xs are 3 years old and did 50 days last calendar year and are still going strong. The only thing I'd like to get is an airbag.
Splitboarding in Hokkaido, Japan. Fucking Powder Heaven!
That place looks killer. All time terrain. My mate Mark McGrath and I were heading on swimming over there this year but plans fell through which bummed me out, but now I feel even sicker after seeing how truly amazing the terrain is. Looks like I'm heading there next year for sure.
One thing seems to hold some truth, is that every time I haul my crampons I don't need them, and every time I don't I do....
Awesome effects on the photos. Super vibrant, dream like and inspiring.