I’ve been up to the Ginreiso Hut (銀嶺荘) on Mt. Haruka (春香山 – 910m) a number of times now in most seasons. It is one of only three huts in Hokkaido to boast a year-round hut-keeper (Mt. Tarumae Hut and Mt. Muroran’s Shiratori Hut being the others). In winter it is a gorgeous, cosy oasis at the foot of Mt. Haruka’s upper eastern face, giving prime ski access to easy lapping of tree- and open-runs. While the hut is owned by Tokai University and officially designated as a staff and student retreat facility, the general public are welcome to stay with prior booking when the hutkeeper is present.
Route GPS File
- Location: This route is about 1 hour’s drive from central Sapporo towards Otaru City. It is accessible from the JR Zenibako train station.
- General route notes: This route is suitable for either a day trip or overnight trip. Considering how cosy the Ginreiso Hut is, however, an overnight stay gives more time for lapping the upper slopes of Mt. Haruka. While skinning up to the hut, you’ll probably encounter a couple of options for routes: either sticking to the forestry road most of the way up, or taking the summer trail route (see that route here). The GPS route on this page mainly sticks to the forestry road until the clearing at around 580m. Both routes have their pros and cons. The summer trail is more scenic/wooded, but the traverse sections can be tough going if you’re on snowshoes, and it is less traveled in winter. On the other hand, the forestry road can be quite hard-packed as it is also used by snow-mobiles, but navigation may be easier.
- Route timing: Budget on about 3.5 hours from trailhead to hut. From the hut to the summit of Mt. Haruka is about 20 minutes. Back down to the trailhead will take about 1hr 20mins on skis, and up to 2 hours on snowshoes.
- Route markers: There are a few route markers, all in Japanese.
- Transport access
- By car: There is room for about 10 cars in two parking spots near the trailhead.
- By train and taxi: Arguably the most straight forward option for public transport is to get a local train to JR Zenibako Station (on the same JR line as Sapporo Station), and catch a taxi from there. It’s only about 2.8km from the station to the trailhead (route map here), so the taxi is cheap. Try telling the taxi driver that you want to go to the haruka-yama tozan-guchi (春香山登山口 – Mt. Haruka trailhead). It will be downhill on the return trip, so can be easily walked on the way down.
- By train and bus: Catch a train to JR Zenibako train station, and catch the Zenibako/Katsuraoka-sen (銭函・桂岡線) bus from the JR Zenibako train station bus stop heading towards the Zenibako Jo-sui-jo bus stop (銭函浄水場). From the Zenibako Josui-jo bus stop it is a 1.3km walk to the trailhead. The timetable for this bus can be seen here: Timetable info. Return bus timetable here.
- Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out what you want from the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan here (Ginreiso Hut is in the cross-hairs), or buy the following 1/25000 paper topo map (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station).
- Zenibako (銭函) – Map No. NK-54-14-14-1
- Hariusu (張碓) – Map No. NK-54-14-14-3
- Snow and route safety: There are a few large, relatively steep, clear-cut sections of plantation forest above the forestry road at around the 250m mark on the route, so in heavy snow conditions, it may be wise to split groups up when crossing under these sections. Also, from the 700m point on the route, the main ridge is relatively wide and featureless. Take care in low visibility conditions here not to get lost.
- Weather forecast (Google Translated): Tenkurapinpoint for Mt. Haruka
- Other resources
- Onsen neaby: Consider driving 20 minutes towards Otaru City, to the Asari Onsen area. Hotel Musashitei and Hotel Classe both have very nice onsen open to day visitors.
Mt. Haruka Ginreiso Hut (銀嶺荘) Essential Information
- Location of Mt. Haruka Ginreiso Hut: The Ginreiso Hut (location) is near the old Zenibako Pass, up in the hills west of Zenibako JR Station.
- Details: The present-day Ginreiso Hut was built in 1960, and was transferred to Tokai University’s ownership in 1974 as a student and staff recreational facility – details in Japanese here: PDF | PDF copy. It is one of only three huts in Hokkaido to have a hutkeeper present year-round (Mt. Tarumae Hut and Mt. Muroran’s Shiratori Hut being the others). It serves not only as a great destination for a single overnight trip, but is also an important link in the historic chain of huts (hütten kette) in the hills to the west of Sapporo City (see one hut-to-hut ski tour here). Mr. Hirata, the hutkeeper, is usually not at the hut on Wednesday and Thursday nights, as he has to go down to Sapporo City. When he is not at the hut, it is locked and not available for use. Confirm availability to use the hut by calling Tokai University Sapporo Campus on 011-571-5111 during office hours.
- Booking: Booking is essential. Call Tokai University Sapporo Campus on 011-571-5111 to book, during office hours.
- Fee: 800yen per person per overnight stay. 400yen per person if you just want to use the hut facilities during the day.
- Heating: Mr. Hirata, the hutkeeper, maintains a cosy temperature in the hut using the gargantuan wood stove on the first floor of the hut. Mr. Hirata is in charge of the stove, so leave it up to him; no trash is to be burned in the stove.
- Water: There is running spring water in the hut, which can be consumed without treatment.
- Kitchen/cooking: There is a large indoor kitchen area. Drinking water is on the left, a tub for washing dishes is on the right. A selection of pots, pans and cutlery are available for use on a first-in-first-served basis. There are also about around four table-top gas cookers (like this) available for use on a first-in-first-served basis. Bring your own non-threaded cassette gas canister (like this) for these cookers.
- Bedding: Sleeping quarters are on the second floor of the hut. There are four separate bunk rooms, one with space for up to 10 people, the rest sleep around five to six people. Bunks have basic, very hard and lumpy mattresses on them. There is a copious supply of blankets in the hut. I’ve always found it more comfortable to bring my own sleeping bag and sleeping mat. It can get cold in the hut in the early morning in winter, so at least a three-season sleeping bag is recommended.
- Electricity: There is no electricity in the hut in winter. Night-time lighting is courtesy of a number of old-school kerosene lanterns, managed by the hutkeeper.
- Mobile cell service: There is no mobile coverage at the hut or on the route.
- Toilets: Basic long-drop toilets are accessed from within the hut. Toilet paper is not supplied.
- Hutkeeper: The fastidious Mr. Hirata is the fourth live-in hutkeeper at Ginreiso Hut. He’s been the hutkeeper at Ginreiso Hut for about 13 years now.
- Special Mt. Haruka Ginreiso Hut usage notes: Mt. Hirata keeps a tight ship, and knows the most efficient ways of enjoying the hut. He communicates these ways and rules by doing rather than telling, so just go with the flow. Make sure all snow is brushed off packs, boots and clothing before entering the hut. Boots need to be removed before entering the main part of the hut, but can be placed inside at the rear of the large stove to dry. Gloves and hats can be placed on the large drying rack over the stove. Jackets and skins etc. can be hung up on the second floor, above the stove.
Trip Report (Jan 2nd & 3rd, 2018)
In the old days, Mt. Haruka got its name because it was a great distance (haruka ni tooi – 遥に遠い) from the Zenibako settlement. In the early days of the Showa period, the kanji characters used for the mountain were changed from 遥山 (literally far mountain) to the beautiful 春香山 (haruka-yama – literally spring fragrance mountain). It is also possible to approach Mt. Haruka from near Sapporo Kokusai Ski area, but in the guide, we introduce the route from Katsuraoka in Otaru City, which has better transport access. In winter, the hutkeeper at Ginreiso Hut welcomes visitors with a warm wood stove. Staying in this hut, with its cosy kerosene lamps, is a good place to stay overnight (Translated from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide, p. 90).
In my enthusiasm to get a few friends up to the gorgeous Ginreiso Hut on Mt. Haruka for an overnight new years trip, somehow we ended up with a group of 9 people. Half on skis, the other half on snowshoes. Two years back, when a group of four of us went up at almost the same time of year, we were the only ones in the hut. This year, the hut was bustling with over 25 people staying over.
We started the ascent at the trailhead with heavy, wet snow falling, and temperatures well above freezing.
The snow eased off a little as we climbed, most of us shedding layers, trying not to overheat.
While it was mostly calm on the way up through the valley, once we got to the main Zenibako Pass ridge near the hut, we were exposed to a strong gale. Visibility was good, however, so we pushed on to the safety of the hut.
When we arrived at the hut, Mt. Hirata, the hutkeeper, welcomed us with great fanfare, making sure we were suitably free of snow to enter the hut. We warmed up next to the fire and ate some lunch, and we set up our bunks. We also set up our table ready for dinner later that night. Mr. Hirata came around and made sure that we had not yet hooked our stoves up to our fuel canisters. “Safety first!” he beamed. We then headed back out for a hike to the summit.
Views along the way were relatively good, before a snow shower snatched the view and visibility away from us as we neared the top. The snow was in great condition, and provided some great turns. The skiers in the group transitioned back to skins and climbed up for another run before returning to the hut.
Upon returning to the hut and entering, I noticed a commotion at one of the tables in the hut’s first-floor dining area. Someone’s gas camping stove, attached via a hose to a regular non-threaded propane gas canister, was flaring very high. I overheard someone say it was probably because the canister had been tipped up, causing some liquid to escape through the hose. Sure enough, as soon as the person placed the canister back on the table, the stove stopped flaring.
At this point, I turned away to take the liners out of my boots. Only moments later, I heard a number of people in the group at the table scream. I turned around and saw that not only was the stove flaring at least one meter up towards the kerosene lamps hanging from the ceiling, there were now large flames flaring from the interface between the gas canister and the hose running to the stove. I can only assume that the stove user had tried to unhook the canister from the hose while the stove was still running.
My instinct was to run over to the table to see if I could help. A few people were blowing on the flames, but of course this was just forcing the flames higher, and causing them to catch light to the newspaper sheets covering the tables.
It was becoming clear that the best way forward was to smother the flames in some way. I ran to the kitchen, and grabbed the first small towel I could find. I doused it in water, returned to the table, and threw it over the gas canister. The towel was too small, however, and had little effect. So I ran into the kitchen again to try to find something larger. The only thing I could see were three thin, 30cmx30cm seat cushions.
I grabbed the cushions and doused them as much as I could in water, and ran back to the table. By now embers from the burning newspaper sheets on the table were starting to drop onto the straw mat flooring under the table. While I began yelling for someone to call the hutkeeper to get a fire extinguisher (he was outside the hut helping other guests), I threw the wet cushions over the canister and stove, and with the help of a few others around the table, finally managed to block any oxygen sources to the flames.
The fire was finally out. Quite the adrenaline rush.
Luckily no one seemed to be burned. The only damage appeared to be a number of newspaper sheets burned, as well as a plastic table cover which had melted in a couple of placed. It was only later in the night when I noticed that there was a fire extinguisher just next to the table where the fire had occurred. Being a powder type fire extinguisher, this would have made short work of the fire (never mind the mess of powder it would have left). I can only imagine that Mr. Hirata has seen plenty of these incidents over the years.
Back to our group, and later on in the night, on the menu for dinner was a large shared Japanese hot-pot. This is one of my favourite meals to cook for a group on an outdoor trip. Plenty of fresh veges, tofu, pork, chicken, and udon noodles to finish off with the resulting broth. The shabu-shabu sesame and ponzu sauces are key, though; well worth the extra weight of lugging the glass bottles up the mountain.
That night, Mr. Hirata kept the stove relatively well stoked, so despite some of us feeling a little too warm overnight, the group mostly slept well.
Because our second day there was the day Mr. Hirata had to head back down to Sapporo for his weekly check-in at the university, we had to be out of the hut by 8am. Wakeup call at 6am, breakfast at 7am, and we were out by 8am.
With a couple of members in our group feeling like they were starting catch a cold, the group decided to head straight back down the mountain to the cars. From there, we headed to Asari Onsen for a hot spring soak, and the requisite ramen for lunch at Yoshiyama Shouten ramen (one of the best in Sapporo, according to Rick).