Mt. Maetokachi ski tour and Hakuginso Lodge for the second time (Hokkaido, Japan)


Last year I was here at Hakuginso Lodge (Fukiage Onsen) with three fellows from France and a fellow from Germany (story here). Today I was back with my brother-in-law from New Zealand to try our luck at Mt. Maetokachi (前十勝岳 – 1,790m). I was keen to capture this active volcano’s towering ferules on my camera. Alas, the wind would turn us back this time also, but we made up for it all with some good onsen time.

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Essential Info

  • Location: Tokachi mountain range, central Hokkaido. About 3 hours drive east from Sapporo, 5hrs by train and bus. Route start location: https://goo.gl/maps/ZEG931cYCDC2
  • Route GPS log: GPX file download.
  • Route timing: Around 3 hours climb from Hakuginso Lodge (location) to Mt. Maetokachi summit. About 1 hour to return.
  • Total climbing: 770m
  • Topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out what you want from the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan here (Mt. Maetokachi is in the cross-hairs), or buy the following 1:25,000 paper topo map (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station).
    • Shirogane Onsen (白金温泉) – map no. NK-54-7-8-1
  • Snow safety: The entire face of Mt. Maetokachi is somewhat of a playground. Just watch out for exposed rocks on the northern end of the face and near the ferrules. The altitudes in these areas are much higher than the snowy playgrounds elsewhere in Hokkaido – be extra respectful of mother nature here.
  • Other resources: See the write-up (in Japanese) on p. 372 of the Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047).
  • Best time to visit: January till mid-May (as per the Yukiyama Guide).
  • Getting there and away
    • By public transport: From JR Kami-Furano Train Station, there is a bus, run by the Kami-Furano Town Bus company, that runs to the Hakuginso Lodge. You’ll want to catch the tokachidake-onsen-yuki (十勝岳温泉行き) bus from the train station and get off at the Hakuginso bus stop (白銀荘). As of March 2017, there were three buses per day going to the lodge (08:52, 12;49, 16:31) and three returning (10:01, 13:51, 17:40). The fare is around 500yen one way, and it takes around 30 minutes.
  • Onsen neaby: The Hakuginso Lodge is an onsen – a very nice one at that. They charge 600yen for day visitors. You can stay overnight for just under 3,000yen (see details here). 10 minutes walk down the road from the lodge is the natural, free, mixed-gender Fukiage Onsen (location). The Ryounkaku Onsen (location – 600yen per person – accessible by same bus that gets you to Hakuginso Lodge) has an incredible view, and they also offer lunch.
  • Weather forecast (Google Translated): Tenkura pinpoint (this is for Mt. Sandan, but should apply also to Mae-tokachi).
  • Other resources: See Hokkaido Hiking Logs’ Maetokachi route report here.
  • Date visited: March 2nd, 2017

Route Map with GPS Route (GPX file)

Climb and ski report

Excerpt translated from the Japanese Yuki-yama Guidebook:

“Mt. Maetokachi is the advanced guard in front of Mt. Tokachi. It boasts a beautiful triangular shape when viewed from Hakuginso Lodge, and the ferules which rise from the surrounding craters give it another level of impressiveness. Overnight, deep snow can transform into exposed rock, so it doesn’t have the most predictable snow conditions. In general, mid-February and later is the best time to visit. Visual guides up the mountain such as trees are non-existent here, so good clear weather is the key to enjoying it. Mt. Tokachi is an active volcano, so make sure to check activity reports on the Meterological Department website or at Hakuginso Lodge.” Yuki-yama Guide, 2015, p. 372

We stayed the night before at Hakuginso Lodge (Fukiage Onsen). I’ve written about Hakuginso Lodge before – this place is unique in Hokkaido for its affordable and practical accommodation for anyone passionate about big hills and beautiful snow (see my Hakuginso Lodge info here). Situated at 1,000m altitude, it has a full kitchen, basement drying room with direct access from outside, and a massive onsen. Step from the entrance onto your skis, into wilderness. Rooms are either 12-person bunkrooms (bunks with individual curtains) or large tatami rooms for large groups.

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

We started up the mountain from the lodge at just before 8am. The route first cuts northwards through dense woods before crossing a stream over a snowbridge. At this stage everything was quiet and still.

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

 Before long, we were out of the trees and on the exposed lower slopes of Mt. Maetokachi’s north-western face. It became immediately clear that this would be no walk in the park.

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

While it was a beautiful clear day overhead, any hopes for towering ferules at the summit were dashed. We could smell the sulfurous gases from where we were, almost 700m below the summit – they were being blown straight down the mountain.

We hiked for just over an hour before deciding to turn around. We’d only gained 400m in altitude, but the wind did not appear to be abating, and if anything felt as though it was getting stronger. For Josh, the downsides of having a large parachute-like contraption strapped to one’s back in a headwind like this were fairly clear.

On the positive side, the conditions made for some beautiful sights. Snow flowed across the surface we were walking on, as if sand. The sun peeked in and out from the summit as we ascended, draping the mountain in a soft, high-contrast glow.

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

After a hasty transition, we bounced and scraped our way back down the mountain. Even on the flatter parts we were flying. I’ve never skied with such a strong tailwind!

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

It was certainly not the “holy place of powder” that the place was supposed to be. But Mt. Maetokachi still had me charmed.

Seeing it was only just before 10am when we got back to the car, we decided to spend the rest of the morning checking out some of the onsen in the area. First on the list was the free, open-air, mixed-gender Fukiage Onsen (location), about 10 minutes walk from Hakuginso Lodge. I’ve been here on numerous occasions (including when I camped next to it on a trip with Leon Roode in winter), but for some reason this time it was much hotter than I remember it ever being. When it became clear that even an avalanche of snow into the pools would hardly make a dent in the heat, we moved on.

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Our next stop was the run-down but location-perfect Ryounkaku Onsen, at the very end of Route 291 (location). While the price for accommodation is on the high side, the onsen (600yen) and lunches (750yen to 1200yen) are reasonable. Perched at 1,250m, this is the place to go if you need some respite from the weather. The views from the restaurant and onsen are top class. They were a perfect place to end our central Hokkaido adventure, and to begin the 3 hour drive back so Sapporo.

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Mae-tokachi ski touring (Hokkaido, Japan)


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