Mt. Maetokachi (前十勝岳, 1,790m) can be approached from a few different angles. The classic, easily navigable route heads up the Kabawara Ridge (route guide here), but that can sometimes be buffeted by high winds (as on this trip). If the weather is otherwise clear with good visibility, then it might be worth hopping from one sheltered rocky outcrop to another, and taking some time out of the wind at the very basic Tokachi Emergency Shelter Hut. From the shelter it is possible to access a nice downhill run in a bowl that runs all the way from the very active Taisho Crater (大正火口) fumeroles back to the hut // Featured image above by Rick Siddle
Route GPS File
- 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. The route is within the Daisetsuzan National Park (PDF map).
- General notes: As mentioned above in the intro, Mt. Maetokachi has an expansive northwestern face, with many options for skiing. The route here cuts across the base of Mt. Maetokachi and goes via the Tokachidake Emergency Shelter Hut, joining up with an official Mt. Tokachi (十勝岳, 2,077m) trail. It is not a particularly popular route because of the lengthy traverse to the hut – in less windy conditions the route up the Kabawara Ridge is a much more direct approach to good skiing. But in windy but good visibility conditions, this Taisho Crater route can offer some good alternative options. There were two ski lifts in this area until the eruption of 1989, after which the ski area was closed.
- Route markers: There are no route markers.
- 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.
- By car: There is ample parking in the Hakuginso Lodge car park (location).
- Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out what you want from the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan here (the Taisho Crater is in the cross-hairs), or buy the following 1:25,000 paper topo maps (for 350yen each) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station).
- Tokachidake (十勝岳) – map no. NK-54-7-8-2
- Shirogane Onsen (白金温泉) – map no. NK-54-7-8-1
- Snow and route safety: Once you’re out of the woods surrounding the Hakuginso Lodge, the traverse to the Tokachidake Emergency Shelter Hut is quite featureless – it would be easy to get disoriented in low visibility conditions.
- Weather forecast (Google Translated): Tenkura Pinpoint for Mt. Sandan (nearby Mt. Maetokachi)
- Other resources
- 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.
- Date visited: 18th February, 2018
Tokachidake Emergency Shelter Hut (十勝岳避難小屋) Essential Information
- Location of the Tokachidake Emergency Shelter Hut: At around 1,300m, below the Taisho Crater on Mt. Maetokachi (location).
- Details: The current Tokachidake Emergency Shelter Hut was built in October 2008 by the Biei Town council after the old hut was destroyed in 2006 due to heavy spring snow. There used to be a pair of old ski lifts to the hut, but they were removed after the Mt. Tokachi eruption of 1989. This is a well-built but very basic hut, which only gives respite from the wind, not the cold. When we were there the interior walls were caked in hoar frost.
- Entrance to the hut in winter: In mid-winter (February/March), the entrance way will likely be blocked by wind-blown snow. Once you’ve shoveled that out of the way, the hut door can be opened. The door is not locked.
- Booking: No booking required.
- Fee: Free.
- Heating: There is no stove.
- Water: There is no water source.
- Kitchen/cooking: No dedicated kitchen area.
- Bedding: No bedding or mattresses are provided, but there is a raised platform which would sleep five to ten people in a pinch.
- Electricity: There is no electricity in the hut in winter.
- Toilets: There are no toilets.
- Hutkeeper: There is no hutkeeper.
- Special Tokachidake Emergency Shelter Hut usage notes: Always leave a hut cleaner than you found it.
After a jaunt up Mt. Furano the day before, and a relaxing night at Hakuginso Lodge, we were all ready to do the route up Mt. Sandan this morning. Looking at Mt. Sandan from the lodge’s carpark, however, revealed massive trails of snow being ripped off the face of the mountain. Mt. Maetokachi’s Kabawara Ridge didn’t look much better. The eastern reaches of Mt. Maetokachi’s northwestern face, however, looked less like a gale-force mess, so we decided last-minute to head in that direction in search of a more sheltered skin up the mountain. It ended up being a fantastic choice – the emergency hut was a lovely respite, and the bowl above the hut, despite some icy patches, was a blast coming down.
The day started out, however, with a 6:00am wakeup and quick breakfast in the Hakuginso Lodge kitchen. It had been a full house the night before, so everyone was vying for table space.
The outside thermometer was showing -15°C at 7:30am, and we were all feeling the cold as we organized ourselves outside. The sunny blue skies were a great morale boost, but didn’t seem to do much to offset the frigid breeze blowing.
At 8:15am we set off from the lodge into the woods to the east of the lodge.
As we crested the small ridge just after exiting the woods, I spotted the Tokachidake Hut. Between here and there were small rocky outcrops along the way which would give short respites from the wind, so I decided we’d make a beeline for the hut and assess our options from there.
The weather forecast was for clear skies but strong winds all day in the area, so we were counting ourselves fortunate to even be able to be on the mountain at all. And the views were glorious.
For the most part, the snow was firm under foot all the way to the hut. I’d always wanted to check out the Tokachidake Hut, so I was happy to see that after shoveling the snow away from the door, it was unlocked and open for use.
There was some discussion about how there used to be a ski lift up to the upper bowls under the Taisho Crater. Later I’d learn that there used to be two lifts up to around where the hut is situated today, as part of the National Tokachidake Ski Area. This ski area was closed after the 1989 eruption, and lifts removed in 1999 (source).
From the hut, we carried on up towards the Taisho Crater area well to the east of the actual summit of Mt. Maetokachi.
The original plan from the hut was zig zag up the wide gully directly west of the large bowl above the hut, but as we got higher, hard, icy patches of snow got in our way. Not everyone was comfortable on those patches, so we traversed around to the bowl where the snow was softer.
Going one by one, we made long climbing traverses up the bowl, slowly but surely gaining altitude.
The two snowboarders in our party that were on snowshoes – Saoka and Geraldine – had the upper hand here. They were able to just stomp their way up the less risky, rocky ridges.
We all converged on a small flat spot at the top of the bowl. At this stage, most in the party were ready to head back down to the hut. Alan and Emma would later remark that “we get icy conditions like this in Scotland all the time, but never as cold as this!”
Slightly further up, the Taisho Crater was billowing its 300°C steam, staining the ice and snow with yellow sulfur.
After sorting out skis, skins, and splitboards, we took turns to ski down the bowl one by one. Alan took the lead, and showed us how it’s done.
Once we were all safely back at the hut, it was just a matter of racing back down our skin tracks to the lodge, trying hard not to get too distracted by the ridiculous views.
We arrived back at the lodge at just after noon, and made a quick turnaround because we wanted to get to Furano City to have lunch at a curry restaurant – Yuiga Doxon – recommended by both Saoka and Alex. We managed to get to the restaurant at around 1pm, and it was well worth the drive. Amazing home-made sausages on a unique curry rice, and as many free refills of curry sauce as you can handle.
Thus concluded a very enjoyable backcountry ski touring weekend in the Tokachi Range. Alan and Emma thanked us all for welcoming them into the fold, despite being complete strangers. I just reminded them that my intentions were entirely selfish – now I know who to call if I ever find myself in Scotland in the winter 🙂