I hadn’t expected such a grandiose summit at the top of Mt. Mekunnai (目国内岳 – 1,220m). The summit looks pointy from a distance, but we were not prepared for the great frozen mountain of boulders, encrusted in a winter’s worth of wind-blown snow and frost, that greeted us almost out of nowhere. On a good day you’ll get grand views along the compact but impressive Niseko Range.
Route GPS File
- Location: This route up Mt. Mekunnai is on the more western reaches of the Niseko Range that can be accessed practically via road. Any further east from here (such as Mt. Raiden), and you’ll start climbing close to sea level.
- General notes: As mentioned above, Mt. Mekunnai is the last peak on the Niseko Range, heading east, that can be accessed via a trailhead that starts relatively high up the mountain. Peaks such as Mt. Raiden further west require an approach either from sea level or via the Iwanai Ski Area on the northern side of the range. It is also popular because it starts and finishes from Niimi Onsen – an historic onsen that is currently closed, but opens every now and then as new owners take cracks at making it work.
- Route markers: There are no route markers.
- Transport: There are no public transport options for this route. When approaching by car, just drive towards Niimi Onsen until the snow-clearing runs out. There is a small snow-cleared area for parking just across the road from the old Niimi Onsen buildings.
- Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out this map (or adjust to your liking here, Mt. Mekunnai is in the cross-hairs, see printing instructions here), or buy the following 1/25000 paper topo map (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station).
- Chisenupuri (チセヌプリ) – map no. NK-54-20-7-4
- Snow and route safety: From the 862m point, you’ll be above the tree-line, so this is probably a trip to avoid in low visibility and bad weather conditions. The Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047) also notes that in heavy snowfall conditions, the broad ridge that runs from the creek-crossing to the 862m mark is avalanche-prone, so take a more southerly route (as marked on the route map below) in fresh heavy snow.
- Weather forecast (Google Translated): Tenkura pinpoint for Mt. Mekunnai-dake
- Other resources
- See the write-up (in Japanese) from p. 242 of the Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047).
- Onsen neaby: You’ll have your car parked just next to Niimi Onsen, which is worth a soak. Note that the entrance to the onsen is not via the old buildings just across from the car-park area at the end of the snow-clearing. It is in the red buildings, accessed by the car-park entrance about 30m down the road (location). Niimi Onsen was re-opened in December 2016 after a long period of closure. UPDATE: As of June 2017, Niimi Onsen is closed. Try somewhere such as Yuki-Chichibu up towards Mt. Chisenupuri (location).
- Date visited for this report: 18th Feb, 2017
“Mt. Mekunnai-dake’s attractive feature is the large south-facing slope for skiing. Mt. Mekunnai is a less-traveled mountain, far away from the busy central areas of Niseko range. And unobstructed large slope descending from the summit, as well as the 300m vertical of powder skiing among the trees is a big attraction. There’s no public transport, but the road is cleared until Niimi Onsen, so you can enjoy a quiet ski tour and then a soak in the onsen.” Hokkaido Yuki-yama Guide, 2015, p. 242
Word of a multi-day ski tour along the Niseko range to the Japan sea (article and video here) got me keen to check out the western reaches of this majestic range, extending some 20km west from the bustling Niskeo ski area. A super-clear forecast was going to be icing on the cake.
So Andy, Hiro and I made the 3-hour early-morning trek to Niskeo from Sapporo, already catching glimpses of what we could expect up on the mountain. It was shaping up to be a classic – and relatively rare – clear-sky day.
We arrived at Niimi Onsen at around 9am, after a few detours due to Google instructing us to take some roads that were closed in winter. As the guidebook promised, however, the road was cleared to Niimi Onsen.
The route starts out on the closed portion of the road, so is relatively flat until just before the first hairpin turn. Already from here, the pointy summit of Mt. Mekunnai-dake is visible in the distance.
You’ll need to find a suitable snow-bridge to cross the creek before heading up the wide ridge towards the 862m plateau.
From this point, it is just a matter of weaving one’s way through the trees. The Yuki-yama guide warns of avalanche danger in heavy snow conditions on the broad ridge that runs up to the 862m plateau. Take the narrower ridge on the southern side of the small gully to avoid this area when conditions are avalanche-prone.
Before long, the trees will thin out, revealing a flat plateau before climbing up to the main ridge.
Right about here on the ridge, you’ll want to turn around and take a look at what your effort has rewarded you with. Hold onto something though, because the view can be breathtaking. We had a view along the Niseko range all the way to Mt. Yotei.
The view up ahead is something to behind also – Mt. Mekunnai’s curious rocky summit, encrusted in a winter’s worth of frost and wind-blown snow.
Your skis won’t be much use from the base of the rocky outcrop to the actual summit. So drop the skis and boot-pack the remaining 20m or so to the 1,220m summit.
The way down is a more direct line from were you left your skis, down to the starting point of the stream, at around 900m. When we were there, the surface was just crusty enough to make the skis grab and wander – not ideal, but we could see how in better snow conditions, this would be pure bliss.
Enjoy the 300m or so of vertical drop down to the snowbridge, because there will be a very short boot-pack back up to the road after crossing the stream. From there, fly down the road, and make the decision as to whether you’ve done enough work to warrant a long soak in the recently re-opened (December, 2016) Niimi Onsen (EDIT: Niimi Onsen is closed again as of August 2017).