As the highest peak on the Lake Kussharo caldera, Mt. Mokoto (藻琴山, 1000m) gives expansive views on a good day across the vast lake in eastern Hokkaido. A new hut was built on its northern ridge in 2013, so makes for a relatively easy (if not too short) overnight trip. Google searches for information about the route return a higher than usual number of ‘first time backcountry skiing’ reports; navigation is easy and slopes are beginner-friendly. In good weather, this should be a great way for novices to experience some of the Hokkaido winter great outdoors.
Route GPS File
- Location: This route is on the caldera rim of Lake Kussharo in eastern Hokkaido, just a hop and a skip from the Shiretoko Peninsula. The route is within the Akan Mashu National Park.
- General notes: The route marked here includes the route to the Ginreiso Hut (銀嶺荘) about 1km down the northern ridge. Allow 3 hours from trailhead to summit to hut. If just doing this route as a day trip, it should only take about 1hr 40mins to the summit from Mokoto Pass, and then 30 minutes back down to the campground. From the campground, it will be a 10 minute walk back up the road to the pass. The descent from the Mt. Mokoto summit to the hut is mellow with excellent quality snow.
- Route markers: There are no route markers. The route up the main ridge roughly follows the summer trail.
- Transport: This route is not accessible by public transport. From the Kawayuonsen JR Station (here) to the trailhead (here), a taxi would probably cost no more than 8,000yen (18km, 30 mins). This taxi fare finder result (PDF)estimates about 7,400yen. You’ll want to tell the taxi driver you want to go to the Mokoto-yama tozanguchi (藻琴山登山口 – trailhead for Mt. Mokoto) which is near the entrance to the Highland Koshimizu 725 (ハイランド小清水725 – closed in winter), at the top of Mokoto-toge Pass (藻琴峠). You’d be best to arrange a time for the return taxi when they drop you off.
- Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out what you want from the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan here (Mt. Mokoto 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).
- Mokotoyama (藻琴山) – map no. NK-55-31-10-4
- Snow and route safety: The main risk noted in the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide is the presence of cornices along the summit ridge, from the 940m point up to the summit. Also take care not to slip on the rocky outcrop section near the summit.
- Weather forecast (Google Translated): Tenkurapinpoint for Mt. Mokoto
- Other resources
- Onsen neaby: Lake Kussharo is home to some of the best onsen in Hokkaido. For a daring on-the-lake-shore open-air bathing experience, try the Kotan Onsen. If you’d prefer something not quite so public, and a little closer to the Kawayuonsen JR train station, try one of the many onsen in Kawayu Onsen Hot Spring village.
- Date visited: 28th and 29th December, 2017
Mt. Mokoto Ginreiso Hut (銀嶺荘) Essential Information
- Location of Mt. Mokoto Ginreiso Hut: About 1km down the northern summit ridge of Mt. Mokoto, at 820m in altitude (location).
- Details: In 2013, the old hut was demolished, and a new hut built in its place. Reopening announcement here. It is a basic hut with a coal/wood stove, with a ground-floor raised sitting/sleeping area, and a second-story sleeping loft. Best considered as an emergency hut. It would probably sleep about 15 people in a pinch. The hut is managed by the South Abashiri Forestry Department (0152-62-2211).
- Entrance to the hut in winter: In mid-winter (February/March), the hut will be half-buried in snow, so the only way to get in may be the second-story window at the back of the hut. Otherwise, if you can dig the front door out, then you will need to remove the plywood board from the front door. This plywood board is held in place using nuts and bolts. You may need to heat the nuts using a lighter or something to melt any ice in the threads before trying to remove the nuts. This plywood board must be put back into place when leaving the hut, to protect the windows from snow.
- Booking: No booking required.
- Fee: Free.
- Heating: Coal stove. Copious amounts of coal is supplied in the hut; please use sparingly. When we were there in December 2017, there was kindling and fire-starter bricks available to get the coal going. See the stove details below in the trip report for how to efficiently use the stove.
- Water: There is a spring about 10 meters in front of the main hut entrance, but this will likely be buried in about 1.5 meters of snow in mid-winter.
- Kitchen/cooking: No dedicated kitchen area.
- Bedding: No bedding or mattresses are provided.
- Electricity: There is no electricity in the hut in winter.
- Toilets: There is a bio-toilet next to the hut, but expect it to be mostly buried under snow in mid-winter. Even if it is not buried by snow, and you can get inside, the bio-material will be frozen, and it will not be possible to mix it using the pedal-assisted mixer. In this case, use the supplied sawdust to cover your waste. Toilet paper can be used in the bio toilet, but do not dispose of other rubbish in there.
- Hutkeeper: There is no hutkeeper.
- Special Mt. Mokoto Ginreiso Hut usage notes: Always leave a hut cleaner than you found it. The hut is classed as an emergency hut, so keep non-emergency stays short (one or two nights), and clean up after use.
Mt. Mokotoyama is the highest point on the outer Lake Kussharo caldera ring. It is an easy climb with a summer trail present. It also has a viewpoint facility called Highland Koshimizu 725, so is busy with hikers and tourists in the summer. In winter, its mellow slopes become a perfect playground for a great number of backcountry skiers. Visit in January and February to enjoy powder snow. (Translated from the Hokkaido Yukiyama Guide, p. 428)
It was late December. Too early to really enjoy the sorts of snow that Mt. Mokoto offers later in the season. We were in eastern Hokkaido though, so we decided to head up in the hopes of getting a good view of Lake Kussharo. The promise of a cosy night in the new hut also appealed.
It quickly became clear that we wouldn’t be able to summit on the first day. All of Hokkaido was being buffeted by strong winds caused by a large, slow-moving low-pressure system. So instead of going up the summit ridge, we opted for the more sheltered valley, starting at the campground. We ascended up the valley and cut north towards the hut across the head of the valley, over the northeastern ridge at around 900m (as per the route map below).
In good weather, it would be better to climb up from the pass, along the eastern ridge (as indicated in the route map above). This summit ridge provides epic views all the way to the top of Mt. Mokoto.
Our route up the valley took us through stands of gorgeous black pines, onward up to patches of stunted white birch. Being early in the season, the snow surface was crusty, with sasa bamboo still visible.
At around 800m in altitude, the taller trees gave way to creeping pine and truly icy and varied surfaces. It was tough going without ski crampons, with ski edges only just purchasing the surface as we traversed across to a relatively flat spot on the northeastern ridge of the valley.
Once on the other side of the ridge, we skidded and slid our way down to the hut, first through thick brush and then into a more open slope. With better snow conditions, this would have been a glorious blast down to the hut. With the conditions as they were, however, this did not feel like a beginner-friendly route.
Once at the hut, we set about settling in for the night. First on the task list was to get into the hut. Later in the season it would be a big job to dig down 2m of snow to the front entrance, so the only option would be to clamber through the second-story window. Since we were there in late December, we only had to clear a small amount of snow from the front door.
The windows are boarded up for winter, so I had to remove the one from the front door. The board was held on with 10mm nuts and bolts. After some infuriating few minutes trying to loosen off the nuts, I realized that the threads had ice in them. Heating the nuts up with a lighter meant I could remove the nuts by hand. We now had access to the hut.
Haidee also started on clearing the snow from the door of the bio-toilet. Later in the season I doubt it would be worth the effort. The Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook has a photo on p. 430 which shows the toilet building buried to the eaves in snow.
While we didn’t discover it till the next morning, there is also a fresh spring about 10 meters from the front door of the hut. In mid-winter, this spring will likely be buried under 2m of snow, so you’ll have to decide whether it is worth digging it out or just melting snow on the hut’s excellent little pot-belly stove.
Fairly high on the priority list after gaining access to the hut was getting the pot-belly coal stove running. Don’t be put off by its diminutive size. The hut appears to be insulated, so that little stove heats the hut very quickly.
To get the coal stove in the Mt. Mokoto Ginreiso Hut running, follow these steps:
- First, check the chimney outside to make sure it is not iced up or blocked with snow.
- Next, back inside, make sure to clear out any ash from the stove from previous users. There is an ash bucket and small shovels in the hut for this.
- Open up all the vents as well as the chimney damper at the back of the stove, just under the flue at the top of the stove.
- Put some paper or a fire-lighter on the grate in the stove, and pile on some kindling.
- Shovel a few scoops of coal on top of all this.
- Return the stove-top plate, and light the paper from under the grate.
All going well, this should result in a roaring fire. Adjust the heat using the grates on the front of the stove as well as the flue damper at the back of the stove under the flue. The flue damper was the most effective for turning down the heat – with that open the stove would just run full-bore, getting red hot.
Once all the necessary preparations were done, we settled in for the night. Dinner was spinach and mushroom pasta sauce with wholegrain pasta. With cell coverage at the hut, we used the remaining time in the evening to learn a new card game, gin rummy.
The next morning broke to precisely what the weather forecast had predicted: clear skies and little to no wind. After a quick breakfast of porridge, cleaning up the hut, and returning the window boards to their original places, we set off for the summit of Mt. Mokoto. Looking back towards the hut we could see out towards the Abashiri coast.
We more or less just followed the summer trail to the summit, which led us through stunningly atmospheric woods.
The route eventually ends up at a small saddle before climbing steeply about 10 meters up to the summit of Mt. Mokoto. We dropped our packs and left our skis for the last clamber up to the summit. The views were picture perfect.
After lingering at the summit, we started our descent back down to the campground. Later in the season and in stable snow conditions, it would be fine to head straight down into the campground valley from the saddle just below the summit. The skiing would be fantastic.
For us, however, we wanted to avoid the early-season ice and lurking creeping pines, so we headed down the eastern summit ridge for a few hundred meters before cutting down the valley towards the campground. That summit ridge is really something else – such amazing views across to Lake Kussharo and east towards the Shiretoko Peninsula.
We passed a couple on snowshoes, and another skier as we descended. Mt. Mokoto seems to be a popular place when the skies are clear.
We finally made it back to the campground at around 11am. From here we would drive the 3 hours or so to Asahidake Onsen. We were hoping for good weather there too, so we could experience Hokkaido’s highest mountain – Mt. Asahidake – in good conditions.