Mt. Musa (武佐岳, 1,005m) is a volcanic mountain standing as advance guard to the more famous far-east mountains of the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido, Japan. As such, the summit provides panoramic views across the plains and close-by Pacific Coast to the east, and peaks such as Mt. Shari (斜里岳, 1,547m) and Mt. Rausu (羅臼岳, 1,660m) to the northeast. En-route is the extremely rustic Mt. Musa Sokuseiso Hut. Dense low-lying trees prohibit skiing directly from the summit, but there are some skiing options from the ridge further down.
Route GPS File
- Location: This route is half-way between Lake Mashu and Mt. Shari, in far-eastern Hokkaido, on the Pacific Ocean side. The start of the route will depend on how far the road has been cleared – either about here for mid-winter (adding about 1km to the total trip distance) or here for spring.
- General notes: I think it would be fair to say Mt. Musa is one of those hills you go to for the view (and/or the rustic old hut) rather than the downhill skiing. In places the ridge is narrow enough to get the heart racing, and the final approach to the summit has dense low trees on all sides, so it is unlikely you’ll be skiing directly from the summit. When we were there in spring the snow was hard and icy, so we left our skis at a point about 500m from the summit and boot-packed the rest of the way up.
- Route markers: There are sporadic official trial signs to the hut, but they’re for the summer trail – in winter they’re too far spaced apart to be much use. There are plenty of trees with ribbon tied to them, but they’re mostly forestry-work markings. Best to assume you’ll be navigating on your own.
- Route timing: About 1 hour from trailhead to hut, 3 hours from hut to summit. About 1.5 hours from summit back to trailhead.
- Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out this map (or adjust to your liking here – Mt. Musa summit is in the cross-hairs – see printing instructions here), or buy the following 1/25000 paper topo maps (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station or online in Japanese).
- Snow and route safety: Fill your police notification out online using Compass – instructions here
- Weather forecast: Windy.com pinpoint weather for Mt. Musa here.
- Other resources
- View from Mt. Musa on Youtube here.
- Onsen neaby
- Date visited: 20th and 21st March, 2018
Mt. Musa Sokuseiso Hut (武佐岳憩清荘) Essential Information
- Location of Sokuseiso Hut on Mt. Musa: This hut is perfectly located for a late arrival and early start up Mt Musa. It sits at around 430m, part way up the Mt. Musa summer trail (here), about 400km east of Sapporo City. Interestingly, it is actually about 100m south of where it is marked on Google and official Japan GSI topographical maps.
- Details: The Mt. Musa Sokuseiso Hut, lovingly maintained by the volunteer Mt. Musa Mountaineering Club (武佐岳登山同好会), has “character”. It does have a really good wood stove, with plenty of wood supplied. It is also free for overnight stays, and booking is not required. The roofing doesn’t appear to leak, and appears to be in good condition. Overall though, as of writing (March 2018), the building itself is a rather dilapidated hut, receiving somewhat palliative care by the passionate volunteers from the club. Some work was done recently to reinforce the roof rafters, and when we were there, there appeared to be some ad-hoc attempts at stymieing drafts (due to quite a few exterior cladding planks being missing) by nailing thin closed-cell sheet around the base of the walls. By the time we stayed there, much of this was full of holes, obviously graciously gnawed at by the resident mice. The raised wooden flooring of the hut is hopelessly warped – photos don’t do the extent of it justice. Officially the hut sleeps 20 people. On our overnight trip there, we only just managed to find enough flat-ish space to sleep for the two of us. There is a loft-like upper area which is flat, but the structural integrity of it is suspect. “The whole thing was flexing when you were up there sweeping,” Hiro said. It was difficult to ascertain the last time the hut had been properly swept and cleaned. Most surfaces were covered in either mice poop or dry dust of mouse poop – nothing half an hour of sweeping didn’t fix though. The sliding doors to the hut don’t close, so the official entrance to the hut is currently a sheet of thin plywood, held upright with a stump of wood. A front window is broken, and the plastic sheet covering it is ripped. To call this a drafty hut is an understatement. If you don’t mind properly roughing it though, this is a nice enough hut, and it is only about an hour from the trailhead.
- UPDATE: I called the Nakashibetsu Tourist Association to ask about the hut, and they referred me on to the Mt. Musa Mountaineering Club. A representative of the club explained that they do what they can to upkeep the hut. They currently they don’t have any means of collecting donations from hut users.
- Official contact: Nakashibetsu Tourist Association (中標津町観光協会, TEL: 0153-73-3111).
- Booking: Booking is not required.
- Fee: Free.
- Heating: Wood stove. Wood is provided, as is some newspaper to get the fire started.
- Water: There is a stream about 50m northwest of the hut, marked by some signs. In mid-winter you may need to dig a little to reveal the stream. Water needs to be treated before drinking.
- Kitchen/cooking: No kitchen area, and no cooking facilities provided. The wood stove can be used for cooking though, and there are a couple of large nabe pots available for use.
- Bedding: No bedding or mattresses are provided. The raised wooden sleeping platform is extremely warped, so limits how many people can sleep in the hut. The structural integrity of the loft is suspect – I wouldn’t feel comfortable with more than a few people up there at a time.
- Electricity: There is no electricity in the hut in winter.
- Toilets: There is no toilet.
- Hutkeeper: There is no hutkeeper.
- Special Mt. Musa Sokuseiso Hut usage notes: Despite the hut’s sad state, it is nonetheless maintained 100% through passionate, volunteer time and effort. If you do make a visit, please give the place a clean, and make sure to sign the guest book. Always leave a hut cleaner than you found it.
There’s a Japanese site that lists all of the mountain huts in Hokkaido (here). It only provides very basic information, and I was scouring it on a Monday night, doing Google searches for each and every one, to see if any of them were practical and possible to use in winter on a back country ski tour.
I had made a shortlist of huts I’d not been to before (huts I have been to before are here):
- Yufure Hut (ユーフレ小屋) on the Hontani Route up Mt. Ashibetsu in Furano (approximate route here)
- Mt. Teshio Hut (天塩ヒュッテ) on the northwestern side of Mt. Teshio (tentative route here)
- Mt. Musa Sokuseiso Hut (武佐岳憩清荘) in far-eastern Hokkaido
- Mt. Nishibetsu Hut (西別小屋) to the south of Lake Mashu in eastern Hokkaido
- Mt. Muroran Shiratori Hut (白鳥ヒュッテ) near Muroran City on the south coast of Hokkaido (tentative route here)
Yufure Hut would have been great, but a call to the Furano City council (0167-39-2312) revealed that the hut’s chimney was currently broken, scheduled to be fixed in summer. This meant that the stove was not available for use. The Mt. Teshio hut looked amazing, but the town council (TEL: 01652-8-2121) let me know that the hut is completely shut up in winter, and is not even available for emergency stays. The Mt. Muroran Shiratori hut has long been on my list, but it is a super easy route that would suite an easy weekend with Haidee.
That left the two eastern Hokkaido Huts – Mt. Musa and Mt. Nishibetsu. Calls to the respective town councils confirmed they were available for use, no booking required. If I added to those two huts a camping trip to a ski-access wild hot spring, then it would make a very nice four-day trip, worth the 6-hour drive from Sapporo to eastern Hokkaido. If only I had the time.
This was Monday night. At around noon on Tuesday, as I was eating my lunch at work, I realized that Wednesday was a public holiday. I would only have to take two days off work, and the four day trip out east would work. But who could I ask to come at such short notice?
I emailed Hiro, the master of gourmet hut meals, and he dropped everything to join in on the crazy, adventurous plan to drive 6 hours the next day to visit two huts and some hot springs. I hoped Hiro’s trust in my planning would not be for naught.
So there we found ourselves, almost at the very eastern point of Hokkaido, at around 1pm on Wednesday, after leaving Sapporo at 6:30am. We were ready to start skinning up towards a hut we didn’t know much about, apart from that there was a stove and fuel for said stove.
It was a hot spring day as we set off under clear blue skies. The route from the official trialhead is flat and follows a forestry road for about 1km before moving to the summer trail. Most of the way up to the hut is through plantation forest with some pockets of native bush. Closer to the hut the plantation gives way to well-spaced native forest.
We were there in spring, so the forestry roads were cleared. The gates to the forestry roads were also open, but we didn’t feel confident to enter and leave the car overnight – we didn’t want to find the gates locking us in the next day.
It really didn’t feel like much time at all had passed before we were at the hut. From the outside, the hut looked rustic, but perfectly acceptable. The exterior oozed charm. The chimney looked intact, so that was a very positive sign.
We had to spend a few minutes digging snow away from the entrance in order to free the plywood cover over the damaged door. The one working sliding door would only slide about 10cm before jamming, so it was clear the plywood would be our door for our stay.
After gaining entrance to the hut, however, my heart sank. The interior was not much better than what you’d expect from an abandoned building. Most shocking was the wooden floor. Twisted and bent, there was very little flat area. Temporary attempts at making the place more air-tight using thin foam sheet had been thwarted by large holes gnawed by mice. All surfaces were dusty and gritty. Mouse poo everywhere. I picked up a large plank of wood resting on the floor, and this revealed a swarming mess of winged ants. I gently laid the plank back down.
Overall, the place was a mess.
So we got to work. I was glad to have my buff to filter the dust as I breathed – sweeping up created clouds of chocking dust.
After we’d swept up all the surfaces in the hut, including the creaky loft area, it was about time to start a long evening of slow food. Hiro does amazing things with a hut’s wood stove. Tonight we started with fresh sashimi and some pickled vegetables, before moving on to venison and vegetable stir-fry.
It was just before 9pm that we headed to our respective flat-ish corners of the hut for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, I toasted on top of the stove the bagels I had brought. Hiro of course one-upped me with by pulling out the bread dough he’d made up the night before, and baked it on the stovetop.
After signing the guestbook, we left out overnight gear in the hut and headed out to try to summit Mt. Musa. We’d had a clear view of the summit the previous day, but this morning it was shrouded in cloud. The snow was hard and icy – typical spring conditions.
The forest was beautiful though. Approaching the narrow summit ridge, the route alternated between steep climbs and flat clearings.
After about an hour, we found ourselves on a very narrow ridge. In softer snow conditions it would have been relatively easy going, but the hard icy surface underfoot made traversing a challenging experience. The view over the plains, towards the sea, however, was huge, all along the ridge to the summit.
Before making the final climb towards the summit, the route crosses a wider saddle. About half way up the final climb to the summit, we switched to boot-packing. In softer snow conditions it would be possible to make wider zig-zags up the ridge, but for us it was quicker and more straight forward to walk up.
Mercifully, the cloud cover crept higher and higher as we climbed, such that as we crested the summit ridge, we had immense views all the way to the east across the Shiretoko Peninsula. Mt. Shari, Mt. Rausu, and all the hills between an beyond stood to attention. This was beyond what we’d been expecting, so it was an awesome surprise.
We’d expected that it wouldn’t be practical to ski from the summit, and our hunch was right. We’d left our skis about 100m down, so after walking back down to them we started the icy descent back the way we’d come.
Instead of trying to ski along the knife-edge ridge, we traversed considerably along and down the eastern side of the ridge where the trees were relatively sparse. In hindsight we should have connected back up with a flat area of the main ridge at around 640m. From there the ridge widens and would allow for some nice downhill skiing to the hut. We carried on traversing, and ended up in very thick trees.
We did finally make it to the wide ridge above the hut, and enjoyed a quick dash through the forest to the hut.
We did a final quick clean up of the hut before hurtling back down the summer trail to the car at the trailhead. With the hard snow underfoot, we were able to skate most of the way along the flatter sections.
Overall, it felt like it had been a great mountaineering-type overnight trip. Because the hut is so close to the trailhead, it meant we could drive all the way from Sapporo and still get onto the mountain and stay in the hut before nightfall. The narrow ridge to the summit was exhilarating, and the traverse back to the hut was quick and straight forward. The views were to die for. We didn’t notice any clearly amazing ski lines on the mountain however, so it’s unlikely I’d go back purely for the skiing.
From the trailhead, we started driving in the direction of the next objective – the famous and legendary Mt. Nishibetsu Hut.
From the trailhead, we started driving in the direction of the next objective – the famous and legendary Mt. Nishibetsu Hut.