Mt. Nishibetsu (西別岳, 741m) is a diminutive hill famous for its alpine vegetation despite its low altitude. Not much further north is the caldera rim of Lake Mashu (摩周湖), so Mt. Nishibetsu can be a good transit point for adventures further afield. In this route guide I introduce the hopelessly beautiful Nishibetsu Hut (西別小屋, 335m), only accessible in winter on skis or snowshoes via a 5km forestry road. This free hut, unlocked and open for use, is the perfect base to explore the area’s winter offerings.
Route GPS File
- Location: This route starts just south of Lake Mashu, at the end of the snow clearing (around here) at the northern reaches of Shibecha Town in far eastern Hokkaido. Depending on the time of year you’re there, you’ll have between 5km and 7.5km of mostly flat forestry road to cover to the hut.
- General notes: The real attraction of this route is the Nishibetsu Hut, which makes for a perfect overnight trip to Mt. Nishibetsu. The hut has to be seen to be believed, particularly considering it doesn’t cost anything to stay over. See the hut details below. Mt. Nishibetsu’s low altitude coupled with eastern Hokkaido’s low snowfall means that the season to visit is limited if you want any decent skiing. The route also spends most of the time to the hut in plantation forest.
- Route markers: The route to the hut, once on the northern-most road skirting the fields (here), follows the Kiraway long-distance walking route. Therefore, the route is relatively well marked. Just keep to the forestry roads and you’ll be fine.
- Route timing: About 2-3 hours from end of snow-clearing (around here) to hut, another 2 hours from hut to Mt. Nishibetsu summit. The return from summit back to your car will take about 2.5 hours.
- Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out these two maps – Map 1 and Map 2 (or adjust to your liking here – the Nishibetsu Hut 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. Nishibetsu here.
- Other resources
- For some inspiration to go the extra mile up and over to Lake Mashu from Mt. Nishibetsu, check out this blog post.
- Onsen neaby
- Date visited: 22nd and 23rd March, 2018
Nishibetsu Hut (西別小屋) Essential Information
- Location of Nishibetsu Hut: At around 335m, at the official trailhead for the summer trail up Mt. Nishibetsu (here).
- Details: Nishibetsu Hut is a large log house-style hut that officially sleeps 50 people. It is very well built with double-glazed windows, very good insulation, and a large wood-burner stove. It is officially managed by the Shibecha Town Council Mountain Hut Management Committee (標茶町役場内山小屋管理委員会, TEL: 01548-5-2111), but in reality the day-to-day maintenance is carried out by local volunteers belonging to the small (about 20 members) but passionate Nishibetsu Hut Friendship Society (西別小屋友の会). It is hands-down the most solidly and well-built mountain hut in Hokkaido.
- Booking: Booking is not required. The hut is unlocked.
- Fee: What ever you can afford, by donation. A donation box can be found inside the hut. Alternatively, as per the deposit slips at the hut, you can make donations for overnight stays by making a deposit direct into the Nishibetsu Hut Friendship Society’s Post Bank account, either by dropping into a Post Bank (ゆうちょ銀行) and making a deposit in cash (photo of a deposit slip at the hut here), or making a direct bank transfer via Internet banking using the account below. There’s faint mobile reception at the hut, so I made a deposit at the hut on my smartphone from my Japanese bank account of 1,000yen for the night.
- Bank: ゆうちょ銀行 (Yuucho Bank)
- Branch: 二十九 (ni juu kyuu)
- Account number: 0045781
- Account type: 当座 (tooza)
- Account name: ニシベツコヤトモノカイ (西別小屋友の会, Nishibetsu koya tomo-no-kai)
- Heating: Wood stove. There is copious wood available for use. Make sure to replace wood used into the trolleys inside from the stack outside. You may want to bring your own firelighers and/or newspaper to get the fire going. When we were there we couldn’t find an axe to make kindling, and there was only a couple of old cardboard boxes to use to light the file.
- Water: There is no running water source at or near the hut. Either bring your own or melt snow from outside on the large wood stove.
- Kitchen/cooking: There is a full kitchen’s worth of utensils, pots ,fry-pans etc. There are a couple of stove-top gas cookers for use on a first-in-first-served basis, so bring a threadless gas canister like this to use in those. The wood stove is also great for cooking on. It has a door in the pyramid-shaped base of the flue that can be used as a small oven for baking.
- Bedding: There is copious bedding available for use: foam mattresses, blankets, pillows, and duvets.
- Electricity: There is no electricity in the hut in winter.
- Toilets: Toilets are outside in their own small building.
- Hutkeeper: There is no hutkeeper.
- Special Nishibetsu Hut usage notes: There are multiple signs inside the hut reminding users to replace any wood used with wood from outside on the deck. Like most huts in Hokkaido, Nishibetsu Hut is maintained 100% through passionate, volunteer time and effort. Always leave a hut cleaner than you found it.
As part of my impromptu ski tour mission to eastern Hokkaido with Hiro (details here), I just had to check out the famed Nishibetsu Hut. I’d heard rumors of its legendary awesomeness from Japanese ski tourers. They all raved at how the hut was completely free to stay overnight, and it was warm and spacious. The weather forecast wasn’t looking great for a summit of Mt. Nishibetsu the next day, but Hiro and I duly skinned the 5.5km to the hut and were duly impressed.
The previous night, Hiro and I had stayed at the rather dilapidated Mt. Musa Sokuseiso Hut. We were back at the car in the morning by 11am, and made the 45 minute drive to the end of the snow-cleared section of road to start skiing towards Nishibetsu Hut at around 1pm. Because it was late in the season, we were able to drive all the way to the start of the forestry road (here), which cut off about 1km of skiing.
We parked up and got on our way.
I’d seen mentions of the forestry road approaching the hut being hopelessly boring, but Hiro and I had a good pace, and the kilometers went past fast enough.
We did have it pretty easy though. The snow had a decently hard crust on it, and we were very rarely breaking trail.
Most of the way was following the Kiraway – a 71km long walk trail from Nakashibetsu to Teshikaga Town. The trail is popular in summer with hikers.
After just under two hours of skiing, the rumored Nishibetsu Hut appeared in a clearing in the trees. It was everything it was made out to be. Even though we knew it would be unlocked, it felt amazing that it actually was. It felt like we were stepping into something that should not just be open to the public.
The hut has a library. It has a full suite of kitchen utensils and pots and pans. And bedding. A glorious stove. Double-glazed windows. A balcony on the second floor.
As far as Hokkaido mountain huts go, this was heaven.
It seemed that the hut had not been used or cleaned since late autumn, and we spent an hour or so cleaning out the wood stove, and sweeping up the dead ladybugs on the floors.
After that, it was slow-food time. On the menu was some more of Hiro’s wild Hokkaido venison he’d received from a friend, and Hiro’s current hut-food obsession – paella. The wood stove worked a treat for this kind of slow food.
After a good night’s sleep, we woke to a howling wind outside. We weren’t too perturbed about the prospect of not being able to summit Mt. Nishibetsu though. Yesterday the clear weather gave us a good look at the ridge on Mt. Nishibetsu that we’d be climbing up, and there really didn’t seem to be much snow up there. It was late spring in eastern Hokkaido, after all – this area gets much less snow than the northern and western parts of Hokkaido. This plus the icy conditions yesterday made it an easy decision to just take it easy and have a restful morning at the hut.
My contribution to the hut gourmet was crepes for breakfast, also cooked on the wood stove.
After breakfast we did our leaving-the-hut chores: replenishing the inside wood-stash with wood from on the veranda, sweeping down surfaces, and giving the hut one more clean up.
Rather reluctantly we bade our farewells to the hut, donned our skis, and started back to the car. We had a four-hour drive ahead of us to get to our next destination for this eastern-Hokkaido ski tour trip – the Shikaribetsu Gorge wild onsen area for some ski access wild onsen!
We took a bit of a shortcut on the way back to the car, hurtling down between rows of trees to cut off the corner of the two forestry roads to the hut.
When we were just about to the car, Hiro stopped ahead and pointed out some animal prints in the snow.
These were from a Hokkaido brown bear – probably only a few days earlier. It was a sobering thought that the bears around here were now awake, and we’d been sharing the woods with them on the ski to the hut and back!
We made our quick getaway, and started the journey west.
We did have a quick hot spring break beforehand though, at the free outdoor onsen Karamatsu-no-yu (location) near Yourouushi Onsen. Eastern Hokkaido is pure magic.