Mt. Soranuma-dake Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)


The approach to Mt. Soranuma-dake (空沼岳 – 1,251m) is a convoluted mess of topography which doesn’t lend well for great downhill skiing. Don’t let that put you off though. The old forester’s outpost Bankei Hut (万計山荘) is worth the effort, and the national park landscape is magical. We did the overnight trip to the hut and peak in early January, making the most of a short two-day window of great weather.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Essential Info

  • Route GPS log: GPX file download.
  • Route timing: Around three to four hours from quarry carpark to Bankei Hut, another two to three hours to Soranuma-dake summit.
  • Topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out what you want from the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan here (Mt. Soranuma-dake is in the cross-hairs), or buy the following 1:25,000 paper topo map (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station).
    • Soranumadake (空沼岳) – map no. NK-54-14-11-4
  • Snow safety: Note the known avalanche risk slopes to the direct south of the route just after the snow bridge crossing at around 815m. Also on the northeastern lee slope below Mt. Soranuma’s summit – large cornices form on this side of the summit ridge, and the slope is known for avalanches in high risk conditions. Best to play it safe and access the summit ridge via the saddle as per the GPX route below, and err towards staying in the trees on the southwest aspect.
  • Other resources: See the write-up (in Japanese) on p. 154 of the Yuki-yama Guide (ISBN: 978-4894538047). Also see a previous trip, guided by Leon Roode, in Spring 2012 on snowshoes (photo album here).
  • Best time to visit: January till mid-March (as per the Yuki-yama Guide).
  • Getting there and away
    • By public transport: Take the Hokkaido Chuo Bus No. 101 from Makomanai subway station (Bus stop No. 7) to Soranuma Futamata (空沼二股) bus stop (here) – the end of the line on the Soranuma-line (空沼線), around 22 minutes on the bus. From the bus stop it is a 2km walk/skin to the trailhead. As of Jan 2017, the earliest bus from Makomanai Station was at 7:18am on weekdays and 7:15am on weekends and holidays, then about once an hour. Last bus from Makomanai station was 8:33pm on weekdays, 7pm on weekends. Return buses from Soranuma-futama were 6:54am till 9pm on weekdays and 6:58am till 7:40pm on weekends, with around 8 buses in between. See this PDF for the timetable.
    • By car: The carpark at the entrance of the quarry is here: https://goo.gl/maps/LBCg9uBqDaL2. Depending on snow conditions, it may also be possible to park closer to the trailhead here: https://goo.gl/maps/zKtGK94w1M72.
  • Onsen neaby: The closest natural onsen would be Kogane-yu Onsen (here), about 30 mins by car from the quarry/trailhead.
  • Weather forecast (Google Translated): Tenkura pinpoint
  • Date visited: Jan 8th and 9th, 2017

Route Map with GPS Trace (GPX file)

Bankei-Sanso Hut (万計山荘) Essential Info

  • Location of Bankei-sanso Hut: Approx. 42°52’50.6″N, 141°15’34.1″E
  • Details: Built in 1965 as a forest workers’ hut, the hut is currently managed and maintained by the Bankei-sanso Hut Volunteer Society. The spacious two-story hut sleeps approximately 100 people. For any details not outlined below, call the Bankei-sanso Hut Volunteer Society (万計山荘友の会) on 011-571-7728 (I would imagine you’d have to be prepared to speak Japanese only).
  • Booking: No need to book in advance, and there is no caretaker present in the winter. The doors are not locked.
  • Fee: Free to stay overnight, however there is a suggested donation of 1,000yen per person per night (source). A donation box is located inside the hut.
  • Heating: The hut is heated with a wood stove, with copious amounts of wood available for use.
    • Please use wood sparingly. Wood is transported to the hut in summer by truck, and meticulously stacked by volunteers.
    • There is a stack of wood and kindling inside the hut. Replace any wood used with wood stored under the hut, accessed from the outside. You may need to dig snow out of the way in order to access the wood piles under the hut.
  • Facilities: There is a large stainless-steel kitchen with sinks on the first floor, but water cannot be poured down drains in winter (it will freeze). An assortment of pots, pans, and plates are available for use. Please wash and return. There is no lighting, stoves, or bedding in the hut. Toilets (basic longdrops) are accessed from inside the hut.
  • Water: Water supply is from the creek running out of the lake – it must be boiled before drinking.
  • Note: As is the case with most huts in Japan, no boots/outside shoes to be worn inside the hut. Remember: Always leave a hut cleaner than you found it.

Climb and Ski Report

Reminiscent of last year’s Mt. Okuteine overnight trip with the boys from France (here), we had some new acquaintances join us for this overnight trip to Mt. Soranuma-dake. Ziggy and Joel from Australia had finished a Germany to Australia bike ride a few years ago, and contacted me via Warmshowers.org to see if we would host them and their girlfriends (Tash and Rachel) for a night. They were going to be in Hokkaido for a couple of weeks, trying to do as much backcountry skiing as possible. I said sure why not, and also proposed that they come with us on the overnighter, since it was scheduled for when they’d be here. After some last-minute re-scheduling of accommodation, they managed to come with us.

From a 35 degree C Australian summer to a below-freezing Hokkaido winter, it must have been a shock to the system.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

 The trail up to Bankei Hut in winter follows the summer trail marked on maps. Starting from a large quarry at the foot of the valley, the route meanders along a flat approach before crossing the river and heading up steeply beside the Bankei Stream.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

 The route is not particularly well marked beyond a few signposts, but for the most part it follows deep troughs – only after particularly heavy snowfall would you lose grasp of where the trail heads. The sign in front of the massive Hokkaido pine reads:

  • Height: 25m
  • Diameter: 90cm
  • Volume: 6.67m³
  • Estimated age: 250 years
  • From this one tree…
    • How many sheets of newspaper?
    • How many 55m rolls of toilet paper?
    • How many boxes of tissue paper? (with 200 tissues in each)
  • Answers on the back of the sign!

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

 The only seriously technical bit for us at this time of the year was the bridge crossing at around 810m. Later in the season, and this would have been a wide, well formed snow-bridge. For us, it was a hairy balance across the foot-wide bridge, most of us opting to carry skis over.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

While we had started out just the four of us, Rick and Jeff caught us up on snowshoes, and headed past us to the hut. By the time we arrived, they had sussed out the fireplace, and were making arrangements for a fire to be started. As mentioned in the Bankei Hut Essential Information above, the hut runs on a donation and cooperation system, whereby people drop a donation into a box inside the hut. Copious amounts of firewood is supplied inside the hut, and should be topped up upon leaving from the stores under the hut. The massive fireplace, once going, pumps out a lot of heat.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

On the second floor of the hut is one large sleeping area.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

On our menu for the night was one of my specialties for an overnighter with a group – Japanese hotpot nabe. I got the idea from the legendary Leon “Hokkaido Bush Pig” Roode, who was and will always be the master of the hut nabe. Essentially it is a large soup with a mass of veges, tofu, and thinly sliced pork. The sesame and citrus (ponzu) dipping sauces are essential.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Surprisingly, we were the only ones in the hut that night. Both Rick and I were expecting half of Sapporo to be up at the hut, considering the amazing weather forecast and the fact that this was a long weekend. Ziggy and Joel took advantage of the space and opted to sleep downstairs next to the stove.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

The next morning, we were up early at 4:45am. The plan was to see a sunrise of some sort on the way up to the summit of Mt. Soranuma-dake. The early start would prove to be a blessing in disguise as the way up to the summit was slow going – we were breaking trail in soft snow the entire way. While I had a GPS track on my smartphone, Rick guided us on the due south bearing from the hut to towards the summit. The winter route to the summit does not usually go via Misu-numa Lake, and rather goes more direct.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

As the sun rose, it became clear we would not be getting the sunrise we had hoped for. A thin, eerie mist surrounded us as we climbed.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)
Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

It also became more and more apparent that we would not be spending a whole lot of time ripping downhill on the way down. The topography between the hut and the summit is convoluted. Ups and downs which make it tempting to leave skins on for the downhill. I was feeling increasingly sorry for the boys from Australia – so much for their hoped of endless days of deep downhill powder in Hokkaido. They seemed happy enough though!

Approaching the summit, we were thrust into an icy wonderland. Everything was cased in frost.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

 

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Unfortunately the weather did not clear enough for a big view, but we were all happy to be at the top.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Of course, as Murphy’s Law would dictate, as soon as we started descending off the summit, the weather started to clear in a dramatic fashion.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

By the time we had returned to the hut, it was a perfect sunny day. Perfect for a long brunch in the sun, cleaning the hut, and re-supplying the interior firewood stack.

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

The way down from the hut generally mirrors that of the way up. Be prepared for either racing down the skin track, or weaving your way between trees. It was a trial by fire for Haidee for her first time skiing down a narrow track – it is a skill all unto itself!

Mt. Soranuma Overnight Ski Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

A massive thanks to Haidee, Rick, Joel, Ziggy, and Jeff for making this such a worthwhile trip.

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