The weekend from 18th to 19th October was said to have great weather in Hokkaido, so I set out to try to climb Mt Yotei (Yoteizan or 羊蹄山). Mt Yotei is one of Japan’s 100 famous mountains and is also called Ezo Fuji, meaning “Fuji of Hokkaido” because of its shape which resembles Mt Fuji. While it is “only” 1898m high, it is Japan’s 10th highest mountain by prominence (basically relating to the elevation of its surroundings). Starting at 300m the difference in elevation is about 1600m, which is pretty close to Mt Fuji’s difference in elevation at 1700m when starting at the 5th station. I chose the Hangetsu route from Hirafu Station, next to Niseko because it was the most accessible to me (as I don’t have a car). The plan was to arrive as late as possible at Hirafu station, maybe stocking up on food at a Convenicene store, having a little rest and then starting the climb at around 1am to reach the summit at sunrise.
I arrived at 21:23 with the last train at Hirafu station and it was pitch black. This time I also took some video footage, but I am not sure really what to do with it yet. I might figure out something later.. Anyway, I was amazed by how much the camera was able to see in the darkness!
To my surprise, there was even a little building beside the tracks and the light was actually still on! I went inside and discovered that it was a little self-service guesthouse. I was even more suprised that there were actually people staying there, as the climbing season in Hokkaido is officially over and the skiing season has not begun yet. The people were very nice and we talked about the surrounding mountains, had tea and I ate something. Assuringly they also told me, that bears (which are not uncommon in Hokkaido) are usually not seen around this area, which was good to start with.
I changed clothes and left at around 23:30 for the trail head, as I wanted to take some pictures along the way. It’s about a 2km walk on a road from the station to the camping ground next to the trailhead. The weather was clear and no clouds in sight, making for an amazing night sky!
I already saw two foxes on my way to the trail head..
I finally reached the trail head, which was going straight into what looked like a very thick forest.
At the entrance, there always a book which one is supposed to sign incase one does not return. That way I could also check and see, that I was the only one on the mountain who took the Hangetsu trail that day.
I started off rather fast and did not take many pictures in the forest because I wanted to leave the thick forest behind as fast as possible. It was pitch black – to take the pictures I put my camera on a tripod and exposed for 30sec while illuminating the surroundings with my headlight.
Niseko as seen at night from the trail..
Slowly, the forest began to thin out a little bit, letting more light in and allowed me to see the stars again.
Many (or all?) trails on vulcanos in Japan are divided into 10 stations, each marking 10% of the way to the top. Usually there is some space there as well, so one can sit down and have a rest, as I did at the 7th station..
It was not as dark anymore as I finally got out of the forest and crossed the tree line!
I very soon arrived at the 9th station! Not far anymore to the top, or so I thought…
From the 9th station on, there was quite a bit of snow on the trail.
I reached the huge caldera and discovered that I was on the other side of the summit. So I still had a bit to go!
The view was amazing though, I could see all the way to the foot of the mountain. Kind of scary as well.. but they put some sort of little fence there.
I did not make it all the way to the summit by sunrise, but it was incredible non the less. The sun instantly brought some warmth with it!
I imagine that a good part of the “trail” gets very slippery around noon, as the sun starts to melt part of the snow..
The summit was not far!
Mt Yotei also casts a shadow like Mt Fuji at sunrise. The shape is very similar and its a strange feeling to see the shadow of a mountain you are on being cast on the ground 1600m below.
I reached the top! Time for a break.. There was one Japanese woman at the summit as well when I arrived, but she left very shortly afterwards.
So I took some pictures.. and to my surprise I saw two more people heading towards the summit, from both sides of the caldera.
From the 9th station it took me roughly 40min til the summit, but with taking a lot of pictures on the way.
Can you spot him on the right of the image, just left of the little nose?
The other surrounding mountains casted interesting shadows as well!
The person in the red jacket turned out to be a Japanese woman from Sapporo! She arrived in high spirits and brought some cheese!
The person in the blue jacket was Andy from New Zealand!
We stayed at the summit for about 1,5h, had breakfast and the woman showed Andy and me all surrounding mountains and told us which ones make for a nice hike!
The sun rose further and started to shine into the caldera. Apparently there are a few people who ski down the caldera in winter! Seems fun, until you have to go back up again…
The caldera is really huge! A little bit to the right of the center is Andy, but you can only barely distinct him form a rock..
Looking back at the summit.. It is the largest nose from the left. I took the other way back, so I could walk around the caldera once. It turns out that that way was way more challenging, I had to use my hands most of the time and there way no trail at all.
I decided to descend towards Makkari, because I was offered a ride home! At around the 9th Station on the Makkari route is a self-service mountain hut, which is rather big! The view was great as well, you can see the Niseko Ski Area and the ocean behind..
Looking back up..
This is the view towards Lake Toya (on the left with the mountian in the middle). You can also see Mt Yamagatake in the back, which is across the sea next to Hakodate. Right below it you might be able to make out the Windsor Hotel where the G8 Summit was held in 2008. The view from that hotel must be amazing…
On the way down we saw a small chipmunk, whos sound was quite present during the night..
While I descended on a different route than I ascended, I image that the forest looked somewhat like this as well during the day..
There were still some Autumn Colours left!
And we arrived at the camping ground and parking lot at Makkari!
If you take a right when exiting the parking lot and head down the road for ~500m, you arrive at a very popular Tofu store, where you can taste all kinds of diffrent Tofu types for free.
Also there is a very famous fountain of youth – apparently drinking the water lets you stay young. One woman told us that she is drinking coffe with that water everyday!
We stopped at another local food store on the way home in Rusutsu, which sold mostly local farmers’ produce.
Thanks for reading!
For people who are considering climbing Mt Yotei as well: All in all I think that the hike is only doable if it has not rained the day before, as the average ascending gradient is about 30% and mostly torf/rock, making it incredibly slippery if wet. Also I would recommend to not go alone, as it makes walking through the forest (which roughly extends up to the 8th station) much more pleasing during the night.