Mt Yōtei (Yōtei-zan or “sheep hoofed mountain”) is the enigma of Niseko.. anyone who has ever been to the famous powder mecca has no doubt spent time looking across from the Niseko United resorts and wondered what it would be like to get a closer look. Also, know as Yezo Fuji or Ezo Fuji, Mt Yōtei is a conical stratovolcano, although inactive with the last estimated eruptions occurring in 1050BC, and 3550BC.
Yōtei’s mysteries await you…
Hiking to the summit in winter can take between 4 – 7 hours depending on your fitness, and the chosen ascent route. Weather needs to be just right before considering a day trip like this as winds, cloud movement and the safety of the snowpack all need to be taken into consideration. More than a few have been forced to turn back as clouds roll in and visibility drops to nil. It’s hard to justify climbing above treeline into the cloud that will hinder navigation, not to mention spoiling the view from the top!
It goes without saying that hiring a guide to summit Mt Yōtei is a good idea, as the local weather patterns and snow safety conditions should be considered thoroughly before a summit attempt.
There are multiple routes to the summit, but the two most popular are the west-facing Hangetsuko (Half Moon Lake) route which can be seen from Niseko, and the Makkari route, which is on the southern aspect. As this journey took place in mid-March, warm spring conditions in the previous few days had resulted in a solar crust on the southerly aspects meaning the Makkari route would be very icy for a morning ascent, and perhaps the return downhill trip. We decided on the Hangetsuko route, expecting to find better snow conditions on the way up and down due to it facing North West, which would see less of the solar crust.
It’s relatively smooth going and a steady ascent from the car park at 340m as you wind your way up a large ridgeline amongst the trees. After an enjoyable few hours the treeline begins to thin out at the ~1100m mark. Due to it’s height and position, the upper part of Mt Yōtei is usually fairly wind affected so expect to find packed snow and icy sections. If you are lucky enough to have scored a day with fresh snow overnight before clear skies you may have more pow to play in, but can expect more sweating on the way up!
The Hangetsuko route is steep enough above 1200m that ski touring or splitboarding becomes quite tricky from that point on, especially in spring conditions where you can expect to find a combination wind-packed snow and crust at higher elevations. From this point on bootpacking (or snowshoeing) is more efficient so with ski/board gear attached to our packs the climb continues.
Trees and shrubs covered in snow and ice make for an interesting landscape for the next few hours before you approach a false summit, which no doubt leaves many slightly frustrated seeing there is still another 100m vertical to go! Luckily it’s back to ski mode at this point then on again for the final push to the summit at 1898m. After a decent hike and more than a few rows of chocolate it’s all been worth it; how often do you find yourself standing at the top of a volcanic crater covered in snow!
Once you’ve soaked in the great views for a while it’s hard to resist dropping in for a few turns to the bottom of the crater, which can provide some great skiing and riding depending on the time of the season, as the bowl can end up wind loaded from multiple directions. Pick that line carefully!
Before you know it you’ll find yourself snacking in the bottom of a volcanic crater, a little energy boost before the climb back up to the ridgeline. You’ll now be looking at a ~1500m line below you back to the car. Cue big grins! Again, due to wind exposure, you will often find the first 3-400m of the descent to be variable as you make your way back through the wind packed pow and snow ghosts. However, it’s not long until the terrain opens up into some great wide and winding pipes, undulating ridge lines and various chutes. A run of this length in good visibility gives you a tonne of time to spot little features to hit while hunting out the driest snow. A definite leg burner but a run you’ll remember for years to come!
Taking the Hangetsuko route on this day proved a great choice as our line down to the car saw some great spring snow conditions.. and not a track in sight! Speaking with others who had made the ascent via the Makkari route during our lunch break in the crater had brought stories of a very icy ascent from the south, which didn’t look to be thawing any time soon due to low temps and windchill on the day.
Summiting Mt Yōtei is a great goal for those who have spent a bit of time in the backcountry and are ready for a fun challenge. If you have a fair level of fitness and are comfortable with using your touring equipment – skins, split board, or snowshoes, we’ll help make it happen! It goes without saying being familiar with using a beacon, shovel and probe is a key consideration before heading into the backcountry and this is something we cover in all of our Japan ski tours and private guiding days.
We look to summit Mt Yōtei (weather permitting) on our Hokkaido Backcountry Tour, and when requested on a Niseko backcountry guided day. We find that late February into March provides the best conditions for a summit attempt, as we see more sunny days again. You will need to be flexible in regards to timing if you’d like to climb Yōtei as a good weather window is essential for the day.
If you are new to the backcountry, ski touring and splitboarding gear is available to hire in Niseko, and we can help you learn how to use it. Our private guided days are a great way to get into the backcountry safely, escape the crowds and explore the best of the Niseko area.