MANY a skier or snowboarder has gazed longingly at the peak of Mt Yotei and dreamed of climbing to the summit, with the reward of enjoying a half-hour descent through untracked powder. The reality is it’s a treacherous hike demanding a high level of fitness, a lot of expensive climbing and safety equipment, and an extensive knowledge of mountaineering and local weather conditions. In summer, however, as Deep Powder Tours operations manager Caitlin Mitchell found out, you can climb it in thongs (the rubber footwear that is!). There’s no skiing down, but as Caitlin writes, you’ll still feel on top of the world.
THERE are three main trails up Mt Yotei, and they start in the towns of Kutchan, Kyogoku and Makkari. Despite being the longest, the Makkari trail is the ‘easiest’ side to hike. It has a smoother incline as it follows a ridge, and isn’t as steep in comparison to the Kutchan and Kyogoku trails. This is where we started.
Our hiking party – consisting of four gaijin (foreigners) and five nihonjin (Japanese) – set off at 8am. The trail is divided into 10 sections with nine resting spots, the 10th stop being the summit! Although the temperature was not all that high, everyone was soaked with sweat by the time we were at the third rest stop. As we neared the top, there were still vast amounts of snow scattered around, sometimes making the track slippery and hard to walk on.
Stopping at each resting place (which I found VERY necessary), it took us four hours to conquer Mt Yotei. Upon reaching the top we found there was still a fair amount of snow in the crater and we decided that it would be a good idea (although a fairly dangerous one!) to slide down on our feet. Some, however, ended up on their rear ends. Despite the very slippery 40- minute hike back up to the ridge, the slide down was the highlight of my hike up Mt Yotei!
We spent 1.5 to 2 hours walking around the crater. It was here I learnt a new Japanese phrase: ‘Abunai yo!’ meaning, ‘dangerous, be careful!’. It was a circle of unstable, jagged, rocky terrain. Quite unnerving at times!
By the time it came to hiking back down to Makkari, we were all very exhausted, but on a mission. It took us only two hours (albeit a very long two hours) with no breaks to get back to the base.
Although I would recommend aspiring Mt Yotei hikers to have a fair level of fitness, we did meet a Japanese man in thongs walking his dog along our journey around the crater… so it can’t be all that hard!
Caitlin’s tips for conquering Yotei
• Take proper hiking shoes
• Take at least 2+ litres of water
• Take lots of snacks: chocolates and onigiri (riceballs) are perfect snacks
• If there is still some snow – take a probe or collapsible stock… and a warm jacket
• Wearing long sleeves is always a good idea no matter how hot the day seems: temperature at the top can be a little unpredictable
• Go for an onsen after your hike – great for sore muscles! (Recommendation: Kyogoku Onsen)
• Choose your day carefully, make sure the weather is fine (don’t want any surprise storms!)
• Start hiking early, you will need an entire day (or at least 8 hours)
• Take some bug spray
• Don’t forget your camera!