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 treachorous, six-hour plus hike demanding a high level of fitness, a lot of expensive climbing and safety equipment, and an extensive knowledge of mountaneering 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 Catilin writes, you’ll still feel on you’ll still feel on top of the world.
Kutchan, Kyogoku and Makkari, three areas at the base of Mt Yotei, are the starting points of the trails leading to the top of the volcano. The Makkari trail, despite being the longest, is the easiest side to start hiking from. It has a smoother incline as it follows a ridge along the side of the volcano and isn’t as steep in comparison to the Kutchan and Kyogoku trails. This is where we started.
Sometime in late May we – a group of four gaijin (foreigners) and five nihonjin (Japanese) – started our hike at 8am. Hiking with the Japanese can be a little daunting at first as they tend to deck themselves out with the newest high-tech hiking equipment. Throughout the day though, I found this a little unnecessary, although I would recommend a proper pair of hiking shoes if you care for your feet!
The trail was 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 from the amount of energy exerted by the time we were at the third rest stop. As we neared the top, there were still vast amounts of snow scattered around, which I found a little unsettling as it made the track very slippery and hard to walk across. Stopping at each resting place (which I found VERY necessary), it took us 4 hours to conquer Mt Yotei’s summit.
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 found it easier on their bottoms, even if it wasn’t necessarily voluntary! Despite the very slippery 40-minute hike back up to the ridge, the slide down was the highlight of my hike up Mt Yotei!
Unfortunately for us, our views of the mountainsides surrounding Mt Yotei were blocked by clouds, which conveniently decided to settle in just as we reached the top. We didn’t luck out completely though, receiving some fantastic views across Niseko Town when we were about three quarters of the way up.
We spent 1.5 to 2 hours walking around the crater. It was here I learnt a new Japanese word: ‘abunai yo!’ meaning, dangerous! 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 2 hours) with no breaks to get back to the base.
Although I would recommend aspiring Mt Yotei hikers to have a fairly high level of fitness, we did meet a Japanese man in thongs walking his dog along our journey around the crater… it can’t be all that hard!
Caitlin’s tips for conquering Yotei:
• Take proper hiking shoes
• Take at least 2liters of water
• Take lots of snacks: chocolates and onigiri (rice balls) 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
• Take a camera!
• 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)