Climbing the iconic Mt Yotei of Hokkaido, is on almost everyone’s to do list here in the ski towns of Niseko. When Yotei occasionally appears through the pow dumping clouds, conversations go to ambitious summit plans and tales of previous trips.
“How long did it take you? Oh I’ve got a mate that did it in…”
Same thing every time.
But when you forget about its popularity, it’s ego testing magnitude, it remains this stratovolcano formed millennia ago, through immense natural power that none of us lowly ants that crawl upon its faces can truly comprehend.
I worked alongside the conical earthly protrusion in nearby Hirafu for a local Photography and Guiding company and all season I looked up and thought "one day...."
Finally, after many recce missions, attempts and planning, that day came. The weather was good, the avalanche report safe and schedules free so we finally embarked on our Yotei mission.
Steve - boyfriend and adventure partner, an easygoing Scot who likes to twiddle his beard and learn about the world (he'll tell you how exactly this volcano was formed)
Mike - a guide and photographer from Bristol who grows and makes tasty treats (he brought the cookies)
Jaryd - an enthusiastic aussie who always has the biggest smile on his face and the next adventure on his mind (mostly blazing the trail and boosting moral)
Charlie - our invaluable ground crew driving us to and from the Volcano. She`s new to snowboarding and already has her own signature trick (the giraffe)
Steve, Jaryd and I awoke to Mike and Charlie beeping the horn outside. An hour or so sleep would have to do.
We grabbed our packs and set off for the starting point - Makkari on the south side. Mike had baked cookies for the hike, mine didn't last the car journey.
The decision to approach from the southern Makkari side came from it being a straightforward route up. It was one of the more popular sides and at the time of the season trails would be punched in good and proper.
What would later on in the day be filled with vehicles, the car park was dark and quiet when we rolled in. We strapped, buckled and zipped on our gear and looked up at the huge sleeping volcano stretching out before us illuminated by the full moon. It’s peak stretching 1900m into the night sky.
10 past midnight
..we left the trailhead. We had brought - but found no need for - head torches. The night was bright, still and peaceful with only the sound of our snowshoes crunching in the snow.
We had chosen snowshoes because of the spring conditions. We anticipated iciness in the middle of the night and spikes fared better than skins. Jaryd had touring skis however and he managed the trail fine, only having to remove and boot pack near the peak, which we all had to inevitably do anyway.
At around 3am
..we ascended out of the tree line and onto the steeper slopes. We now had an uninterrupted, and vast view.
The moon bounced off the ocean to the West and you could see lights of all the towns dotted across the flat farm land that surrounds the volcano.
We could even see the glow of Hakodate 150km away to the south.
The climb was good. I found the first half an hour the most challenging as my tired body slowly realised it wasn’t going back to bed and needed to fire some more blood into my lamenting legs. But getting into a rhythm, timing up steps with breaths, it became easier and enjoyable.
Then the final scramble to the top.
The trail turned from long switchbacks to a straight up climb. This was tiring as it was steep, icy and uneven. It required focus as a slip could easily see you hurtling back down, potentially hundreds of metres.
On our hands and knees, we made it. The side of the volcano dropped away and the gaping moonlight crater appeared before us.
It’s a sight I will never forget. I couldn't help but whoop and shout at the 700m wide caldera sitting grandly at the top of this mountain of rock.
The walls towered into the night sky and we started walking along the knife edge towards the highest point to watch the sunrise from the east.
The sun rose. We were witness to the spectacular transition from night to day. The red diamond on the horizon grew to a huge sun casting a golden light across the land. Clouds formed over the forests we had started our hike in 1800m below creating a cloud ocean view.
Accompanied with a few nips from a shared bottle of Japanese whisky it was more epic than we had imagined.
The day was becoming bright. We dropped into the 200m deep crater and skied fresh snow right to the bottom. It was surreal snowboarding into a crater with the huge walls rising around you. The air pressure and sound changing with every turn.
We hiked back out, walked around the crater and dropped the steeper north faces.
More hidden from the suns rays, the snow was soft, powdery and untracked too - after days of no new snow. Not many people drop the North because of hard access and more dangerous terrain so we had huge open faces all to ourselves. Big gullies (and terrain traps) formed from lava flow thousands of years ago.
If we'd just skied the whole way down it would take about 30 mins, but we were taking our time, capturing photos and savouring the views. One of my favourites being Mike's tomahawk.
..we got down, knackered and smiling. We lay in the snow waiting for Charlie to pick us up, lying in the spring sunshine, sipping on victory beers and drifting in and out of a satisfied nap.
Another couple of ants had made it up the awesome volcano....
"How long did it take you?" "Who cares!"
Arigatou gozaimasu Mt. Yotei-san!
Date: 13th March 2017
Location: 42°49'37.9"N 140°48'40.7"E | Mt Yotei-san, Abuta District, Hokkaido, Japan
Min Altitude: 410m
Max Altitude: 1906m
Elevation gained: 1496m
Total ascent: 1616m (including crater)
Distance: 10km-ish (my phone and therefore GPS tracking app died at the peak)
Total time: 9 hours 20 minutes
The crew on the instagrams:
Me (Charlotte): @_charlotteworkman_