From dusk until dawn on Mt Yotei

Hidde Hageman's photo diary of his night on Mt Yotei, one of the most iconic volcanoes in Japan.

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Photo by Hidde Hageman

There was only one thing that I truly wanted to do as soon as I had arrived in Niseko - head up the magnificent stratovolcano that was always looming in the background, Mt Yotei. Initially, the plan was to head up in winter, and snowboard down the crater with my friends. We knew that the most likely time to do so was somewhere around the month of March.

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Photo by Hidde Hageman. Yotei in winter.

Unfortunately, on the day before we were supposed to set out, I got injured. It wasn’t easy to see my friends head up whilst I was sitting behind the window on that clear blue day. However, having been a snowboarder for most of my life, I knew that injuries and the disillusionment that comes a long with them are fully intertwined with what we do. "Yotei will have its day", I thought. Now, several months later and I was back in Niseko. And even though it was now summer, I still had a burning urge to head up Yotei. I was in need of redemption!

Yotei dictates when it is time for you to pay a visit, even in summer. This mountain appears to have its own weather system. Oftentimes there are ominous looking clouds looming around its summit, and one can only imagine what storms could be raging around its crater on some days (and not to mention nights).

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Photo by Hidde Hageman. Lenticular Cloud over Yotei

I had been monitoring the weather closely for several weeks, as an obsessive thought started bugging me a while ago. My plan was to sleep in the crater of Yotei without a tent, on a clear night, but I soon learned that venturing off the path and sleeping outside is not permitted in the national park. Fortunately there is an excellent hut so that solved that problem! The problem was not only limited to the weather. I needed good company, as it is unwise to venture up a mountain on your own in any case.

Most of my friends were working, and not capable of joining me on the day that I finally spotted the weather window that I was looking for (two clear days in a row, with no wind and a clear sky at night). However, I had met an interesting guy whilst enjoying a beverage at Moon Bar several nights before! Aaron had been living in Niseko for several months, and was equally entranced by the beauty of Yotei. We had to get up there, the sooner the better! Two late accomplices joined us on the day itself: Aram and Jon. Now that our party was complete, it was finally time to conquer the beast in our backyard!

Hiking up was beautiful. When you make your way up, you see the vegetation and the landscape change around you. I will not discuss too much about the hike as you can read all about it in our previous Yotei blog. However, I will discuss about our time on and around the crater.

We made it to the summit of Yotei just before sunset. Instantly a cold wind began to blow, and the temperature dropped with every minute. My initial plan was to film a time-lapse from the bottom of the crater, as the Milky Way would make its way across the night sky. When facing the crater for the first time I knew I had been a bit too ambitious. We were also exhausted from the hike and darkness was right around the corner. So we decided to move to the hut.


Photo by Hidde Hageman. Aram on the summit

On the way up I had spotted a ledge that overlooked the valley bellow. One is able to see Kutchan, Hirafu, Niseko and even the Japanese sea from this ledge. This place is simply a photographer's dream. I decided to set up my camera gear, and we enjoyed one of the most gratifying sunsets we could imagine. There was a certain calm in the air, as the clouds slowly decided to go elsewhere. Dusk turned out to be even more beautiful, with peaceful colours all across the horizon. Night was slowly making its way over Hokkaido, and we got exactly what we came for.

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Photo by Hidde Hageman. Dusk on Mount Yotei

The wind really picked up later that night and one can only imagine what this place must be like in a real storm. Yotei briefly showed why it deserves our utmost respect.

Fortunately, daybreak was on its way, as a pink glow started appearing from the east. The sunrise on Yotei was as stunning as its sunset. There was a layer of clouds covering parts of the valley below, and one could see the shade of Mt Yotei disappearing into the horizon. Some beauty is beyond comprehension, and can only be obtained when venturing to places that do not allow the presence of human beings at all times. These places need to be cherished and treated with the upmost respect. Yotei-zan is such a place.

''For fires of happiness and waves of gratitude… for everything that brought us to that point on earth, at that moment in time, to do something worth remembering with a photograph, or a scar.''- Mickey Smith

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Photo by Hidde Hageman. Shades of Yotei