Hiking Season is Here: Tips When Hiking in the Niseko Area
Part 1 of our monthly summer hiking series will give you some basic tips to make sure you're prepared before hitting the mountains!
The snow on the peaks of Niseko and Mount Yotei is almost gone and the mountains are bursting with green, providing a striking contrast to the winter season when everything is covered in a deep layer of pristine white powder snow. The Niseko area offers some excellent hiking opportunities during summer; from casual walks for beginners and those with children such as Shinsennuma, relatively easy half-day hikes up peaks such as Niseko-Annupuri and Iwaonupuri, to full day affairs that will test the fittest of hikers such as Mount Yotei.
The summer hiking season starts around June when most of the snow has melted, with the official "opening" of the hiking Mount Yotei scheduled on June 13th this year, and lasts until late October when the first fall of snow starts falling on the higher peaks in the area. While hiking makes for a great memory that may become the highlight of your stay in Niseko, things can quickly become unpleasant and even dangerous if you are not prepared. Here are some tips to make your Niseko hike more enjoyable and memorable.
Don't get bitten!
Like elsewhere in the world, bugs can be, well, a pest when hiking in Niseko. In early summer black flies (buyo) are your main culprit. Their bites cause a long lasting itch and occasionally heavy swelling. The locals use a home-made concoction of Hokkaido mint oil, mixed with ethanol and diluted with water, which is very effective although it must be reapplied frequently. Pre-made spray bottles of mint oil are also available at drugstores. The black flies subside come July, to be replaced by mosquitoes who are mostly active later in the day and around water, unlike buyo which are mainly active during the day. The thick forest of sasa bamboo also hosts ticks, although not as prevalent as other parts of Hokkaido or the world. Your best bet will be to be equipped with bug spray (note that mint oil will not work on mosquitoes, and your standard DEET bug spray will be your best bet) and to wear long sleeves, pants, and high socks, even in mid-summer.
Be ready for snow
The mountains of Niseko will often have a 5m+ snowpack by March, and it can take a while for all that snow to melt. Be prepared to encounter snow on the trails well into June; packed snow on trails can be quite slippery especially earlier in the day and it can also cover up trails and get you lost. Have proper footwear/traction to deal with a bit of snow and a map/GPS to stay on track, or wait until the snow has melted completely, usually mid-to-late June. Trails can be also very wet and muddy during snowmelt so be sure to have proper footwear that you won't mind getting dirty.
BYOW (Bring Your Own Water)
You won't encounter too many streams or water sources in the mountains of Niseko, which in itself is something to be aware of, however do not drink the water from the streams and lakes in the area without boiling or treating it first, as it can be contaminated with the echinococcus parasite that are carried by foxes. Even water from seemingly safe water sources can just be unfiltered creek water, so stick to your own water.
Bears are extremely uncommon in the Niseko Range and Mount Yotei. While you do hear of people finding bear droppings every once in a while, you won't need to worry too much about encountering a bear while hiking in the Niseko Range and Mt Yotei. However as soon as you start venturing into the mountains in surrounding areas, the risk is very real and you should be "bear aware."
Aside from the ones mentioned above, other tips such as being prepared for bad weather with the right clothing, having enough water and food, and planning ahead and letting someone know of your plans also apply. The mountains of Niseko aren't as high or rugged as other peaks in Japan and the world, however they should still be treated with respect to ensure that you get the same respect back. Happy hiking!
For recommendations on hikes in the area, check out this article.