Niseko Backcountry Trip Report: Mt Yotei Jan 2021
We were treated to some unexpected blue skies and great views for our first hike of 2021.
For our first backcountry hike of the year we hit up Mount Yotei, a Niseko-icon and a popular backcountry destination for locals and visitors to Niseko alike.
With a big storm scheduled to hit the area in the afternoon, the plan was to start at the Yotei Nature Makkari Campsite on the southern foothills of the mountain and hike up to roughly 1,300m elevation. Mount Yotei tops at out 1,898m above sea level and the general consensus is that the 1300~1500m mark, around 2/3 of the way up from the base, is where conditions become less favourable for both climbing and skiing.
While the day started off grey with high clouds, the clouds quickly cleared up as we made our way through the dense forest at the bottom, revealing blue skies above. The trees were laden with snow from the relentless snowfall throughout December, making for a beautiful contrast against the blue skies: classic Hokkaido winter scenery.
As we gained elevation, the views started opening up to the south: a patchwork of forests, farmlands, and villages surrounding the mountain, and further out the waters of Lake Toya and the Pacific Ocean glistening in the winter sun.
Despite the lack of overseas visitors, Mount Yotei is a popular destination with locals as well as visitors from all around Japan, and there were several other parties making their way up the mountain.
With excellent snow coverage allowing for smooth climbing, we reached the 1,300m mark in just over a couple hours. The sun remained out throughout and the snow was starting to get a bit heavy and wet. While the great weather tempted us to push further than planned and perhaps up to the crater rim, we decided to play it safe and call it a day before the snow got too wet and heavy for enjoyable and safe skiing.
A few people had already made their way down, there was still lots of fresh tracks to be had down the relatively small area that everyone was skiing. Bit further down we were able to spread out and enjoy untouched areas of beautiful dry powder through the trees. Before we knew it we were back down at the trailhead, skiing through the snow-covered campground with Yotei behind us.
By the time we finished up our post-hike butadon pork rice bowls and had a soak in the nearby Makkari onsen, the sky had turned grey and winds began howling, signaling another several days of snowfall during which Yotei would hide itself behind the clouds.
While many think of the grueling climb up to the peak and the epic run into the crater when talking about Mount Yotei, its lower slopes provide for some great skiing (often better than the upper portions) after just 2~3 hours of hiking and is definitely a worthy destination even if you're not quite ready to tackle its summit.