Get to Know the Peaks of the Niseko Range
Stretching from the Sea of Japan to Hirafu Village, the Niseko Range is a collection of unique peaks each with their own character. For Part Three of our hiking series, we're introducing some of the main peaks of the range and what makes each one special.
The Niseko Range (Niseko Renpo in Japanese) are a collection of volcanoes that stretches west to east from the coast of Sea of Japan to the foothills of Mount Yotei. The eastern end of the range home to the Niseko United Ski Resort and the entire range is known for its prolific snowfall that attracts riders from all over the world. The first peaks of the range formed over 2 million years ago, with its youngest peaks being formed around 7,000 years ago and still retaining volcanic landscapes.
While common in that they are formed through volcanic activity and experience heavy snowfall over the winter months, the peaks of the Niseko Range all have their own unique charm that makes each one a worthy hiking destination. Here are the nine main peaks of the range and what makes them special.
Mount Raiden (1,211m)
The oldest of all the peaks in the range, Mount Raiden is arguably also the most seldom traveled peak. While access is inconvenient for those staying on the eastern end of the range where most of civilization is, those who make the trip will be rewarded with a trek through a breathtaking old-growth forest and a beautiful summit ridge that is home to a series of surreal alpine marshes known as Itsutsunuma (literally, five marshes). For an easier workout, a one hour trek up to Lake Kokkuri on the southern of foothills of Mt Raiden is also highly recommended.
Mount Iwanai (1,086m)
Access from the town of Iwanai on the north side of the Niseko Range, Iwanai is another less frequently visited peak. The middle section of the peak boasts a beautiful trail that is reminiscent of a traditional Japanese garden (think zen-like arrangements of rocks, pines, and flowers). On the lower section of the mountain you will find the old lifts of the now defunct Iwanai International Ski Resort, which has seen a bit of a revival recently with a new cat skiing operation during the winter months.
Mount Mekunnai (1,220m)
Mount Mekkunai, a well-known secret amongst backcountry riders in the area, is instantly recognizable by its pyramidal shape topped by striking rock formations on its summit. Its north face is the last place for the snow to melt in the summer, with snow lasting into July on some years. On its western flank lies the Pankemekunnai Wetlands, which is a popular destination for sawanobori, a form of mountaineering popular in Japan where one climbs up creeks and waterfalls to reach the top.
Mount Shakunage (1,074m)
Mount Shakugane's name comes from the Japanese world for Rhododendron flowers which were once found on the mountain. The area around Mount Shakunage is dotted with alpine lakes and marshes, including Shakunagenuma, Naganuma, and Shinsennuma which is a popular hiking destination suitable for children as well.
Chisenupuri means "house mountain" in the Ainu language, referring perhaps to its dome-like shape. At its foothills is a large hot spring pond called Oyunuma which supplies the waters for the onsen baths in the area. The old Chisenupuri ski resort on the mountain was once a mecca for backcountry riders visiting Niseko and the mountain continues to be a popular hiking destination in both summer and winter.
Known for its twin summits, Nitonupuri is another popular destination for backcountry riders in winter. The slopes of Nitonupuri provide more shelter from the elements as they are protected by perfectly spaced trees, and in fact the name Nitonupuri means "Mountain with a Forest" in the language of the indigenous Ainu people. The forest also provides beautiful autumn colours which can be enjoyed with a drive on the Niseko Panorama Line.
Iwaonupuri is no doubt one of the, if not the most, popular peaks to climb in the Niseko range. Combined with its easy access and the fantastic Goshiki Onsen hot spring at its foothills, Iwaonupuri offers an intriguing volcanic scenery in summer and various backcountry riding opportunities in winter. The real best time to visit, however, may be in fall where the brilliant red colours of nanakamado (Japanese rowan tree) provides a stunning contrast to the usual greenery and blue skies.
Last, but not least, is Niseko-Annupuri is the tallest peak of the range and home to the Niseko United Ski Resort. Referred to just as Annupuri most of the time, it's the playground for locals throughout the year, whether skiing the endless powder, collecting mountain vegetables on its foothills in spring, enjoying the views from its peak in summer, or taking in the autumn colours from Kagaminuma lake on the flank of its mountain. The mountain is a perfect example of the charms the Niseko area has to offer in all seasons and a true symbol of the place we call home.
Named after its much taller counterpart in the Alps, Weisshorn also used to be home to its own ski resort years ago. While the lifts are no longer running, a cat skiing operation now runs on the mountain, but the real charm of Weisshorn takes some sweat and effort to discover, and hiking up to its peak reveals a series of bowls and ridges that can be explored for days.
While one could debate whether Weisshorn is truly a part of the Niseko Range (it was formed much earlier than its close neighbours Annupuri and Iwaonupuri, geographically deviates slightly from the Range's west to east orientation and there are no trails that connects it to the rest of the Range), there is no doubt it is a local favorite.