A guest article by David Brophy from London who is spending his first winter season in Japan and making the most of what Niseko has on offer.
This is the account of David’s first ascent on Mt. Yotei with three other guys on 30 January 2012. Read on as there are some valuable points to take away if you are thinking of attempting the climb too…
So, we climbed Yotei today
Me on my new splitboard for the first time, Jeremy on snowshoes, Lawson and Oliver on skis. It all started so well. A rare January bluebird day and spirits were high.
An hour in and everything was working well. Snickers stops were followed by civilised luncheon on the hill. Perhaps slightly more dawdling than strictly necessary, but we started hiking at 08:30… We had the whole day ahead of us, and it only takes four hours to climb Yotei, right? Not so fast.
By hour two we were still all smiles – half way there we thought – and it all seemed pretty easy. Hour three rolled by and we started to think that maybe something was wrong. It was all slightly too simple.
From then on it got all rather more tricky. The snow turned from nice fluffy powder to slippery wind crust. The gradient increased. We were expecting this, but earlier in the day. We pushed on. On and on. And on.
Hours four and five were a painful series of zig-zaggs up a steep gully, fighting for grip on every step. Praying my footing didn’t slip on every kick-turn. Jeremy and Lawson didn’t have too many problems but Ollie was having issues with his skis. My splitboard was great to start with but I had problems with screws coming lose on the bindings. Totally my own fault – ignored the instructions to lock-tight them. Lucky I brought the right allen key or I’d probably still be up there.
After hour five it all went wrong. I stopped to fix my board again, and found Ollie had given up on his skis, and was crawling up the mountain on his hands and knees behind me. Jeremy and Lawson shot off into the distance and we limped on. The wind crust got thicker, and harder. So hard our skins didn’t have anything to grip.
We had to bootpack from there. Once my board was stripped of it’s skins and strapped to my pack, we set off again, but this time at a snails pace. A dead snail. Added to that there was a slight haze rolling in, and what was a bluebird day was now no more than overcast. This is where it started to get scary. Very scary.
Lawson had taken off his skis and started boot-packing at about this point too, but they were about half an hour ahead of us, and well out of view. I did the only thing I could and followed his footsteps. On and on. Painfully slowly. Each step had to be kicked in to create a platform, and gently tested on to ensure there was traction. The penalty for slipping and falling on this face were unthinkable.
The snow got harder and harder. The tops of frosted trees emerged like skeletons from the ice. Then I found myself in quite a pickle. Lawson’s footsteps seemed to disappear. My soft squishy snowboard boots simply couldn’t even make a dent in the steep icy face I was trying to climb. I took a couple of minutes to survey my surroundings. Can’t go up. Can’t go left. Can’t go right. Can I go back? Can’t even see behind me – too scared to turn all the way round in case my footing fails. Haven’t ever been this scared on a mountain.
Eventually after fifteen minutes of so I managed inch myself down to slightly softer snow. That’s the last time I follow someone’s tracks on a mountain. So I’m gathering my thoughts. Do we give up now? Where are Jeremy and Lawson? What’s the time? The light is failing. Fast.
All of a sudden I catch a glimpse of something familiar. It’s Jeremy and Lawson zooming down the mountain and they’ve seen me. Joy. They make their way over and let us know it’s just a hundred meters or so to the rim of the crater. My footing is much better on this bit so we decide to make a bid for it.
Lawson and Jeremy are true gentlemen – they un-strap their gear and hike the last bit again with us. I can’t really describe the euphoria I felt when we reached the rim. It was 16:00 – seven and a half hours after we started hiking and we were all completely exhausted.
Any celebration was short lived. It was getting towards dusk, the temperature had plummeted, the wind was picking up and snow was falling. Kit was hurriedly prepared and we commenced our descent.
What followed was half an hour of the most amazing un-tracked powder runs I’ve ever experienced. They just went on and on. My enjoyment of it was only slightly numbed by the vast quantity of adrenalin that had been pumping through my body just an hour beforehand. We eventually emerged at the car at half past four – fully eight hours after we set off.
I don’t think this is the last time I’ll see the crater of Mt. Yotei. We missed one vital piece of the jigsaw. I’ll be back better prepared next time. No dawdling at the lower elevations. Lock-tight my board. Procure a set of mini-crampons for the boot-packing at the end. We’ll start earlier – set off at 6:00am.
All this combined with another bluebird day, and I’ll complete the goal I’ve set myself for the season. I will ride the crater.