Location: Rankoshi, Isoya-gun (Shiribeshi)
Type: Backcountry skiing
Altitude: 1220m (700m elevation gain)
Length: Half-day+ (~9km roundtrip)
Mekunnaidake is not as well known as the other peaks in the Niseko Range, as it’s located rather far from the ski area. It also has a much longer approach/ride out which makes it not as friendly as Chisenupuri or Iwaonupuri.
Access is from Niimi Onsen, where the snow-plowing on Number 268 Road ends. Pop up to the snow bank and follow the snow covered road behind the onsen bulidings. Where the road takes a sharp hairpin turn, drop into the gully to cross the creek and get onto the ridge on the other side. Well that’s the “correct” route anyway. I ended up following the road/ridge to the right which will actually take you up to Mae-Mekunnaidake. You can still get up to Mekunnai proper this way though, so no problem.
Like most hikes, the route is pretty straight forward in clear weather once you get out of the treeline. After passing the broad peak (if you can call it that) of Maemekunnai, you’ll get down to a col and start climbing up to Mekunnai. There are enormous cornices that form onto the rightside of the ridge to the peak, so stay well away from the edge as it’s quite a long ways down if you fall. The skin up to the peak is definitely easier if you go up from the left side you’re supposed to, but you can still get right up to the top on skins as long as it’s not too icy.
At the top there are some cool gargoyle features that you can climb onto. Views are also great and you can see all the major peaks of the Niseko Range. The best way down is probably from the other side of the gargoyles down the southeast. There’s a very tasty looking bowl to the skier’s right side near the treeline, but be careful not to get too carried away an go all the way down to the bottom, or you’ll have a long walk back out. Probably best to stay out of there all together and take one of the ridges on the left or right. No matter where you go though you’ll probably have to drop into the gully and climb back out, which means putting your snowshoes or skins back on. Look out for small avalanches from the steep sidewalls of the gully. This is exactly the stuff they tell you to avoid in avalanche bulletins, so probably best to get some advice on how to best get out.
Mekunnai is probably one of the places where the snow sticks around the longest in maybe all of Hokkaido, and you can ski well into June. It’s a great place to get away from the crowds of the mountains closer to Annupuri/Hirafu, so definitely check it out if you are looking for something a little different. Looks like like a pretty fun hike in summer too!
*The usual disclaimer applies, this post is not meant to be a detailed route description, and you should do your research and have proper equipment if you’re getting out there.