Location: Iwanai, Iwanai-gun (Shiribeshi)
Altitude: 1086m (850m elevation gain)
Length: Half-day+ (7km round trip)
Hiked on: June 2nd, 2015
The hike to Iwanaidake begins from the only partially operational Iwanai Kokusai Ski Area. Considering this, I wasn’t expecting too much from this hike: a hike up an ugly ski run for some cheap views and back home in a couple hours. Well that didn’t quite turn out to be the case but more on that later. There’s also the option of starting from the campground next to the ski area, but it doesn’t really matter as they trails join together after 10 minutes of walking.
The initial part is quite “ski run” like. The hiking trail goes up the side of the mountain no longer being used, and you pass by a couple lift stations that make for pretty good pictures. If you decide to go check them out from closer, be careful because the wooden boards are not in the best condition anymore. After the two lift stations, the trail becomes a lot more… trail-like, and you’re pretty much just walking through dense birch forest. It’s pretty hard to tell if you’re on a ski run or not anymore. You pass by the last lift station, which is pretty much about to crumble down to the ground. The forest changes again, with a mixture of different flowers, shrubs, trees, and the rocks underfoot making it feel like you’re walking through someone’s garden. I can’t remember ever walking through a forest like that in Hokkaido. As the climb continues, you’ll soon be in a tunnel of pines which is more typical of this elevation in Hokkaido, with loose volcanic gravel underfoot which takes care when coming back down.
Eventually you reach the top where the summit sign and Mekunnaidake in the background welcome you. Out to the east you can see the eastern side of the Niseko Range overlapped together neatly, and on the other side are Raidenyama and its friends, snow still lingering on their gentle but massive slopes. Looking back down where you came from, you get a view of the town of Iwanai, Iwanai Bay, the nuclear power plant in Tomari, and very faintly the mountains of Shakotan in the distance (although they would be quite clear on a nice day).
When I got home, I was surprised to find out that you gain over 800m on this hike, not to mention it took me 4 hours to complete (although with a fair bit of time wasted checking out the lift stations and picking bamboo shoots). It also surprised me how much I enjoyed this hike. Something about it was different from other hikes in the area. Or maybe I’m finally getting bitten by the hiking bug once again. Oh and speaking of bugs, mountains of Niseko seem to have the most vicious mosquitoes ever, as well as the largest population of black flies in Hokkaido. Bug spray didn’t do much for me, so long pants and long sleeves might be your best bet.