Yobetsudake 余別岳

Location: Kamoenai, Furuu-gun/Shakotan, Shakotan-gun
Elevation: 1298m (~1300m total elevation gain)
Length: Full day+ (~22km roundtrip)
Hiked on: April 4th, 2016

In April 2015, I attempted to climb Yobetsudake, via Okawa Logging Road in the town of Kamoenai. The hike begins just a few kilometers inland from the sea of Japan on the southern end of Shakotan peninula and Yobetsudake, the tallest point in the peninsula, is located deep in its mountainous core, making for a long hike. That first attempt ended in failure, and I had to turn around just before reaching Ponneanchisiyama, a slightly lower peak just before Yobetsu.

Over the next year, whenever I could see the mountains of Shakotan during my other hikes, I would be reminded of the fact that I would one day have to go back. There being no summer route going to Yobetsu, it would have to be a winter climb. I considered alternate routes which would avoid the long walk down the logging road and the steep climb onto the narrow tree filled ridge which made the hike so difficult. In the end though, I knew I wanted to knock down this peak from this particular route.

One year later, with better equipment and hopefully fitness, I was driving down Okawa Logging Road again. With the lacklustre winter in terms of snowfall, the mountain was in much worse condition than it was last year when I visited about a week later in the month. I parked my car at the end of the snow clearing point, at around 100m above sea level, and began the long walk down the rest of the logging road.

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The road pretty much continues flat, meaning you only gain around 200m of elevation over 5km or so. On the way you’ll pass by a small dam, a bridge going somewhere to the right and depending on how late in the season you go may even have to cross a small creek that cuts across the road. The road ends at round 250m above sea level or so, and you continue on for another little while until you get to a fork in the creek with a steep ridge rising sharply in between (~300m asl). I took my skis off here, as skinning becomes difficult for a little while with the ridge being steep, narrow, and full of trees. The top of the ridge can be quite hair raising, and you’ll be fighting with trees grabbing at you and postholing straight down to the ground.

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After about 400 vertical meters the ridge opened up and flattened enough for me to get my skis back on. In fact the hike became quite a bit more pleasant at this point, with great views of mountains both near and far. Up ahead I could see my first goal, the pointy peak of Mount Ponneanchisi. Higher up the walk got hairy again, and I was walking up a steep and heavily corniced ridge with unpleasant undulations making skinning difficult.

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The ridge turns right just before the final climb up to Ponneanchisi. There were some rocky outcrops that I decided to avoid by traversing around the side of the ridge. Despite the sun and high temperatures, the strong winds had frozen the surface of the snow solid, and without crampons it ended up being a frightening couple hundred meters before reaching the area just below the summit of Ponneanchisi. The winds at the summit of Ponneanchisi were fierce, but I was greeted with the stately shaped of Shakotan-dake across the wide open bowl between the three highest peaks of Shakotan.

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A quick break, and I was on my way to Yobetsu. The winds were extremely strong again along the ridge, with giant cornices along one side of the ridge that made for a spectacular sight. There is a false summit just before the true summit below which I deposited my skis and made the final couple hundred meters on foot. The pine trees were exposed on one side of the summit which made for much friendly path than the snow and I was soon on the highest point on the Shakotan peninsula. Unfortunately there was no sign to mark the summit, but the views and the sense of height were convincing enough. It’s hard to believe that the peak doesn’t even reach 1,300m.

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After some celebratory photos and a quick snack, I was hurrying back down, knowing that the sun was starting to go down and I still had a long ways to go back. Getting back down to the bottom of the long ridge line was a piece of cake (as long as you don’t try to get a good run in by dropping into one of the gullies, a mistake which I made during my first attempt) with only the last bit at the bottom being a bit sketchy with the entire snowpack peeling off the sides of the ridge at places. The hardest part no doubt was the long ski back to the car on the logging road, where it felt like I was going up hill more so than down, but eventually I did manage to reach the car.

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In retrospect, this is not a route that I would recommend. A better way to tackle Yobetsu would probably to access it from the other side, and bagging Shakotandake at the same time. That being said, I’ll likely have to walk that horrible logging road again, as there are many other peaks that can be accessed from the same route and great skiing to be had, if you have the legs to get you up there.

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