Asahidake 旭岳

Location: Higashikawa, Kamikawa-gun
Altitude: 2291m (~1200m elevation gain)
Length: Half day+ (~11km roundtrip)
Hiked on: May 20th, 2016

Being the highest peak in Hokkaido, Asahidake attracts plenty of hikers all year round. The hike can be as easy as a half day trek from the top of the ropeway in during summer months, to a serious mountaineering mission during winter. That being the case, it’s difficult to provide just a single description for this hike, and it’s probably best that you seek route descriptions for the specific time of the year you plan to hike.

I’ve gone skiing using the ropeway a few times in winter, however this was the first time I actually hiked all the way to the top. I did attempt a hike to the top in the February of this year as well (the top photo is from that time), however did not manage to get all the way to the top as I started the hike too late in the day. This post will describe a ski ascent and descent to the summit in spring conditions.

The smartest way to do the hike is probably to take the ropeway to the top, which costs around 1,800 yen each way, or you can also get a full-day/half-day pass when the ski runs are still open. Once the ski runs close (usually the week after Golden Week, but double check the website) you are not allowed to bring skis/snowboards on the ropeway. I was not aware of this and ended up having to hike up from the bottom of the ropeway, which makes the hike a bit more hefty than the 700m/6km roundtrip it would be using the ropeway.

Should you also choose to hike up from the bottom, the best route to follow will be just up the ski run to the right of the ropeway. Despite it being a “ski hill” the forest is a beautiful old growth (as expected of a national park!) and makes for a nice walk. You’ll eventually pop up to the flat section at the top of the ropeway, where the giant mass of Asahidake will be waiting for you. No need to go to the top station unless you need to use the washroom, head straight for the emergency hut in front of the mountain.

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The “real hike” begins from there. The most orthodox route is following the summer trail, up the ridge to the right of the Jigokudani or “hell valley”, the giant crater in the middle. Even in the middle of winter there is not a whole lot of snow that sticks on this side of the mountain, and skinning up will be difficult. While I did manage to get up as far as the 9th station (from where you’ll find the conditions more snowy and softer), you should really have crampons and an axe, as in winter this is mountaineering more so than a hike. By May, you can expect the ridge to be bare most of the way, but again it’s prudent to check the conditions before you hike and to be ready for anything.

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Just before the summit you’ll pass by Kinko-iwa or “safe rock,” a giant square boulder precariously perched at the edge of the ridge. a few more minutes of steep climbing from there and you’ll see the rather small summit sign of Asahidake.

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If you’re on skis, there are a few different ways you can go from the summit. Going back down the same way you came up is definitely not recommended, as it will most likely be too rocky/icy. The first time I hiked up I skied down jigokudani, which was quite harrowing in places, but a very cool experience as you come down to the fumaroles at the bottom. You can ski all the way back to the ropeway station so it’s a good option if you’re short on time, but there won’t always be soft/skiable snow, so you’ll want to scope out your line as you are coming up.

The safer and funner way to get down will be to ski down the north/northeast side of the mountain, which is totally different from where you came up. Being the lee side, the snow conditions will be much more favorable. It’s around a 700m descent down a wide open face until the slope flattens out, and you can start traversing back around to the “front” of the mountain. Depending on how far down you go down you will most likely have to hike back out. On the day I summited, I skied out to Nakadake Onsen, located in a valley across the flat portion at the bottom of Nakadake to the north of Asahidake. It’s a valley where the natural hot spring waters pool up just enough to dip your fit into and is a very cool experience. The water was fairly warm when I visited however it’s likely that the water’s too cool for bathing in winter and the whole place might even be buried completely in snow. From the onsen you will have to hike all the way back to the ropeway, so add another 5km or so to the trip if you plan on doing this.

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Aside from the above options, there are plenty of other options from the top of Asahidake, and again the best thing will be to do your own research (which understandably is difficult when you’re relying only on English sources.) I’m definitely planning on returning to the area for more hiking/skiing in the future so keep your eyes peeled for more information!
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