Location: Kami-furano, Sorachi-gun (Kamikawa)
Elevation: 1790m (~700m elevation gain)
Length: Half-day (~7km roundtrip)
Hiked on: May 21st, 2016
Maetokachi is not exactly an official mountain, but rather just a sub-peak to the much more impressive Tokachidake, one of the nine Hyakumeizan in Hokkaido. However it is a popular backcountry skiing destinations in winter and does offer a great view of the higher peaks in the area. Chiharusawa (Chiharu gully), which runs up from the foothills of Tokachidake to just below Maetokachi, holds snow well into the summer months and offers a chance to get some turns through June and into July on a usual year.
The hike begins at Hakuginso, a nicer version of a mountain hut with a fantastic onsen and a campground. The initial part is the same as the hike up to Tokachidake: the trailhead is just behind the campground, heading north and crossing Furano River (more a creek at this point, however finding a place to cross can be a bit challenging when the water level is high.)
Soon after making the crossing, you should be able to find a point where the snow in the gully extends down to the trailhead. The exact point this happens will vary depending on the time of the year, and you may need to do some bushwhacking/route finding in order to get to Chiharu. As long as the weather is good, it’ll be quite clear which one Chiharusawa is (large snowfilled gully on the far right of picture right below.)
Once you get into the main gully, it’s a steady climb up to around the 1600m elevation mark where the snow usually runs out in the spring months. From there it’s another 100m or so up to where the slope flattens off (keep in mind there’s no official trail,) revealing the impressive shape of Tokachidake right in front of you. There is one large crater just to the left which is quite active at this time and is producing a lot of fumes. It’s possible to continue onto Tokachidake by following the ridge that forms Maetokachi, however it’s not very recommended due to the fumes and the fact that the wind will be blowing them all straight into you. The views are still fantastic though, especially that of the peaks connecting Tokachidake and Furanodake further south. The mixture of green, brown, and white combined with the unique mountainscape of the Tokachi Range is quite surreal.
Once you get back down to the top of the gully, it’s time to put your skis back on for around 500m of uninterrupted fall-line skiing. With all the sulfur mixed in the snow from the craters up above your skis are sure to get filthy, however the snow was surprisingly good when I was there, or at least not bad for late May.