Elevation: ~950m at the crater outer rim (~700m elevation gain)
Length: Half-day + (~12km round trip)
Hiked on: March 22nd, 2017
Mount Tarumae is a popular hike in the Lake Shikotsu area. The standard route is to climb up from the northeast side where a road connects the trailhead to Route 276 which connects the Niseko area with Chitose City. However in winter the road to the trailhead is closed, adding 12km to the otherwise short hike.
I’ve been wanting to climb Tarumae in winter for a while however wanted to avoid the 2 hour skin up the snow-covered road. Looking at the topo map it looked like it would be possible to acccess the western side of Tarumae by hiking up from “Koke no Domon” or “Moss Canyon” which is accessed from the main road of Route 276. A bit of searching and sure enough there turned out to be a very seldom traveled route called the Shishamonai Course.
There is a big parking lot at the “Koke no Domon Centre” however it is now closed and the parking lot is gated off (the Canyon itself is also off limits now due to flooding which more or less blocked the canyon.) There is a bit of a space just in front of the gate however for around 2 cars and while it’s likely not “legal” to park there you can most likely get away with it for a few hours.
I hiked right up the actual canyon which was a bad idea as the said canyon is blocked by large boulders after a few hundred meters and also the forest lower down is very thickly vegetated and full of fallen logs which makes for bad hiking. Instead, from Koke no Domon walk a couple minutes along the road towards Kimobetsu (west) and you will see a logging road which will get you through the forest in relative ease and comfort.
The logging road will eventually end where it meets the upper reaches of Moss Canyon. From there continue on parallel to the canyon into the forest which becomes much “cleaner” and easier to walk through. The route was very well marked when I hiked.
After a little while the trees will thin out and you will come out to a big opening where the laval dome of Mount Tarumae will greet you. Walk along the open area while enjoying the view. You’ll want to eventually get onto the small open ridge on your right side which will take you all the way up to the crater rim. When the snow is frozen (quite likely as winds often blow right up this valley) you will want crampons and an axe.
Once at the top of the crater rim you can get a nice view of the lava dome from closer than you would when climbing from the other side. You can continue onto the East Peak which is the highest accessible point (the lava dome is off limits) or go up to the west peak. From just the crater rim unfortunately the views aren’t great as it is a fairly big open space with no obvious high point.
Coming down, there is an excellent open face which you probably saw on your way up. Just pray that the snow is soft. The terrain is very lap-able, however it’s also a long ways back up. You can ski down easily to the logging road again and when snow conditions are hard enough the ski back down the road is not too bad either with no need to put your skins back on.
This was another hike which was perhaps a bit underwhelming, but it’s a pretty different experience from your average winter hike in the area and definitely beats skinning up a road for 2 hours which is never fun.