Location: Shimamaki-mura (Shiribeshi)
Elevation: 1520m (~900m elevation gain)
Length: Full day (~8km roundtrip)
Hiked on: May 19th, 2019
The tallest peak in the Donan (Southern Hokkaido) area, Mount Kariba is one of the areas that receive the most of amount of snowfall in Hokkaido. Rising 1500 meters while being just a stone’s throw from the ocean, access to the peak is remote and virtually unheard of in winter, however around the end of April the snow melts enough in its foothills and it becomes possible to climb and ski its eastern face in a day trip.
Access is from Garo Kogen, a highland area accessed from the coastal village of Shimamaki. The amount of snow on the road will determine how far you can get by car, and therefore the actual length of the hike, but regardless of how much snow road access will be closed until May so no use trying to go anytime before then.
Once you reach Garo Kogen, keep following the main road until around 600m elevation and park the car along the road (where the road widens for passing traffic to get through.) If the road still still covered in snow before that point you’ll just have to walk the rest of the way.
At around 620m elevation along the road is where most people go into the woods to the right to access the snowfield leading to the summit. This will be the trickiest part of the hike, and unless you go quite early in May you’ll likely have to do a fair bit of route finding and bushwhacking for the first little while. Make sure you have a map/compass or preferably GPS with you. There is no service once you enter Garo Kogen so if you’re using your phone you’ll want to make sure you have the map loaded up beforehand.
If you’ve gone the right away you’ll eventually come out to an open area with a large creek to your right and a hill to your left. Keep walking along the open area along the creek.
Once you get to around 800m elevation, you can either start climbing the small ridge on your left or keep walking up the creek. The ridge will be a tough climb as it is steep and bushy but once you get to the top it’ll be relatively easy climbing the rest of the way. The gully route will take you up the main east bowl, which is probably easier but more sketchy as you’ll be in avalanche terrain and you’ll also be climbing up a steep open face with nothing to stop you if you slip and fall. Crampons will make your life a lot easier.
Whichever route you take, you’ll soon see the massive bowl that leads to the summit. Depending on when you go, the face will start getting cracks and bare patches on the face, so it’s good to plan out your ski down at this point and stick to it, as lot of these obstacles won’t be visible coming down.
At the top of the bowl is a flat area, and it’s a little bit longer until you reach the summit which is all the way on the other side of the flat bit. The summit has a small shrine on top, but it was covered in snow while I was there. The views are great, with the endless blue of the Sea of Japan to the west, the Niseko range, Mount Yotei, and across the sea the Shakotan Range to the north, and views down Oshima Peninsula to the south. The vast expanse of Mount Kariba itself is impressive; it is a giant U shaped range, with the summit located at the bottom; You can see Mount Fumonnnai, the notable peak on the northern ridge. The ridge that goes directly to the west of the summit to the ocean also has a route which is a 10km trip that would make for a nice challenging trip and possibly the easier route up mid winter.
The ski down the eastern bowl is fantastic, with the snow usually in very good condition. Once at the bottom of the valley you can keep following the creek (stay high on its right side). You will not want to follow the creek all the way down, so try your best to retrace the route you came up but it can be tricky and you will also definitely need to do some bushwhacking until you can get back to the road.
While on paper the trip doesn’t look to overwhelming, route-finding can be very tricky at the beginning and end. Finding a good entry on Yamareco and having a copy of the map with the route shown will help, but there is no sure bet and I would not recommend the hike unless you’re used to hiking through thick vegetation, tricky snow conditions, and of course skiing through obstacle courses. Or if you prefer, you can hike from the same side in summer, which should be a nice easy-ish hike up a clear trail.
I had actually tried this hike a few years back but didn’t manage to get to through the first section as I went a bit too late in the year. It’s a very short window where you have enough snow to get through the forest but won’t have to walk several kilometers up the snow-covered road, but that makes the peak and the ski all the more attractive, I suppose.