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Mt Yotei – Finishing 2017 Well

New Years is classically spent partying well into the early hours of the morning, and while that did happen at my house, I started the last day of 2017 with a ski tour up the iconic volcano, Mt Yotei.

Skier at the trailhead of Mt Yotei.
Luke at the trail head shortly after sunrise.

The day before had been beautiful, and sunny, but unfortunately I was stuck at work for the day shift. However things began to look up when I received a message from Luke, saying he was in town. Once I had been out for a quick night ski, I caught up with him at the local cafe and proposed that we attempt Mt. Yotei in the morning. So it was, we hatched our spur of the moment plan. I wasn’t sure how long it would take, as I’d heard different times ranging from 3-6 hours. I was meant to be at work by 4:00, which is when the sun sets anyway so I figured we would have plenty of time, if we started early.

Skinning up the side of Mt Yotei.
I was glad someone had already established a skin track. Photo: Luke Frisken

Luke and I left the car at 6:45am, just as the sun began to rise. The car park was already full and the skin track well established. We were starting a bit later than I initially planned, so we boosted along the long, flat approach and quickly overtook a group from Switzerland who were snowshoeing with their snowboards.

Ski tourer skins up yotei with Mt annapurin in the back ground.
Putting in some zig-zags to gain the ridge. Mt Annapuri in the background.

Once we had zigzagged up a steep face to gain the ridge, we caught up to another group of Europeans. We followed them along the forested ridge for a couple of hours until the treeline ended. Here we caught up to yet another group, this time from Norway, who were breaking trail. They must of had some pretty high traction skins, because they were putting in such a steep skin track, at times Luke and I had to put in our own, shallower, tracks to avoid sliding backwards. Less than ideal considering the terrain. Despite a record breaking snowfall this December, it is still quite early season for the back country, the ridges were still covered in trees that were rimed over, slowing our progress.

Ski tourers start climbing the ridge above treeline.
There were 3 other groups ascending at the same time as us.

Eventually the ridge we were following began to merge into the upper slopes. The other groups began to zig zag up a big open face. The terrain here was much steeper, more like 35+ degrees and Luke and I felt a bit uneasy about it.

Ski tourer digs a snow pit on the side of Yotei.
Before blindly following the strangers putting in the skin track we thought it better to asses the snow pack.

We stopped and dug a snow pit to check out the profile. We dug just over a meter and performed a sheer quality test, compression test and extended column test. Surprisingly none of them yielded any results. I made it to 30 on the compression test with no movement. It was the most cohesive block I’d ever seen. Reassured by the stability of the snow pack, we pushed on, estimating we were about an hour and a half from the summit.

Skier frmed through an iced up tree
There is no hiding from the wind up here. We were incredibly lucky to have such a still day.

As it turns out this was just a false summit. Cresting it we saw the next pitch was short, but steep with heavily rimed moguls. We decided to boot pack the rest of the way, which was much easier and safer than trying to skin. My big pow skis are certainly not ideal on such icy traverses.

Kicking steps up Mt Yotei
It wasn’t too bad but I kinda wished I’d remembered my crampons. Photo: Luke Frisken
Skiers boot pack to the summit of Yotei.
Luke boot packing up the final pitch through the ice and rime.

Eventually we crested the crater rim and the views were stunning. On one side the crater rim stood jagged and imposing, and in three other directions mountains stretched out until they met the ocean, snow blanketing them all the way to the shores.

With such a spur of the moment plan we really didn’t expect to be standing here. We might have got the best day of the season for summiting.

After my previous experiences in NZ, I had been monitoring the time closely. It had taken us 5 hours and 5 minutes to reach the crater rim, including stops for food, snow pits and plenty of photos. I really didn’t want to be rushed getting to work, so I had been warning Luke that I didn’t think we would have time to ski into the crater. However when we got to the top and looked down, I changed my mind instantly. We snapped a few quick pictures and then transitioned and dropped into the crater. About ten turns later we were at the bottom. It felt pretty cool to have skied into a volcano

Dropping into the crater was a surreal feeling. Photo: Luke Frisken
Luke skis the crater of Mt Yotei.
I thought the sun would have crusted up the snow but it was pretty decent pow the whole day. Just another way the conditions were perfect.

We skinned back out to the lowest point in the crater rim and began our descent back to the car. Because of my work commitments, we were one of the first groups to drop back down the mountain. The first 200m was absolutely heinous. 125mm powder skis are not designed to ski rimed up lumps. After almost chattering my teeth loose, We reached the face where we had dug our snow pit earlier in the day. The snow here was nice and soft, so we let rip for a few hundred meters of vert, inducing jealously among the twenty or so stragglers still busting their guts to get up to the rim.

Making my way down Mt Yotei.
Not only was the weather perfect and the climb picturesque, but the skiing was also fantastic. Photo: Luke Frisken
Luke skies down as others are still ascending.
There were still plenty of people heading up with only a couple hours of daylight. I’m sure they were envious when we skied past them.

The slope mellowed out as we hit the tree line and we cruised along the ridge through glorious blue bird pow. The final pitch down to the approach skin track was steep and deep, It felt so good to get in some steeper turns.

Slaying some deep turns down Mt Yotei
Japan truly is a powder paradise. Enjoying the last few turns of the descent. Photo: Luke Frisken

Work was calling so we rocketed along our skin track towards the car. Suddenly, right in front of me, Luke caught a shark with his ski and launched himself completely into the air, landing head first into the snow. He lay there motionless and I was worried he might be unconscious. Luckily, he was just doing a mental check and he quickly let me know he was okay. He was still wearing his helmet which definitely helped his cause. However when he went to take his goggles off, he realised he’d left the lid of his backpack up on the summit. Oops!

Admiring the views of Anapuri and the sea of japan
It’ll hard to forget this trip with views like this. Photo: Luke Frisken

We made good time and arrived back at the car at 2pm on the dot. Another 10 minute drive later and I was home, with plenty of time to prepare for work. My legs felt like jelly as I headed to the workshop and I still had a 6 hour shift ahead of me. Luckily it wasn’t busy, and we got out by 10 o’clock. Just in time to see in the New Year with my house mates.

2017 has been a cracking year and Mt Yotei was such a good way to round it out. In perfect conditions and before a full shift at work. It was the best way to finish the year, especially after some of the defeats I had in the NZ season, it was awesome to get a win.

I have plenty planned for 2018, and I hope it is even more epic. We still have 3 months of pow smashing to go here in Japan and then its off to the States to race the Tour Divide and do some climbing in Wyoming.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Avid outdoors man, aspiring mountain guide and author of 'For love of the Mountains'

One thought on “Mt Yotei – Finishing 2017 Well”

  1. great read again, Sam. It sounds like 2018 will be a memorable one—-so all the best for 2018.
    love you and think of you very often.

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