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Eniwadake – An Indeterminate Success

While everyone is home watching the Pyeongchang Olypics in Korea, I was planning a trip to Eniwadake, about two hours from home.

As it happens, Mt Eniwa was the site of the 1972 Sapporo winter Olympics. The infrastructure no longer remains. But the mountain still broods over the shores of Lake Shikotsu. Waiting for anyone motivated enough to tackle its extremely varied terrain.

I planned to explore it with Jack and his friend Jens. But after an epic day skiing waist deep powder in the resort, Jack was feeling a bit beat up. He messaged that morning to pull the pin. We were still on though, and with a few spare spots we went to try to rouse some of Jens’ very hungover friends. Unsurprisingly, they remained fast asleep. So in the end, we headed out, just the two of us.

At some point Jens mentioned that we should probably get petrol, as the gauge was showing one bar. I looked on the map and there looked to be a town about a 5km detour out of our way. I told Jens, but it was one of those things where we both thought, “Nah, nothings going to go wrong, there will be another town on our way, no need for a detour”. Then next thing we know the engine splutters once, twice and…

…kicked back into full revs, and we cruised another 30 minutes to a petrol station……

Actually I’m joking. What really happened is that the car conked out, on the opposite side of Lake Shikotsu, basically the middle of nowhere.

“What the hell, there was no red light” exclaimed Jens. Apparently it turns out that the car doesn’t have a low fuel light. When the gauge runs out, the car runs out. Oops.

“Oh well, I guess we will just have to hitchhike to a petrol station”

Luckily, flagging down a car a lot easier since I cut my dreadlocks off. Probably because I look less like dirty hippy, who could buy a car, but doesn’t believe in them, and more like someone who doesn’t own a car, because he is a poor, minimum wage ski bum, in an $800 ski jacket.

Man hitchikes on the side of a snowy road
Despite my facial expression I actually thought it was pretty funny.

It didn’t take long and a car pulled over. The man behind the wheel of the small green Nissan, was 62 year old Hiroshi (sorry If I spelt that wrong) on his way back from skiing at Rusutsu. He said the nearest petrol station was 30km away in Chitose. Hiroshi was lovely and gave me a ride. We chatted in broken English with me slotting in the rare Japanese words I knew. After 20 minutes we saw a sign for Shiktsuko Spa.

“Maybe, Gas” stated Hiroshi and took the detour. Actually there was a station there, but wouldn’t you know it? Its closed on Tuesdays. I wasn’t surprised, it seemed fitting for the sort of day we were having. Including the 15 minute detour, I had already left Jens alone on the side of the road for an hour by the time we got to Chitose.

Hiroshi negotiated a price for a full 10L jerrycan. 4640 JPY ($55.00 AUD) I have no idea if I got ripped off or not. But considering that one of the gas station employees drove me the 40 minutes back to our car, I think I got the better end of the deal. I can’t remember his name, and he spoke no English, but he had a TV in his car which he tuned to the Olympics. We sat in silence and watched the women’s half pipe finals. I’m pretty sure he was not told exactly how far away he had to take me. As the Km’s ticked by, his smile faded and the silence became more uncomfortable.

When we finally reached the car it wasn’t where I left it. Surely Jens didn’t push it? No, instead some snow clearers had come by about 15 minutes before I got there, and given Jens a half tank of fuel for free! So he had driven 500m up the road, to a more appropriate pullout. My ride filled up our tank and then went around to see if it would start, or if he would have to prime the pump. I wonder what he was thinking when the fuel gauge was practically full after he had only put 10L in. I quickly thanked him and we drove off. The extra fuel meant that we didn’t have to go back to Chitose on emergency dregs and we could attempt to salvage what was left of our day. But by the time we reached the trail head on the north east side of Mt Eniwa it was already 1pm.

Man puts skins on skis in a crapark.
Trying to make up for lost time, no fussing about in the carpark.

Jens it turns out, is an experienced ski tourer and all around mountain man. So for once it was a swift, no nonsense departure from the car. Boots on, skins on, backpack on and we were off.

The Northern side of Mt Eniwa is a maze of ridges and gullies and cliffs, unlike Niseko or Yotei. We struggled on through some unfriendly skinning terrain, often clambering over bushes or snapping off branches. It was the first time in a while that I felt my fitness was lacking. While I spent my share of the time breaking trail, we definitely made less distance when I was in front, compared to when Jens was blazing the way.

Man skis across a snow bridge in Eniwadake
The terrain around Eniwadake is varied and often not that skin friendly.
A potrait of a man in front of Eniwadake
Our first glimpse of the summit tor poking through the clouds. Good to see Jens is still smiling.

The wind was gusting consistently and the clouds moved in and out often, alternating glorious sunshine and then snowy darkness. The patches in the clouds gave us exciting glimpses of the summit tors. It felt cool to be exploring some more serious terrain as most of the mountains until now had been pretty mellow. We reached the base of the summit tor at 4pm, with barely an hour left of daylight. It was pretty windy and both Jens and I looked like old men with all our facial hair completely rimed up with ice.

Our initial plan was to descend a particular consistent ridge. But after 3 hours skinning up, both our phones had shut down because of the cold, leaving us without a map. After the complicated topography on the ascent, we were no longer 100% confident that we were looking at the ridge we had planned to ski. It also seemed like it was going to have a few small cliffs to navigate. And on top of that, we had encountered persistent wind slab conditions on the north-west to north-east aspects. We started descending with skins on, to see if we could get a better feel for it. But it seemed that it was going to take more than an hour to descend and we really didn’t want to cliff out with head torches. In the end we decided to ski back down our approach, which was pretty horrible. Mostly it involved straight lining in our skin tracks or boot packing up the small rises. The few turns we did get to make were blower. However, there was also a lot of cracking and fracturing, so it was probably for the best that we didn’t push our luck this day. We made it back to the car just on dark, at 5:15pm. But we still had a 2 hour drive ahead of us to get back home.

Sun glints on snowy ridge on Northeast Eniwadake
The remnants of the sun glints off our intended descent ridge.

Definitely not the best day ever. But I’ve come to appreciate that, even though these missions often don’t go to plan, they are never a waste. I always take some new lessons away from them. Aside from the obvious ones, like that a 10km detour for petrol is better than a 2 hour hitchhike, I learned a fair bit just following the more experienced Jens around. Watching how he puts in a skin track, and how he makes his terrain choices, taught me a few new things. I actually had a pretty good day, all things considered.

That said, I’m still hoping our next mission goes a bit smoother.

Skier descends through japanese forest on Eniwadake.
This was the only shot I took of anyone actually skiing. It was about the only point on the descent where we could make some half decent turns.

 

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

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