Good weather was back! I got up early, and had a minor epic at the Happo ticket office trying to “recharge” my points pass. Hot tip, this isn’t actually possible. After being a dumbass gaijin for a while, they let me use the last 4 points and then pay cash to make up the rest for a gondola ride. If you’re by yourself, you can buy individual single rides at the mini ticket office at the base of each lift!
It was a perfect windless day, and I started the long, scenic slog up the ridge. Nick suggested “if you get to Karamatsu in less than 3 hours you could still ski from the top”. I did it in about 3 and a half hours.
From the top of the lifts to the summit is still about 1000 vertical meters. I stopped at the Maruyama cairn to catch my breath and have a snack. From here the ridge narrows and there’s a couple of exposed steps, where I switched to crampons.
There was an American and a Kiwi out who tried to skin the whole way, but one guy took one of the scarier skinning slips I’ve seen, and managed to self arrest! The Japanese party had ski crampons which were a much saner option.
At the end of the ridge, there’s an open high point where the summer hut is. I left my pack and skis here for the last couple of hundred meters of ridge.
Everyone was a bit concerned about the snow as there had been some newly fallen stuff up high. Wet avalanches were starting from the very steep southern aspects and sliding down the main Karamatsu couloir.
I was surprised that the main couloir looked really achievable, I was expecting 50 degree death. I reckon I could have skied it if I was confident in the snow (he says, from the armchair a week later). Also, as nice as it looks you can’t continue down the valley, you have to climb out and traverse around a gorge, adding several hundred vertical meters and heaps of late-in-the-day avalanche exposure to your afternoon.
The local guys decided to dig a pit…by climbing about 30 meters down in the guts of the couloir unbelayed!? I mean…like…but…how….yeah Japan. Remember on this day, the guys skied Shirouma without issues, so it was really quite stable.
I managed to continue my unbroken run of not kicking myself in the leg with crampons, but I did experience the joys of snow balling. Such joys.
The views were really good, and the ocean seemed so close you could almost ski to it.
At the summit you are about 800m away from where Jeremy Jones and Forrest Shearer dropped in Further. Kaerazu-no-ken, the “mountain of no return” (now that is a scary name) is the next peak along the ridge, and the “Cat Face” is just across from you. It was actually skied by local students in 2003 in Landmade 3, and seems to get descents from locals fairly often. So the Further crew were definitely not pushing the limits of what’s been done in Japan!
I had lunch back near the hut. A local Japanese man warned me off skiing to the south, but I was aware everything ended in dangerous gorges and waved back down the ridge “I go one!” At this he nodded.
There were still some critical turns and traverses down the top of the ridge but it was fine. I got some really good fresh turns in the trees in the Mumezawa bowl, the best of the trip. After a short climb out, I skied down the ridge and through the resort. Far, far too many slush bumps than anyone should ever ski in loosely-fitted TLT5s.
Happo North Side
The next day was still good weather but windier. I decided it would be stable enough to ski the Happo North Side.
Off again on the old Happo highway. I did a morning run in the same zone I skied with Seb and Shannon, then traversed around and did a short climb back to the Happo hut.
On the south side I started down the ridge, feeling the snow.
Breaking right to the ridge crest, I took off my skis and scouted down the rocky ridge on foot to see around a worrying convex rollover. I didn’t like what I saw, so I cut above it to the right, to find a line free of old avalanche debris.
There was an exposed moment on a more open steeper slope I had to ski, but I found the northwest aspects (skier’s right of the gullies) were hard packed and consistent.
It was good steep skiing down to the final runout, where there was great slush surfing.
There were still good snowbridges across the river.
The mountains tower around you in that valley. I put skins back on for an easy but slow wander, down the snow-covered road through the forest.
Reaching the main road, I found the guys in a stupor on the bridge, back from Shirouma a second day in a row.
I even got a lift back to the lodge, how good is that!
Rainy Rest Day in Matsumoto
I used my rail pass to catch the local train down to Matsumoto to look at the famous castle.
While it’s easy enough to get around the resort town of Hakuba with only english, getting lunch in the regional city of Matsumoto was much more adventurous!
Happo yet again
The next day we were supposed to have a small respite from the rain, though it looked cloudy. So plans were made for an “easy” Happo day. Actually we were lucky enough to have another bluebird!
I managed to mostly keep up with Lee, Zach, and Dave, and damn I had to ski as hard as I ever had. We skied the first bowl on the south side, raced back through the trees and houses to the Nakiyama side of the resort, then got back on the gondola for a run down the south side. 2000m vertical before morning tea.
Both runs had a great top section, but got deeply slushy about halfway down where it was clear there hadn’t been a freeze. Tough on the skinny skis! Lee declared the south side “the corn run of the season”! It was good, but quietly I reckon Seb, Shannon and I had it better the week before.
And that was my last skiing for the trip!
The sunny day called for a huge BBQ on the now snow-free back deck, in sunny shorts-and-t-shirt weather.
Snowboarding – Just Say No
Lee Lyon was using the rainy spring days to learn to snowboard with Matt. On about day 3 of his snowboarding career, he caught an edge and dislocated his shoulder! The lodge was increasingly full of invalids, what with Nick in crutches, Lee in a sling, and me coughing everywhere.
Less funny was the news I received that another friend had been in a very serious skiing accident and was in hospital. It was sad and sobering.
The trip would not be complete without naked bathing with strangers
It was raining heavily the next day – I got out of the house to go on an onsen tour of Hakuba.
Back to Tokyo
Sadly I had a flight to catch, and had to say goodbye to everyone. This trip was just too short unfortunately.
Back in travel mode I caught the shinkansen back to Tokyo, and spent the afternoon in a crowded Ueno park at the height of the cherry blossom season.
And then I was back at the airport and the trip was over, and all I had left were depressing reports of how El Nino will screw this year’s southern hemisphere season, and plans for next time.