For most people who live in and visit Niseko, this might only resonate with them during the winter season. Of course, hiking up to the top of Mt. Annupuri or exploring the wide range of backcountry options here in Niseko during the winter season rewards you with not only breathtaking views but world-renowned deep powder runs. That being said, mountain climbing in the summer season is equally rewarding with spectacular views of the lush green Hokkaido nature and beautiful sunrises above a sea of clouds. I think that the mountains of Niseko are calling all year round, especially one mountain in particular.
The magnificent Mt. Yotei (also known as Ezo Fuji as it shares a striking resemblance with Mt. Fuji) towers over the Niseko area at an elevation of 1,898m (6,227 feet) and is one of Japan’s 100 most famous mountains. It is technically an easy hike but be prepared for some muscle aches and pains that come with climbing for 4 or more hours and another 3 to 4 hours descending.
If you are the adventurous type, I highly recommend climbing at night. There is something archaically surreal about being out on the mountain alone under a blanket of stars with just a headlamp guiding your way to the summit.
Before heading out on any mountain climb remember to always prepare well. Bring lots of water (2 to 3 litres) and plenty of snacks. A waterproof jacket is a must in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. A warm down inner jacket or fleece is needed as the temperatures at the peak during the early morning hours drop to single digits and can feel even colder with a slight breeze. Make sure that you have sturdy mountain climbing shoes with good ankle support, and a strong headlamp and spare batteries. If you are so inclined, also bring a portable gas burner for your morning coffee and for a hot Cup Noodle breakfast.
Depending on the route and your fitness level, start your ascent between 10 pm and 11 pm with the aim to reach the summit at 3 am. The sun rises around 4 am but it starts to get light half an hour to 40 minutes before this which gives you some time to catch your breath and brew up a hot cup of coffee.
The beginning of the climb can be daunting as you enter the mountain trail in the dark, surrounded by unfamiliar night sounds and looming trees. Rest assured that this sense of uncertainty will fade away once your breath starts to get heavy and you start to concentrate on your footing as you beginning to ascend. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t see the stars at the beginning of your climb. More often than not, you will ascend above the clouds around the 6th or 7th station and be rewarded with a blanket of breathtaking crystal clear stars. Remember to take frequent breaks and enjoy the tranquil silence and peacefulness of the night.
From the peak, the sunrise is absolutely breathtaking. You will either be rewarded with a beautiful sunrise above a sea of clouds as far as the eye can see or you will have the pleasure of seeing the Niseko landscape from a bird’s eye point of view. Both are a joy to behold, and for however long you relax at the peak while drinking a hot cup of coffee, I guarantee that all your worries and troubles of everyday life will be the last thing on your mind.
There is more to John Muir’s famous words and the full quote goes, ‘The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on what I can, studying incessantly.’ John Muir was a master observer who enjoyed the constant work of understanding nature. While we may not have time to study and understand the nature that surrounds us, we can definitely learn to appreciate it and respect it. The first step to do so is easy: go outside and simply enjoy the beauty that nature has to behold. The rest will come naturally.
ALL PHOTOS BY PETER VILIJOEN