Locals know the mountain overlooking the northern waters of Muroran Harbour (室蘭港, Muroran-kou) as Mt. Muroran-dake (室蘭岳, Muroran-dake), though most maps label it Mt. Washibetsu-dake (鷲別岳, Washibetsu-dake). This name is said to be a corruption either of the Ainu ash-pet, meaning ‘bush river’, or chiwash-pet, meaning ‘choppy river’. There are a number of theories about the etymology of the word Muroran, the name of both the mountain and harbour, as well as the city they both sit in. Among these theories, the most probably may be that it comes from mu-ruran, meaning ‘small hill’.
The mountain is popular with the people of Muroran City both on foot in the summer as well as on ski in the winter, featuring two main trails up its west and south ridges. Another trail is the Suigen-sawa Trail (水元沢コース, Suigen-kousu) which climbs along a small stream adjacent to the mountain and joins a trail traversing from the summit of Mt. Muroran-dake to Kamuinupuri (カムイヌプリ) in the east, making it a diverse, year-round pleasure.
In this guide you’ll climb the west ridge to the summit and then descend via the south ridge.
You’ll find the trailhead at the bottom of Danpora Ski Field (だんぽらスキー場, Danpora sukii-jou) - barely more than a small inclined field for skiing. In the summertime you'll also find a small campsite at the foot of the mountain. You’ll walk up a small ski field service road to Shiratori Hut (白鳥ヒュッテ, Shiratori-hyutte), a small lodge in the woods at the top of the ski field.
Shiratori Hut is a lovely mountain hut built about 50 years ago is a terrific place to escape from the bustle of city life. Unlike many mountain huts across the island, there’s a manager stationed at this hut year-round (as opposed to solely in the summertime). You can also fill up here on cold mountain water.
From the lodge, you’ll climb up into the woods and shortly cross over the body of the Petotoru-gawa River (ペトトル川, Petotoru-gawa) on your left. Around here you’ll be climbing through a forest of Mongolian oak, Katsura, prickly castor oil tree, and painted maple; from late June onwards you’ll also be climbing through the loud drone of the cicadas. In early summer when the leaves are new, and in fall when the leaves are changing--at both times this forest is a lovely walk.
Climbing among the small whorled paris and foamflower, you’ll gain and gain elevation before emerging onto the sasa bamboo-covered west ridge, where all at once the view will open up. From here it’s a simple climb up the ridge to the summit; but at your back you’ll have the city of Muroran, its harbor, and the undulating mountains of Southern Hokkaido, which should make for a stunning view during your breaks. In early summer you’ll see flowering weigela, keyflower, and Japanese wood poppy; in the depths of summer, it’s brutally hot. Have a sip of that water you filled up on below.
You'll come out onto a little spur of the main east-west ridge at 825 meters above sea level, and climb up onto the ridge at 855 meters shortly after that. How did that radio antenna get up here? Only a little further on and you'll reach the summit of Mt. Muroran-dake.
From the summit you can easily see Yotei-zan (羊蹄山) and the Niseko Mountains (ニセコ連峰, Niseko-renpou); Uchiura Bay (内浦湾, Uchiura-wan), To the west lie the huge, still waters of Uchiura Bay (内浦湾, Uchiura-wan), and to the south, the open ocean. The northern face of the mountain drops off steeply to the forest below.
To the east, you can traverse the long ridgeline past Kamuinupuri to the Horobetsu Dam (幌別ダム, Horobetsu-damu).
Descending by the south ridge, you’ll immediately head across a grassy field and into a forest of Erman’s birch. Near the bottom of the ridgetop descent you’ll come to Mizu-jinja Shrine (水神社, Mizu-jinja, lit. ‘water shrine’), where you can fill up on water. For such a small mountain, it sure is plentiful in hydration.
A little ways past the shrine, you’ll arrive back at Shiratori Hut, and return to the trailhead.
The snow melts early here, and the spring flowers bloom from May onwards. In late June the contrast between the weigela, the keyflower, the Middendorff’s weigela and the bright green of the trees is particularly beautiful. The leaves start changing color from late October onwards. In the winter the skiing here is also terrific.