The Hike

Yotei-zan (羊蹄山), rising to the west of Nakayama-toge (中山峠), is a mountain of many names. In the Ainu language, it was called Matneshiri, meaning 'female mountain'--counterpart to the nearby Shiribetsu-dake's (尻別岳) Pinneshiri. When Matsuura Takeshiro (松浦武四郎) wrote his Eastern Ezo Records (東蝦夷日誌), the mountain was called 'Shiribeshi-yama' (後方羊蹄山 (the last three characters are where Yotei-zan gets its current name)). And due to its characteristic shape, a number of people affectionately refer to it as 'Ezo-fuji' (蝦夷富士)--'the Fuji of Hokkaido'. A summer hiker's mecca for decades, Yotei-zan features four different routes to the summit. In winter, skiing on the mountain also holds a great attraction, due to huge snowfall and great terrain. This guide will introduce the Makkari Trail (真狩コース), a summer hiking route up the south face of the mountain. As Yotei-zan stands alone, the weather can change quickly, and often brutally, at the summit. The route is also quite long and isn't for the faint of heart. When planning your hike, try to schedule for a margin of error.

Along Prefectural Route 66 (道道66号線) near the entrance to Yotei-zan Nature Park (羊蹄山自然公 園) there is a spring and a campsite; at the far end of this campsite you'll find the trailhead. The beginning of the climb runs through a quiet, dense forest. From Minami-Kobu junction (南コブ分 岐) the trail to the left leads up a short ways to a parasite volcano called Minami-Kobu. You'll almost feel the forest breathe with the mountain, and it should certainly put you in mind of when the next eruption will be. You'll climb through a forest of Erman's birch (Betula ermanii, ダケカンバ) where you can catch views over the farmland below and Lake Toya (洞爺湖) beyond.

Past the 7th station marker (7合目), in the vicinity of a scree traverse, you'll start to see iwabukuro (Pennellianthus frutescens, イワブクロ) and Chinese knotweed (Persicaria weyrichii, ウラジロタデ). The trail here has a tendency to erode and crumble, so watch your step.

At the 9th station marker (九合目) a trail splits off towards the Yotei-zan hut (羊蹄山避難小屋); the main trail climbs towards the rim of the crater. Along this slope you'll see plenty of yellow-flowered rhododendrons (Rhododendron aureum, キバナシャクナゲ), keyflowers (Dactylorhiza aristata, ハクサン チドリ), woolly geraniums (Geranium erianthum, チシマフウロ) and blue mountainheath (Phyllodoce caerulea, エゾツガザクラ).

At the Makkari Trail junction (真狩コース分岐) you'll come out onto the rim of the summit and the scenery will change completely. Below you is the massive Chichi-gama (父釡, 'Papa Cauldron'): three-quarters of a kilometer across and tremendously deep. If you head left around Chichi-gama, you'll find the ruins of the old Yotei-zan hut; once you pass the Kutchan Trail junction (倶知安コース 分岐) you'll see the smaller craters of Haha-gama (母釡, 'Mama Cauldron') and Ko-gama (子釡, 'Baby Cauldron'). Along the northwest rim the terrain is quite difficult, so keep your eyes on the ground while you're moving. If the weather is starting to get bad, it might be wise to retreat--the steep slopes of both the mountain and crater aren't amenable to travel in high winds.

Between the Kyogoku Trail junction (京極コース分岐) and the Kimobetsu Trail junction (喜茂別コー ス分岐), you’ll come to the summit of Yotei-zan. It sits on a very narrow rocky outcrop.

Continuing along the trail from the summit, you’ll feel like you can reach out and touch the sky—and the views to the surrounding landscape are nothing to scoff at, either. When you come back to the Makkari Trail junction, head back down the way you came up.

One-point-advice

  • You can take the Donan Bus (道南バス) from Kutchan Station to the entrance of Yotei-zan Nature Park.
  • In bad weather the winds at the summit can get very strong.
  • At the Yotei-zan hut, you can collect water from the snowmelt—although that will only last until about mid- July. There are no other watering holes on the mountain.
  • Around the 9th station marker you’ll see a good number of Ezo-fuji dandelions (Taraxacum platypecidum, オダサムタ ンポポ).
  • After the Yotei-zan hut fell into disrepair, the building was renovated and outfitted for winter use in 2010. If you want to stay at the hut, you have to make a reservation by calling the Shiribeshi Subprefectural Office, Environmental Division (後志支庁自然環境係).
  • The Kutchan Trail from Hangetsu-ko Campsite (半月湖野 営場) takes about 4 hours 30 minutes to get to the summit. On this side of the mountain you can really tell the different floral biomes you pass through with the elevation change. The Kyogoku Trail (京極コース) and Kimobetsu Trail (喜茂別コース) both take about 5 hours to climb. On both of these trails there is significant erosion, so take care if you’re climbing here.
  • In the western part of downtown Makkari Town is Makkari Onsen (真狩温泉), which is a great choice for a post-hike bath.

Season Info

The ski season can last until mid-May. In late June the snow should be almost all melted; until August, flowers grow rampantly all over the mountain. The first frosts will hit the mountain was early as the beginning of September, and snow will follow shortly after.