After the cherry blossoms come out in early May it’s hard to think about snowboarding any more, especially as the powder is a long and distant memory.
There’s still plenty of snow left on the high peaks though and we planned a mid May expedition to take advantage of the spring snow pack.
From the valley I’ve often gazed up at the Hakuba three peaks and my eye is always drawn to Hakuba Yari. In particular the beautiful symmetrical East face cradled between steep cliff buttresses funneling down into the mother of all gullies in Hakuba – The Yari central gully.
- East face of Yari. Yari onsen (campsite) in bottom left of shot
So it is, as we found ourselves snowshoeing up from Sarukura early on a Sunday morning. It was a stunning day and the Japanese backcountry enthusiasts were out in force. There was just enough snow to snowshoe straight from the car and full cover a hundred metres above the car park.
We climbed 500metres to the col between Obinata yama an Junction peak where a new view of old haunts on the Happo north face unfolded.
- Me discovering that a 20kg pack and snowboarding don’t mix
Snowboarding down from the col into the valley below Yari we realised that snowboarding on Spring snow with over 20kilos of camping gear, food, and snowshoes wasn’t so much fun. Another 400m climb after that and we arrived at our abode for the night, Yari onsen.
Yari onsen is the highest onsen in Japan at 2100m and is spectacularly perched under the east face of Yari. After all the day trippers had left we pitched our tent right next to the onsen. This was easy because the bubbling hot water keeps the snow from settling in the area immediately around the onsen although even this late in the season there were still huge 5-6m high snow walls surrounding. Later on we found to our glee we had underfloor heating and even later we woke up in the middle of the night to find ourselves being gassed by a hydrogen sulphide vent!
After setting up camp we climbed Eboshi-iwa, a small top behind Yari onsen to watch the sunset and have a well deserved beer, before skiing back down in perfect re-frozen corn snow.
Beer was followed by sake in the onsen at 2100m but not after half an hour of shovelling snow to bring down the piping hot water temperature! That night we built a fire and toasted 7-11 pizza, happy and content and looking forward to the summit day tomorrow.
We made sure to wake for sunrise at 4:32am which is even more spectacular seen from your own private hot-tub on the side of a mountain. Unfortunately we didn’t have the luxury of 30 minutes of shovelling snow in so it was a bit more painful than the evening before!
Our plan was to leave the tent and all heavy gear, Climb up the south-east flank of Yari onto the south ridge, follow this to the summit and then drop the Central gully and traverse back to pick up the gear. The hike up the southeast flank turned out to be a real slog with a couple of hairy zones where the consequences of a slip would end in a 300metre high speed slide into rocks and cliffs.
Nearing the ridge we saw pairs of Ptarmigan flitting around from rock to rock. Hard to see how they live up here in such a hostile environment.
Once on the ridge it was an easy 40 minute walk on a rocky path to the summit of Yari at 2903m. The view from the top was astounding. To the north Shirouma dake and Shakushi dake looked close enough to touch and to the south the whole of the Northern Alps range lay before us. at the end of the range the peaks behind Kamikochi could be seen clearly.
The view down the Central gully was a bit gut wrenching. A steep open face followed by a rollover into unknown terrain. We dropped in at about 11am so things were starting to get mobile with rocks dropping and channeling down the chute.
After exiting the chute we traversed back to camp, packed up and returned the way we had came back over the pass below Obinata yama. From there we got a great view of our lines glistening in the afternoon sun. The first section in the open face was about 40 degrees and great corn snow followed by the crux which was 50-55 degrees of sluffing slush squeezed between giant rock walls. The last half was a long wide slushy open gully of about 45 degrees that led all the way down to the bottom – in all 900m vertical of great spring skiing.
We basked in the glow of a fantastic 2 day expedition and turned our backs on Yari before snowboarding down the final 500metres of vertical to Sarukura, our point of departure from the day before.