August 5, 2016
Nipesotsu-yama (ニペソツ山, 2013 m) enjoys weirdly little name-recognition within the English-language hiking community. I say ‘weirdly’ because Nipesotsu features all the multi-peak vistas of the Rausu-Iozan traverse in Shiretoko matched with the mountain-goat volcanic-ejecta-boulder-hopping of the approach to Tomuraushi—and can be completed in one day. So like, why is it only this year that I’ve started seeing foreigners climbing it? And why did it take me this long to climb it myself?
There are two main trails up the mountain, but one, climbing up from Horoka Onsen, is overgrown and, in name at least, closed (besides which, prohibitively long). The trail on the northern slopes of the mountain, starting at the Juuroku-no-sawa (literally, ‘16th Stream’ (that is, the 16th tributary of the Otofuke River)), is the most popular trail and features the awesome traverse that makes the name of Nipesotsu spoken in reverent tones by even the most grizzled old men.
I have also heard tell of a mysterious third trail, connecting Nipesotsu to its neighbor Upepesanke-yama (ウペペサンケ山, 1848 m). I couldn’t see any trail leading from the summit of Nipesotsu in that direction; my guide from 2010 indicates that the trail was falling apart. As of 2016 it’s been stricken from the GSI topo maps. For a truly unbelievable hike along this closed trail (and continuing up into the Daisetsuzan), see this team’s hike from 1972.
Anyway, I headed up to the Juuroku-no-sawa trailhead around 7:30 in the morning. The route to the trailhead is littered with signs, since it shares a couple of forest roads with the trailheads of nearby Ishikari-dake (石狩岳, 1967 m) and Otofuke-dake (音更岳, 1932 m). The trailhead’s parking lot is a little narrow, with space for maybe 10 cars or so. Get there early.
At the trailhead there’s a bit of a river crossing. Past here I started immediately up a very steep ridge. The forest was quiet and wet; in rougher areas, little steps had been carved into the mountainside. Eventually the climb evened out as I reached the broad shoulder of the mountain. The trail made a sharp left-hand turn at a big rock I had to sort of half-climb over, half-sidle across. Enough to give an unrepentant acrophobe like me pause.
Past here the trail dropped into a lazy saddle called Tengu Col. Most maps indicate that there’s a campsite here, but there’s barely enough space for two tents. I continued up the hill at the back of the col.
The hill wound through some woods before spitting me out on a big field of rocks and low alpine scrubby stuff, the waxy-leafed foamy ground cover you find in most of the Daisetsuzan, taking me over the flank of a low, broad hill called Mae-Tengu. Past here the trail dipped into a ravine and climbed out the other side, peaking at a big flat plateau called Tengu-daira, where I got my first glimpse of Nipesotsu.
If more foreigners did climb Nipesotsu, the word they’d probably use to describe the huge mass of the mountain might be fortress. Past Tengu-daira lay the little razorback hump of Tengu-dake itself (honestly, barely a mountain); and beyond that, Nipesotsu, this huge spire of a peak, dropping off four, five, six hundred meters on every side. It looked impenetrable.
After crossing the flank of Tengu-dake, I dropped down into a deep, wooded col and prepared to charge the mountain. After ten minutes I stopped for a moment to gaze skyward, catching sight of a man, high up ahead of me, pursued by a larger-than-average bear. I stopped dead. What do I even do? I watched. The man continued haltingly, looking at the bear every couple of meters. The bear had stopped and disappeared into some bushes or something—from a distance, I couldn’t tell. The man in red disappeared behind a bluff. I continued, swinging my bear bell furiously.
By and by I ran into the man coming down, who seemed surprisingly calm, considering. He didn’t try to dissuade me from climbing. He was just like, “Yeah, there was a bear. I was pretty surprised,” and continued on his way. I moved on with caution.
All the way up I shook my bell and yelled around corners, but didn’t see the bear again. Although he’d left a good deal of evidence behind on the trail.
I climbed up out of the trees onto a sheet of loose rock, coming finally over the ridge itself to the back of the mountain. From here it was just a short climb up to the summit.
After a couple of congratulatory selfies, I headed back down. Around Mae-Tengu, I noticed a second trail that followed the ridge along the summit of the minor peak, so I headed that way. The trail seemed to just sort of peter out, though, and I wound up rock-hopping my way down the side of the hill to the main trail.
trailhead: 7:37 -> Acrophobe Rock: 8:46 -> Tengu-daira: 9:37 -> summit: 10:51 -> trailhead: 13:35
Climbing time: 3 hours, 14 minutes // Descending time: 2 hours, 44 minutes
Other ways to climb
Some people do the climb as an overnighter, pitching their tents around Tengu-daira. There’s a nearby portable toilet stall (i.e. no toilet, just a stall for privacy) as well. This means you can get a late start on the first day and an early start on the second day. You’ll get to see the sun set over the Daisetsuzan and rise again over the vast sprawl of East Hokkaido, which would probably be pretty cool.
I’ve read that you can collect water from snowmelt near the ‘designated’ campsite at Tengu Col up until about mid-July. The campsite itself wasn’t anything to write home about; I’d camp at Tengu-daira instead.