Mt. Furano-nishi (富良野西岳)
Mt. Furano-nishi is a lovely peak situated on the southwestern edge of the idyllic ski town of Furano in central Hokkaido. The mountain affords outstanding panoramic views and offers a taste of the terrain found in the deeper mountains of the region.
The hike: If you don’t take the gondola, then head up the ski slopes just to the left of the gondola (behind the tennis courts). The first part of the trail follows a mountain bike path, but you can pretty much make your own trail through the open grass slopes. As long as you keep heading up you’ll be ok. It should take about an hour or so to reach the top of the gondola, where you’ll find some restrooms and some vending machines! From here you’ve got two choices. You can either take the trail directly in front of the gondola exit (it starts at the beginning of the forest) or head left up the black diamond slope to the ridgeline. The ski slope is incredibly steep but offers fantastic views of Furano city below. There are also a plethora of wildflowers in bloom to make the sweat worthwhile. It’ll take about 20 minutes of slogging to reach the top of the final ski lift. Take a break here because you’ve done most of the legwork and it’ll be on the ridge the rest of the way. The path dives into the forest here, and you’ll want to make some noise or carry your bell in order not to startle any bears. Meeting a bear on the narrow path here would be a death wish, since there’s no place to escape if the bear should come knocking. While easy to follow, the route is overgrown in some places, so wear pants that you don’t mind getting dirty as the morning dew or recent rains will leave the foliage soaked. There are a few ups and downs as you make your way over to Furano-nishi, which you should see directly in front of you. The views towards the valley below will start to open up a bit, as will the scenery of the other side of the ridge between the dense foliage. Your next landmark will be crossing a small stream and climbing up a short eroded section of the trail with a fixed rope in place to assist in the ascent. This is where the real climb begins, and it’s a steady 20 to 30 minute slog up a rapidly steepening trail towards the summit. If it’s been raining then parts of the trail will resemble a small river, so take care in the muddy sections. Once you reach the final summit ridge, turn left for the short climb to Furano-nishi’s rocky perch. The views on a clear day are out-of-this-world, with uninterrupted panoramic views of most of Hokkaido’s taller peaks. The Tokachi mountains dominate the horizon across the vast valley that plays host to Furano city, while Ashibetsu-dake looks on from an adjacent ridge directly behind you. Between those peaks you’ll find a vast expanse of dozens of mountain ridges folding back on each other. After soaking up the views you can either retrace your steps (like I did), or continue along the ridge for an alternative way off the mountain. The path is considered for experienced hikers only, and drops sharply off the back side of the mountain until reaching a stream, which must be crossed several dozen times. I’m told that the there are tape marks in place to help with navigation, and that the route should not be attempted after heavy rains (hence my choice for not doing the route). In addition, the area is crawling with bears, so you’ll need a whistle to help keep them away. (Bear bells are useless because the noise of the rapids will drown them out. You’ll need to use something that makes a lot more noise). When you reach a junction, turn left and descend back towards the gondola and hot spring (if you’d like a bath). Otherwise you can stay on the trail and it will dump you out on a road that will lead to Gosen bus stop (5線), which is on the same bus route that you used to get to the trailhead. All in all you’re looking at 4 to 6 hours of hard hiking to complete the route.
When to go: This hike can be done from June to October, when the trail is free of snow. Additionally, the peak is a popular place for backcountry skiers, but you’ll need some snowshoes to complete the hike (and don’t attempt on days with poor visibility or blizzard conditions). Budget some time to soak your bones in the hot spring at the Prince hotel. It’s a nice place for a bath if you get over the fact that it costs 1500 yen to enter!
Access: From Furano station, take a bus from bus stop #3 bound for Goryou Kyuu Sen (御料９線) and get off at the Yon sen (4線) stop. From there, walk up the road towards the ski resort until you arrive at the Prince Hotel. The gondola is next to the hotel. Please note that there are only 3 buses per day. The morning bus leaves at 8:10am and the next bus isn’t until 2:55pm, so you might be better off taking a taxi. Click here for the bus schedule. Another alternative is to base yourself at Goryo Guesthouse, which is on the same bus line as the trailhead. You can either walk from the guesthouse to the gondola (about 45 minutes brisk walk) or catch the bus from near there to the Yon sen bus stop.
Map: You can find a free map in the English publication called the “Furano Area Guide” available at the Tourist Information Offices in Asahikawa or Furano. There’s a good map on page 14 of the book (the 2015-2016 edition). Here’s an online version of the book.
Level of difficulty: 2.5 out of 5 (elevation change ~500m if you use the ropeway, ~900m if you don’t)
Distance: 9km ( 4 to 6 hours, depending on whether you take the ropeway or not)