The map stated that the road to Shibutsu was closed in May and June. And that the south route to the peak was closed to climbing due to ice fields at this time of year. From the top of Shirane yesterday morning, the unbroken white flanks of Shibutsu had certainly looked daunting and not for running. But are the Cairngorms or French Alps “closed” in winter? I conjured up visions of a frightening route, so was rather surprised to find that not only was the road to the trailhead still open, but that on the trail was a steady stream of spring skiiers, shuffling up on skins toward the summit or carrying snowboards.
Hotakayama, in contrast, proved difficult even to get to. The road to the start point on the west of the mountain was closed. The map showed several alternatives. The east side looked the next shortest, but a chain had been hung across the start of that road, beyond which the road had collapsed into the river. This would add an unwelcome hour and the rain was just starting to fall as I reluctantly headed up through an abandoned ski field. Almost immediately I was in wet slushy snow and thick mist. The wind increased higher up and I began to feel uncomfortable. The chained section was short but almost vertical, and required lifting Hana onto a ledge above my head as water poured down the face onto both of us. I climbed above her, then leaned down and gathered her up to join me. Madness. Just 15 minutes from the top, struggling to beat a way through dense rhododendrons on the ridge, I conceded defeat and turned back, only to notice a group picking their way back down through a small avalanche field one hundred meters below. I descended to meet them and followed their guiding tracks in reverse to the summit. I was so relieved not to have to tackle this route again.