Rising in the southwest part of the Furano Basin (富良野盆地, Furano-bonchi) is the highest peak in the Yubari Mountains (夕張山地, Yubari-sanchi): Mt. Ashibetsu-dake (芦別岳, Ashibetsu-dake). In the district of Yamabe (山部, Yamabe), where the hike begins, you're likely to feel the huge weight of the massif looming above you.
The mountain’s name comes from the Ainu ashi-pet, meaning ‘shrubby river.’ While the mountain is popular for climbing and mountaineering in the winter due to the ease of approach, we'll cover the summertime climb in this guide. There are three summer trails available to the hiker: the Old Trail (旧道, kyuu-dou); the New Trail (新道, shin-dou); and the Kakutaro Trail (覚太郎コース, Kakutarou-kouse), a small trail connecting the Old and New trails. Along the way, you'll also pass the Yuufure Lodge (ユーフレ避難小屋, Yuufure-hinan-goya), a small backcountry hut at the junction between the Old Trail and Kakutaro Trail.
In this guide we’ll follow the Old Trail up and along the hard-climbing North Ridge (北尾根, kita-one) to the summit, then descend via the New Trail.
Besides the Yuufure Lodge, you'll also find a small campsite at the trailhead where you stay the night before the climb.
At the end of a forest trail at the north side of the Yamabe Nature Park (山部自然公園, Yamabe-shizen-kouen) you’ll find the old trailhead. The first half of the trail follows the right bank of the modest Yuufure-no-sawa River (ユーフレの沢, Yuufure-no-sawa). The trail is full of detours up and around small waterfalls, which makes for a lovely walk at the beginning of summer or depths of autumn. Below the Fudo-no-taki Waterfall (不動の滝, Fudou-no-taki) runs the Meoto-sawa River (夫婦沢, Meoto-sawa); near here you’ll also find a complex juncture of a number of smaller streams. A little further along, you’ll come to the Yuufure Lodge junction (ユーフレ小屋分岐, Yuufure-koya-bunki). If you head up the left trail for ten minutes or so you’ll come to the Yuufure Hut itself.
But in this guide we'll turn right and follow along side the right bank of the Meoto-sawa River to start the tough climb up to the North Ridge. Southwest of the minor peak Mt. Shinpaku-yama (慎柏山, Shinpaku-yama), you’ll reach the Meoto-iwa Bluffs junction (夫婦岩分岐, Meoto-iwa-bunki), where a trail splits off towards the twin-outcrops of Meoto-iwa Bluffs (夫婦岩, Meoto-iwa). Shortly past this junction you’ll emerge onto the narrow back of the North Ridge. Up here, out of the forest, the views open up over the treetops.
The North Ridge is covered in the low brush of the dwarf stone pine and the gnarled arms of the Erman’s birch, but the terrain is irregular and in places the drops from the side of the trail can be precipitous. Although it can be a tiring hike, the huge peak of Mt. Ashibetsu-dake ahead should beckon you onwards. You'll pass a sheer dropoff in a little dip in the ridgeline, and then a broad little meadow, before you near the summit.
The last climb traces the edge of a huge dropoff to your left. Push onwards and you'll reach the summit of Mt. Ashibetsu-dake. Look to the north and you can trace the sharp volcanic ridgeline from Mt. Pontonashibetsu-dake (ポントナシべツ岳, Pontonashibetsu-dake) to where you stand. Look south and you can follow the ridge all the way down to Mt. Yubari-dake (夕張岳, Yuubari-dake). The ridgeline here is almost certainly one of the quietest, most untouched parts of Hokkaido; make a note to return in winter if you're looking for a backcountry adventure. Look east, and you can see the Tokachi Mountains unfold in endless undulations over the huge Furano Basin. The mountains roll in one continuous ridge all the way up to the main bulk of the Daisetsuzan Mountains some 80km to the north.
The return route descends rapidly along the East Ridge (東尾根, Higashi-one) by the New Trail. It’s possible that some snow will remain in some of the valleys; take care walking here.
On the way down, you'll pass Mt. Unpou-san (雲峰山, Unpou-zan), a small secondary peak; then you'll come to Kuma-no-numa Marsh (熊ノ沼, Kuma-no-numa) in a little valley, and climb back up to Mt. Hanmen-yama (半面山, Hanmen-yama). Follow the ridge for a little and you’ll arrive at the junction at Uguisu-dani Valley (鶯谷, Uguisu-dani). Don't be fooled by the name: the junction sits at the end of the ridgeline looking over not one, not two, but three valleys. To the left is the Kakutaro Trail, taking you down to Yuufure Lodge.
Here, however, you'll continue to stick to the right, and follow the line of a gradually-sloping forested ridge. After walking for so long along the precarious ridges above, this trail will probably seem like a walk in the park. Shortly before you reach the new trailhead, you’ll see a path cut off to the left: this will take you through the campsite and back to the old trailhead.
One Point Advice
- You can take a taxi from Yamabe Station (山部駅, Yamabe-eki) to the trailhead; it’s about 4 km. The campsite is open from Golden Week until the end of October.
- After rains or early in the season, the Old Trail can get quite muddy. If you have them, gaiters are recommended.
- Yuufure Lodge can accommodate 25 people, is open year round, and it’s free to stay overnight. You can get water from the stream nearby but be sure to boil, treat, or filter it.
- The Kakutaro Trail passes right in front of Yuufure Lodge. When the stream is full be very careful along the trail. From the junction at Uguisu-dani down to the hut takes about 40 minutes.
- At the old trailhead there’s a small accommodation called Fureai House (ふれあいの家, Fureai-no-ie). It’s open from the end of April to the end of October.
Until around the end of June, it’s likely that snow will remain around the eastern side of the summit and around any stream headwaters. In July, you’ll be able to see copious numbers of Japanese bluebells. The leaves will start changing at the end of September and can stay in color well into mid-October. Along the ridgelines, the colors of the Erman’s birch, ukurundu maple, and Matsumura’s whitebeam are a real sight to behold.