Of Volcanoes and Midnight Ascents

It began as a simple idea. A clear Monday night, and a sunny Tuesday morning. To us, this was the perfect opportunity for a midnight tour. The days rolled by and after some last-minute planning a group of 8 were ready and willing to give Mt. Yotei a go. We got our gear together, picked up the rest of the group that finished work at 11pm, and set off toward the South Face, more commonly known as the Makkari gate of Mt. Yotei.

Strapping or snapping the bindings to our feet we took off in the thick of a night; dark, cold, and the moon showing nothing but a sliver of light. Turning our headlights on we saw the forest through a small circular window; the base of trees, the skin track and the condensation floating off our breath was all we were aware of as we began to gain altitude and fall into rhythm with the skins drifting across the smoothed track in the snow.

It was difficult to judge time or distance in this state. There was no gradient light suggesting time of day, no peak or slope that we were gaining ground on. All we were aware of was that we were still moving, somewhere on the South Face of Yotei. No one could say for sure whether we our pace was on point with our goal or not.

After a few hours, I began looking down the mountain and realized that we’d made it quite a way up. Soon enough we were clinging to the mountain by nothing but the edge of our skis, all of us a little shaky legged and ready to unstrap, load the gear on to the packs, and be back on the security of our feet. The boot pack is easily the most dreaded park of Yotei; anywhere from 200-500m of hard packed ice and loose snow must be tackled by nothing more than some leg strength and a strong will to reach the summit. We all chose to tackle this with a different strategy, some taking it slow and steady, others making a final quick push to the top. But one way or another we all made it up.

Not a bad view

It seemed almost too perfect. As we rounded the top of the slope and were again standing on the flat pitch of the summit, the sky began to change gradient and light began to creep up from the horizon. First, it was a deep purple spreading out slowly from the east, then subtle reds, oranges, and yellows began to take form. We had all made it, with smiling faces and rosy cheeks. After adding an extra layer, we were all keen to keep moving and explore the crater ring to stay warm before the sun itself decided to show its face.

A cloud inversion left the valley floor up to the imagination. We could have been 5000m above sea level for all anyone knew; all we could see was the summit proper of Yotei and a few surrounding mountains, with the colourful backdrop of the sunrise.

Cold and Happy

The sunrise itself is difficult to describe. I’ve seen some beautiful sunrises in my day, but never has it felt so personal. We had the whole mountain to ourselves, the cloud inversion left the rest of the world under a blanket of white. I think we all took a little time to ourselves as the sun rose along the horizon and began to immediately bring life into our cold limbs. After all, we’d done it!

We spent a considerable amount of time up there between taking hundreds of photos of the picturesque landscape, our general curiosity, and a cheeky lap into the volcanic crater. It seemed difficult to think how this would be topped – I mean, we really did have the whole place to ourselves.

But, the journey had to continue and we had to press on. We had previously decided to drop the west face, which generally saw less sunlight and therefore would probably have lighter snow. But it was far better than expected. A 25-minute run to the valley floor, with fresh powder the entire way down. Lips, burms, rocky outcrops, and hits on hits made this face a little powder park. Confidence in every turn as the snow shot out in a wave beneath your feet, it was easily the longest run of coldsmoke I’ve ever had.

Ride of a lifetime

9 Hours, 1600m elevation gain, a 25-minute run through the deep stuff, and a thigh burning fun-track at the bottom and we eventually reached the parking lot. It had gone by in a blur. Touring in the dark seemed to blended into a memory of being poor visibility and being cold. Once we’d reached the summit the adrenaline and dopamine dump of the moment made time fly. A whole day’s worth of activities and one of the best experiences of my life and it wasn’t even 10am yet.

Not bad for a glint on an idea of few days earlier.


If you enjoyed the pictures you saw here and want to see some other other stunning adventure images check out the talented:

Laura Szanto Photography



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