Monday, September 24, 2012

Climbing Mount Fuji

August 1st, 2012.   Five o’clock on a Wednesday morning.  We had only been back in Japan for one day and were about to leave for a month long Japanese immersion school. 

I decide to check my email one last time before leaving.  Waiting in my inbox was an invitation from our host family to climb Mount Fuji that coming weekend.

With twenty minutes before we had to leave, I frantically tore apart my carefully packed suitcase.  I hauled out my larger suitcase and repacked-this time including hiking gear for Mount Fuji.

We ran through the already warm morning to the train station, just barely making it in time.  (This seems to be a recurring theme…)

On Friday, August 3rd, at 11 o’clock pm, we piled into our host father’s van and left for Mount Fuji.  Driving through the night, we reached the parking lot at the foot of Mount Fuji at 5 am.  The five of us-our host parents and brother, Karl, and myself-caught a taxi from the parking lot to station five.

Station five is halfway up the 3776 meter mountain.  Almost everyone who hikes Fuji starts from here.  The morning was cool.  Halfway up the mountain, we were already above the cloud line.  The sun and moon shared the early morning sky above Fuji.

We began our ascent.   

Transporting goods to the top of the mountain.

The climb was nothing short of difficult.  We reached the summit at 1 pm-after seven hours of climbing. 

Just reached the summit.
The summit of Mount Fuji holds many surprises.  Including vending machines, souvenir shops, shrines, and restaurants.  Probably the most expensive cup ramen and bottles of soft drinks anywhere in Japan can be found here. 

500 Yen for a bottled drink!  (That's about $6.50 USD. Yikes.)

We paid the small price to have our special hiking sticks stamped at the shrine-proof that we had made it. 

A panoramic view of the crater. Way cool!

After only a brief rest, we began our long descent.  Descending was exponentially more difficult than ascending.  In a word-it was awful. 


Thankfully, the weather was fine.  We did at least have that going for us. 

The first hour was fine.  Wide switch backs.  A relief after the sharp grade of the climb.  The relief, however, did not last. 

A view of the trail to the top.

Ascent on the left, descent on the right.
Mount Fuji is a volcano and the highest peak in Japan.  The tree line ends about halfway up the mountain, other vegetation about two-thirds up the mountain.  The trails are nothing but sharp, craggy, volcanic rock. 

Being on the top of a mountain also guarantees that there will be wind.  The wind pulls up and swirls about the dust kicked up from the hundreds of hikers on the trail.  Wearing a mask is mandatory. 

After about an hour of descending, the switch backs suddenly stop…and the straightaway starts.  At some points, the cone of Mount Fuji is a forty-five angle.  It was rough going.  Fortunately, there were metal rods pounded deep into the loose gravel, a rope looped along to create something to hold.  The rough pumice stone gravel was so loose, that with every step I took, I lost sight of my shoes. 

I had hundreds of rocks in my shoes.  Hundreds.  Every so often, we had to stop and empty them. 

Finally, after what seemed like eternity, we reached station five.  It was about 7 o’clock pm.  Exhausted and absolutely filthy, we bee-lined for the nearest onsen.  After soaking and scrubbing the layers upon layers of dirt of our weary bodies, we had dinner and then drove back to Aichi. 

We reached home at 2:30 am on Sunday. 

We are glad we hiked the mountain, but know truly understand and take to heart the Japanese saying:

You are wise to climb Mount Fuji once…a fool to climb it twice.
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  1. I always hear about people staying at the last station and climbing to the top for the sunrise, Was it just as crowded that late in the day?

    1. It's true-many people do climb Fuji at night, stop and sleep, and then finish the hike in the early morning. Our host family decided to go during the day though, which according some friends of mine was much more comfortable because of the reasonable daytime temperatures. It was pretty crowded when we climbed it too.