Climbing Fuji San (Mt.Fuji) was something that I have desperately wanted to do. Since I landed in this country I did not want to leave without a solid attempt. And so I got my dream and last Sunday I reached the summit, which stands 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft) above sea level. It was an amazing moment, something I will never forget, reaching the top was without a doubt one of the best moment of my life. Here’s how we got there…
After weeks of research we (a group of 4 friends from Aomori and 2 from Akita) decided to brave the climb outside of ‘official climbing season’. Friday night it all began with catching the overnight bus from Aomori to Tokyo. We arrived into Tokyo at around 7am where we then caught another bus at 9.40am to Mt.Fuji’s 5th Station, which was a 3 hour long journey. We arrived around noon and stayed at the station for about 2 hours, waiting for our bodies to climatize to the altitude, change into our walking gear, eat some last bits of decent food, organize bags, go pee etc. We set off just after 2 pm extremely excited and yep prrrrrrrrrretty nervous. Soon after we started we were stripping down all the layers we had just put on, the sun blaring down on us along with the steep walking had us out of breath and sweating in no time. After finding a happy medium with the layers of clothes it took us just over 4 hours of climbing to reach the 8th station. Four hours of hiking but that included constant breaking, the breaks were not only for our tired legs but also to combat the altitude sickness. We were all terrified of getting the headaches, dizziness and sick stomachs after reading so many warnings, so we took it nice and easy. The climb itself is not that taxing, at parts it gets quite steep and you have to use both hands to clamber over the rocks but at other times it’s a steep winding path (that’s up the the 8th station, beyond the 8th is another story). People of all ages do the challenge just so long as you are fit, healthy and you break enough to avoid the altitude then you are ready to go…well actually you also probably need to have a huge desire to do it.
Approximately 300,000 people climb Mount Fuji ever year. The most popular time for people to hike up it is from July to August, which is known as ‘climbing season’, this is when huts at all the stations are open and other facilities are fully operating. The huts sell really expensive (but greatly appreciated) water and a small selection of food along with providing a hole in the ground for you to pay 2 euro to toilet into. Pretty much none of them where open last Saturday even though it was only a few days out of season, but we had kind of expected this so came well prepared with endless trail mix, energy bars, chocolate and about 3-4 litres of water each, which yes was EXTREMELY heavy to carry. Climbing from October to May is very strongly discouraged because of the severe cold weather and the fact that Mt.Fuji’s volcanic cone is covered with snow for most months of the year….unfortunately for us this had not fully melted. We thought it would have but it didn’t. Thankfully though a day or two before we arrived it had been cleared from the trail by some hero’s with shovels… otherwise we would never have made it.
After we reached the 8th station where we had booked to stay and sleep for the night (before the last 2 stages and the summit) we ate a very basic but hugely satisfying dinner and climbed into the cosy and thankfully provided sleeping bags. Before I could even think of where I was I was asleep along with dozens of other snoring hikers all sharing not only the same sleeping floor but also the same dream, which was just within a grasp. Four hours of sleep and the alarms rang at 12.15am, without a second thought we were unzipped and lashing on our layers of thermals…ready, this was it.
A howling wind made us think twice about heading up the volcano in the pitch black but we decided we had not come this far just to simply give up. We were ready to at least give it a shot and decided we would be happy to turn back if it became too much, but we had to try.
Unlike our climb from the fifth to the eight station which was tricky but enjoyable this one was a whole other story. It was steep, cold, dark and very VERY windy. If I didn’t desperately want to finish what I started I probably would have run like a coward back down the mountain, I’ll admit there were times where I was properly scared. Having a great bunch of friends though meant the constant encouragement between us kept us all calm. All you could see was a step or two ahead of you lit by your flash light, but having the others around meant you could catch glimpses of little lights ahead or behind you, which was a huge comfort. It wasn’t the darkness that was scary, it was the insane wind. Still worried about the altitude affecting us we found that small yet frequent breaks were best both for our legs and our thumping hearts. After a long break it was difficult to start again without running out of breath in the first few steps. Sometimes we felt fine but the heaving of our breath and the feeling of our hearts thumping through our chests (and several layers) made us keep stopping for fear we would just fall apart.
Every turn we took we thought (and desperately hoped) it would be the last (this is where a guide would have been ideal), eventually after over 4 hours of blind climbing we made it with our last few steps in natural light that the approaching sun encouraged us with. The sunrise came at 4.30am and we watched from the summit, sitting above the clouds with smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes.
The wind at the top was truly terrifying but the view was so breathtakingly beautiful it distracted us from the fear. We clung to rocks while we watched the sun peak through and congratulate us after our persistant determination, what a welcome!
The morning sunshine is called 御霊光 “Go rei kou” which means spiritual light.
We didn’t stay for long at all, both the fear of being blown away or being frozen to death had us turning to head back after about 20 minutes. During the official climbing season because of the intense number of people climbing the mountain it is split into ascending and descending routes. When we were at the top it was beyond too dangerously windy to walk over to the descending route so we headed down the way we came. After about an hour we managed to find a link and joined the descending route which we had heard was easier. It was different alright but I wouldn’t necessarily have called it easier. Imagine running down a very steep never ending sand dune with chunks of rocks, yet this one we couldn’t run down and it wasn’t sand it was filhty black volcantic ash. It took us 7 hours to reach the 5th station, and I have never meant this more before in my life…..my legs where pure jelly.
It’s Thursday now and my legs are just about still attached to my body. We are rebuilding a damaged friendship and I hope they will forgive me soo. Right now I never really want to climb a mountain again but the pain and exhaustion will never take away any of the happiness of that moment when I returned to the 5th station and officially completed the Mt.Fuji challenge. That moment I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.
The Japanese say ‘Anybody would be a fool not to climb Mt.Fuji once- but a fool to do so twice.’
I did it, but I am no fool, and I’ll gladly say I’m never doing that again!