There must be something wrong with me. I traveled 6 hours by train/taxi, walked for 8 hours in sticky humid heat and pouring rain, slept 4 hours, climbed another 3 hours in the dark, just to watch a sunrise. And it was worth every miserable moment.
Last weekend I climbed Mt Fuji. That’s right THE Mount Fuji. It was the strangest mountain climbing experience I have every had. I like climbing mountains, I climb at least one every summer with my dad. Its safe to say that I have experience walking up mountains. Its safe to say that Fuji was unlike any other mountain. First of all the mountain. Fuji-san as the Japanese call her (yes the mountain is a lady), is her size. Although her summit is only 12,389 ft above sea level, her base starts at 2,800 ft. That’s a 10,000 ft elevation gain. Not many mountains do that. Then there’s the entire climbing experience. It is customary to start climbing Fuji at night or late afternoon, spend the night on the mountain, wake up around 1 am and finish the climb in time to see the sunrise. About 300,000 people climb Fuji each year during the 2 month climbing season, you’re not exactly on the trail alone. Between the jam-packed trail, mountain side accommodations, oxygen canisters for sale, and snack venders along the trail, Fuji isn’t the place to reconnect with nature. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great experience, it was just….different.
The typical route up Fuji starts at the fifth station, about 2/3 up the mountain. Most people take a bus to this point and begin the climb. Heather and I decided that we wanted something more out of the climbing experience, we were going to start from the bottom and do the traditional pilgrim’s route. Only about 2% of the people that climb Fuji start from the bottom. I now know why. Its a 10,000 ft elevation gain and 11 hr hike to the summit. Clearly we didn’t think through this well.
We started the hike on Friday morning at 10:30 am, we walked from the hostel to the Fuji Sengen Shrine where the pilgrimage starts. Heather and I bought our special wooden Fuji walking sticks. Scott and Miguel made fun of our tourist purchase, but it ended up being exteremly useful later on.
We walked another hour from the shrine to get to the trailhead. It was another hour to the first station. While it was beautiful walking in the woods, I could have used that energy later on.
At the 1st station we watched an opening ceremony at a shrine since July 1st is the first day of the official climbing season. We made our way up to the 5th station, by then it was pouring rain but too hot to put our rain gear on. From the 5th station the trail gets much steeper and we still had another 3 hours until we got to our hut. It was rough, and started raining really really hard. I found out that if a rain coat gets wet enough water comes through anyway. Regardless of my rain wear I was still completley soaked through along with 1/2 of the contents of my backpack.
The hut was a happy happy sight. I put on the clothes that were dry in my back and let the rest dry by the heater. I had the best curry rice I had ever had. But then again I would have happily eaten dog food. It could have been dog food for all I know. There are about 16 huts on Fuji where people stay. The huts seem to cling desperately to the side of the mountain, each has their own generator and have to get water trucked up 1x week. However the most amazing aspect of the huts is how old they are. The hut we stayed in was recently remodeled but the original building is about 150 years old.
We slept for about 4 hours and woke up at the delightful hour of 1 am to start hiking again. Lucky for us (insert sarcasm) the most technical part of the hike was done in the pitch black, with nothing but headlamps to light the way. We were alone for this part of the hike though, there were hundreds of other people who had the same crazy idea as us. Although I was cold and tiered, the view of the stars and floating headlamps moving up the mountain was beautiful. I also found comfort in the fact that we weren’t the only ones choosing to see the sunrise.
As we got closer to the top the sky started to light up with a presunrise glow. The valley below Fuji-san was overcast but we were floating above the sea of clouds.
The top came much quicker than I expected, it was only a 3 hour uphill hike, instead the 7 1/2 hours the day before. Luckily the summit of Fuji is a giant crater so we could find a empty spot even though we were sharing the summit with a couple hundred other people. Then the sun came up and the 10+ hours of hiking and 10,000 ft of elevation gain was all worth it.
I ate my rice ball for breakfast and it was the single most delicious (おいしい oishi in japanese) meal I have ever consumed. We had the obligatory photoshoot at the top, and made our way back down.
It was another 3 hours to the 5th station. We decided that it was ok to end our decent at the 5th station, summiting from the bottom was enough work. The 5th station was a little tourist town, of restaraunts, souvenier or おみやげ shops, and horses to get photos of. By the time we got down there were busloads of tourists beginning their Fuji journey or just there to visit the mountain and get their picture taken with the Hello Kitty Fuji mural. We found a random room of beds and managed to sleep undisturbed for a couple hours before taking the bus to Tokyo.
I had no trouble sleeping on the overnight bus we took from Tokyo, my body was only beginning to recover from the borderline tourture I put myself through. I arrived home by 9am, 24 hours after finishing the climb. All members of the climb are still recovering from the trip, some wounds may take longer to heal than others.