Climbing Mt Fuji
The main purpose of my recent trip to Japan was for one real reason; to climb Mt. Fuji. You might be wondering why I would ever what to climb Mt Fuji? The idea came from one of Sam and I’s favorite shows called “An Idiot Abroad”. For anyone reading in Canada who have never heard of this show it’s because it’s a British show, but I suggest you give it a watch because it’s hilarious. The show is about a friend of Ricky Gervais (comedian and creator of “the office”) named Carl, who they call “the real life Homer Simpson”. They send Carl all over to some of the most amazing places in the world, yet he is unimpressed by most of them in a very Homer Simpson type of way. One of the only things that seemed to impress him was the sunrise on top of Mt Fuji. That’s when I decided that if it could impress Carl, a man who thought that the great wall of China, the pyramids and Mount Machu Picchu were boring, then it was something I needed to add to my bucket list.
Our journey to the top of Mt Fuji started at 7:30 pm with a bus ride that took us from Tokyo to the 5th station on Mt Fuji. We were hoping to get some sleep on the 2 hour bus ride since we already had a long day of site seeing in Tokyo and had no plans of sleeping on the mountain. Unfortunately a group of very excited American girls were sitting right behind us and made sure that we got no sleep on the bus. We got to Mt Fuji 5th station at about 9:30 and after some last minute prep we started our ascent at about 10 pm.
Before I continue with my story let me give you some important background information about climbing Mt Fuji. The official climbing season is from July 1st to August 31st. During this time the weather is nice and climbing Mt Fuji is relativity safe. But that also means tonnes of people from all over come and attempt the climb. The most popular time to climb is at night in order to reach the top just before sunrise. The mountain is divided into 10 sections or “stations” as they are called. The first station is at the very bottom were the ground is almost completely flat, and the 10th station is at the top. Since the bottom half of Mt Fuji is basically flat, almost everyone starts their climb at the fifth station.
So we started our climb at about 10 and in no time at all we reached the 6th station. Neither of us had any issue at all with our first section, but others around us had already started to break out the oxygen cans. The section between the 6th and 7th station was a little harder, but we made it through without much trouble. We decided to take our first break at the seventh station. Neither of us really needed a break but we wanted to keep our strength up. After some water and a snack we were off again, although I was surprised at how cold it got once we stopped moving.
The next two sections started to get a little more difficult, with parts that almost required actual climbing. Although Sam and I had no issue with these sections, many people on the mountain did. In the difficult parts were there was no room for passing, lines started to form which slowed our pace down quite a bit. The higher we got the slower the pace, and as we got to the 8th station we decided to skip the break in order to pass a large amount of people.
By the time we reached the 9th stations fatigue was starting to hit us. It was getting very cold, and after a long day of site seeing in Tokyo and no sleep on the bus we were tried. As we looked up the mountain in the night sky we could tell that we were close to the top. But we could also see the long line of flashlights winding up the mountain like a snake. The lights were hardly moving, and although we still had over an hour before sunrise, this was the first time I thought that we might not make it in time.
After about a 20 minute break at the 9th station we set off ready to take the summit of Mt Fuji. There was a huge mass of people climbing now, many of which had little business being anywhere near a mountain. After about 20 minutes of very, very slow climbing we were starting to lose our patience. Well Sam was starting to lose her patience, mine was already gone. The only reason I hadn’t started passing people was because Sam didn’t want to be rude. But as sunrise got nearer and the pace of the people got slower Sam realized that if we didn’t start climbing more aggressively what we would miss sunrise. And having this be our sole reason for coming to Japan, that was not an option.
So we moved to the side where the rocks were loose which made the ascent more difficult and started to book it up the rest of the mountain. We easily passed hundreds of people in the last 30 minutes, and almost killed ourselves only a few times. But like I said, missing the sunrise was not an option. We reached the top at about 4:30, giving us a good 15 minutes before sunrise. We had just enough energy left to find a nice place to sit and watch.
The sunrise was everything it was advertised as and more. We were above one set of clouds and below another witch give it a very heavenly feel to it. My words and pictures can even started to described it.
After the sunrise we started our walk around the crater of Mt. Fuji. We stopped at the highest point and also the Mt Fuji post office where we wrote and sent post cards home. I could barely move my hands to write since a pair of gloves was the only thing I had forgotten to bring.
After a hour or so at the top we started our way down, which was without a doubt my least favorite thing I have ever done in my life. The whole path down was loose volcanic rocks which made normal walking impossible. So you had to half walk, half slide down. Everyone doing this kicks up a huge amount of volcanic dust which get everywhere; eyes, nose, shoes, hair and so on. In fact I still have a large amounts of dust in my shoes that I’m unable to get out. Anyone planning to climb Mt Fuji will come across a famous saying that goes something like, “He who Climbs Fuji once is wise, He who climbs Fuji twice is a fool.” I think that whoever wrote that had to be talking about the down hill part. Add to this not sleeping for over 24 hours by the time we reached the 5th station we were both ready for a long shower and bed.
The only problem was that we didn’t have a hotel room back in Tokyo, we had an over night bus to Kyoto instead. Not the smartest plan we ever made (but definitely the cheapest). Luckily, we had several hours to kill in Tokyo before our night bus so we decided to go to a Japanese public bath (known as “onsen” in Japan). The bath house was interesting but I was much to tried to fully take it in… Well, see you later.