Friday, August 19, 2011

Climbing Mt. Fuji

Photo from here.
The main purpose for my recent trip to Tokyo was to knock off one of the things on my Japan bucket list: climbing Mt. Fuji. Fuji is such an iconic part of Japanese culture, just as well-loved within Japan as it is famous outside the country. It was definitely one of the best experiences that I've had in Japan so far.

Mt. Fuji is not the most difficult mountain to climb, and probably any reasonably healthy person can make it to the summit provided they take their time and prepare well. It is still a serious climb though, and shouldn't be taken too lightly- hikers should be prepared for very cold winds at the peak, even during summer, as well as steep, rocky paths and the possibility of altitude sickness.

Getting to Fuji-san during the peak climbing season of August is pretty simple. We caught a bus from Shinjuku in Tokyo up to the 5th Station, the most popular starting point for hikers. Remember to buy bus tickets the day before, because it's a popular destination. We used the Keio bus company, whose office is located near the West Exit of Shinjuku station. The tickets were 2500 yen.

Leaving Shinjuku for Mt. Fuji, via the cool dragon bus
After a two and a half hour bus ride, we arrived at the 5th Station at about 10 PM. There's a shop where you can buy any last minute supplies, but keep in mind that everything on the mountain is extremely overpriced. We bought our walking sticks, which proved to be more than just a tourist gimmick- they were actually very useful when going up the steep trail in the dark.


All genki and ready to climb!
As you climb the mountain, there are a number of stations where you can stop for a break. It's possible to rest or even sleep inside them, but they can be expensive. They also offer food, with ridiculous prices like 600 yen for cup noodles. We just stopped outside the huts with other hikers for short 5-10 minute breaks, and got our walking sticks stamped. The stamps cost about 200 yen each and each station has its own unique design.

My walking stick, now complete with stamps from stations 6-9.
We began our ascent at 10:30 pm, and only took short, but frequent breaks on the way up. There were many other hikers and the closer you get to the summit, where the path becomes steeper and narrower, the more congested it becomes. Make sure to leave plenty of extra time for the last stretch (from the 8th station to the summit) because the progress is very slow with so many people on the trail. The benefit of having so many other people around is the chance to talk with other travelers. We met a lot of Australians on the way up and made friends with a few. 

Climbers taking a break at one of the stations
I arrived at the summit just in time for the sunrise, around 4:30 am. After hiking all night in the dark, watching the sun come up over the clouds is unbelievably beautiful. All you can see from the summit is an ocean of clouds beneath you, which change color from blue to purple to pink and finally gold as the sun rises. Everyone around me was so excited, and there were people cheering in a variety of languages while we watched. It was a really stunning, moving experience.

Finally reached the summit, just in time for sunrise!



As I said, the summit is very cold, so we didn't spend much more than a half an hour there. We got our final stamps on our walking sticks at the last station, checked out the crater inside Fuji-san, took lots of photos and finally began our descent.




Going down the mountain really sucks. You would think that climbing up in the dark would be the hard part, but actually it was slipping our way down the loose gravel path that was most challenging. The constant strain on our knees wasn't pleasant, and we were too busy watching our feet to really take in the scenery. We made pretty good time though, and made it back to the 5th Station at about 9 am. 


We were exhausted and filthy, but still had a long bus ride back to our hotel in Shinjuku before we could clean up and rest. Some people stay at the hotels at the 5th Station, which I imagine are probably pretty spendy- but it might be worth it for the shower and bed after the long night of non-stop hiking.

Not looking so genki now...

It was a difficult climb, but Fuji-san was well-worth the effort. I am so glad that I took the time to accomplish this, and see the mountain that is so well-loved in Japan. It's an experience that I know I'll never forget.

We did it!! :D



What to bring if you plan to climb Mt. Fuji:

Layers: wear a t-shirt, with another warm layer to put on top
a warm coat, water-proof or a shell (light weight water proof windbreaker to wear over a warm layer)
long pants
good shoes with traction
spats/crocs (these are shoe covers which attach around your calf); they will help keep gravel out of your shoes on the way down
a head lamp or flashlight, but the head lamp is best (you'll need your hands on the steep parts)
a walking stick
warm gloves
hat
lots of water!
power bars, some kind of snack 
your camera, with some extra batteries
first aid kit 

4 comments:

  1. Amazing pictures! And the appearance of the Jayne Hat!

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  2. Thanks! I think I'll start a collection of Around the World in my Jayne Hat pics! It's already been to a few famous spots :)

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  3. your blog is great
    i enjoy read it:)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mycroft- thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying it. :)

    ReplyDelete