Monday, 16 August 2010

Kiss The Dirt Falling Down The Fuji Mountain

A great INXS song, and something that crossed my mind while climbing the biggest mountain in Japan. Ladies & Gentlemen, it's time to meet the one they call "Fujisan", otherwise known as Mt Fuji.

Every year I told myself I was going to do it THIS year, but due to circumstances, weather and just not finding willing people to join the "adventure", I kept putting it back.

The planets were aligned. I had time to go, and the weather could not have been more perfect.

On Monday we caught the 4:50pm highway bus (2,600 yen one way) from the Keio terminal, opposite Yodobashi Camera. During the day it was 36 degrees. I couldn't wait to get away from this heat for a while.

The night before I had trouble getting to sleep. There was a mix of nerves and excitement. For the two hour and twenty minute bus ride I was hoping to get a bit more rest but I found myself staying awake. As soon as I saw the first glimpse of Fuji I hurriedly grabbed my camera to capture this moment.

Everyone else was sleeping.

Almost everyone starts the climb not from the bottom of Mt Fuji, but from one of the 5th stations. For people from the Tokyo side, the most popular station is the one closest to Kawaguchiko. Arriving about 7:10pm everywhere was dark. There was only one store open selling (overpriced) souvenirs, food and walking sticks.

They say that at the top it's about 20 degrees colder than the normal temperature and windier, so we didn't leave until 9pm to time our arrival at the summit as close to sunrise.

By 9:39pm, we were already at the 6th station and didn't realize it. The path initially goes downhill a bit before accending so we thought we might be going the wrong way, but instead we were well ahead of time.

We arrived at the 7th station at 10:45. Still the climb is quite manageable. This first part of the climb gave us a false sense of security that this climb was going to be a piece of cake.


Between the 7th and 8th stations, you are literally rock climbing. Pulling yourself up large size boulders and using your walking stick as leverage, and the chain to pull on as well as roughly guiding the way. I had absent-mindedly left my backpack on the 7th station seat. I was wondering why it seemed easier until 50m up I realized my mistake. It sucked going back down the rocks in the dark, but luckily it wasn't too far away.

At each station you can get your walking stick branded for 200 yen. It would've been a nice memento, but I doubt I'm going to send my stick back to Australia.

Climbing Mt Fuji at night is the best way.

You don't have the sun in your face, and the view of the town lights getting further and further away, people's torch lights and the stars are truly beautiful.

Although I had a flashlight, I mostly had it off because there was ample light from the others. I DO strongly recommend a headlamp. I really had to keep one hand free to navigate up.

Getting to the 8th station was SO hard. I'm sure I said, "I'm dying" more than a few times. There's more than one 8th station so it felt like we were never getting much further. It's just up and up forever. We would finally be there at 1am.

After this point, the track becomes manageable for a while. It's mostly a sandy zig-zag path towards the 9th station. Around here there seems to be a lot more people, probably from converging trails and the inevitable bottleneck as we got closer to the top. My thighs were hurting quite a bit by this stage.

I passed by the 9th Station about 3:45. From around this area it was going to be start stop traffic until I reached the top. I was kind of relieved as it gave me a chance to catch my breath. From here on in, it's more rock climbing, but with up to five rows of people wanting to be at the summit by sunrise.

I think we all had a little inner panic when we saw day breaking. I passed through a torii gate etched with what looks like hundreds of coins, and then, two white lion statues. I reached the top at 4:40. I easily lost the others climbing up, but what do you know, my cell phone had perfect reception at the top of Japan!

The sun finally made an appearance about 4:55 and it was fantastic. Everyone sighed "sugoi" as it went from a semi-circle to a full glowing orb lighting up the mountains and Lake Kawaguchiko below.

Most of the way up I was wearing long cargo shorts and a t-shirt. I got hot from all the walking but once I finally stood still, I started getting cold shivers, although I wasn't feeling cold. Strange.

I had a hot tea, that warmed my body up, as well as rugging up a bit more, and I felt much better.

One of the others was feeling sick from the lack of oxygen so she started to go back down. I didn't want to leave until I saw the crater. It's not so often you get to see inside a volcano!

I'd have liked to have stayed longer to walk around the perimeter to the post office (yes there is!), and to the actual highest point but it wasn't going to happen.

About 6:00 I started my way back down the different Yoshida trail. The signs said 340 minutes to get back which made us panic a little. The time is a little incorrect meaning this is the time it takes to the 1st station, NOT the 5th station. It took only 3 hours (and fifteen minutes) for me to get there.

Going down was always a 40 degree sloped zig zag trail of volcanic sand. Here is another situation where a walking stick (two's even better) is ESSENTIAL. The sand is very slippery. I only slipped once, but it was one more than I wanted. Much funnier watching others kiss the dirt. It was cloudy on the way down, but thankfully we didn't get any rain at all.

At 9:15, we arrived back at the 5th station. Lots of people were around. It's much more lively during the day, and easier to see where everything is. Our bus was booked for 11am, but they let us catch an earlier bus at 10.

I think it's easier going down, helped along with gravity, but my knees were wrecked, and I had two massive blisters on my big toes. I wore my most comfortable shoes. Boots are better to stop sand getting in, but don't wear Docs. Some steps on the way up are quite high. It took about three days for me to get back to my normal self.

Was it worth it? After I got back I immediately thought not, but now that it's been a while since I got back I'm glad I did it, and if I exercised more I'd have handled it better for sure.

Here's a video of my way up. Enjoy.


Thomas Hammerlund said...

I like the Cobra t-shirt.

Jimmy In Japan said...

One of my favourites. I got that one in Australia. Target, no less. I prefer to pronounce it with a French accent, something like "Tar shay" to make it sound sophisticated. Seriously every once in a while they'll have a cool print t-shirt. Similar to Uniqlo I reckon.

Limo said...

Good on ya!

Those are the strangest blisters BTW.