So what did you do today? This is what I did…
Let me start back at yesterday.
My original plan was to spend the day wandering Akihabara for lots of electronics, manga, and general otaku shenanigans. I thought I should chase up how to get to Mt Fuji however, since official climbing season opened on July 1 and I didn’t want to be stuck not being able to get there easily. It was top of my list for my visit to Japan.
So I braved Shinjuku Station again and found the bus depot I needed. So I started to inquire about buses to the 5th Climbing Station of Mt Fuji with the ticket girl. However my japanese and her english was making it a little difficult. She was asking me which bus I wanted to go on TODAY. When that clicked, I thought “hell, why not go today?!”. So I booked a spot on the bus for later that arvo and home the following day, and I had just organised the major part of my Fuji climb in the blink off an eye.
I was originally eyeballing tours to get me there and back and give me a fairly regimented climb up. The more I thought about it though, the more determined I was to just rock up and climb it. With my bus tickets, my plan was simply to arrive at the 5th climbing station about 9pm. Climb through the night, catch sunrise at the top, and come down and get an 11am bus back to Shinjuku. The perfect crime.
I had been keeping an eye on the weather and it was a bit all over the place. It did seem however that there was only a pretty slim chance of rain, so there was some hope of a dry climb (but I wasn’t counting on it).
So with my days plans now out the window, I decided to head back to the hostel, make sure I had everything for an overnight climb, and basically rest up, given that:
a. I would be doing close to 12 hours of hiking up and down a FREAKIN’ MOUNTAIN
b. I would now be getting no sleep for a LONG time.
So all packed up with layers of clothes, water proof and wind proof gear, scarves, gloves, and food and drink, I headed back to the bus depot (Mum… I did tell the folk at the hostel I was going, so someone knew). I was kinda surprised to see the bus was only half full. Being first day of climbing I was surprised I got a bus ticket so easily. Anyway off I went.
We got to the 5th climbing station on the Yoshida trail around 8:30pm… dark already. A bit unnerving actually. And it was raining. But then two bits of luck came my way.
First of all was half a dozen folk on the bus. I noticed them while travelling but was not sitting near them. What we had were 3 Brits and 3 Yanks, all preparing to do the same climb as me. So a quick how do you do and I had found myself a climbing group (you will be happy to know that too Mum). They were a great bunch of youngish folk (mid 20’s – mid 30’s) who mainly knew each other working here in Japan. One remaining guy was simply here on work and like me, met them on the bus. We had ourselves a posse.
The second stroke of luck was just as we said to each other “screw it, let’s just start hiking in the rain”, the rain stopped. I had a good feeling about this night.
Here is where I have to be thankful again for my walking buddies. While I could have done it myself, it was dark. Real dark. And there wasn’t all that many people climbing. I had visions of a long line of torches lighting the path, but that wasn’t accurate. So having a bunch to walk with helped stem any anxiety I was even on the right path!
Now, I have to say that what I type now, and the photos I include will just not do any justice at all to the experience I am about to try and describe. But I’ll try.
I consider myself pretty fit. And I know that a lot of people climb Fuji each year. But man, if I wasn’t pretty fit it would be a pretty full-on experience. It is not easy at all. It took us 7 hours to reach the summit. The path changed from loose dirt and gravel, to rock stairs, to full on jutting rocks, all at a fairly steep angle. It was not the relatively smooth path I thought it might be. It was difficult, tiring, hiking in places.
The other thing to contend with was the altitude sickness. I think this is where me being pretty fit really paid off. Aside from a little light-headedness, I was fine. Some of my travelling companions not so much. 3 of them struggled significantly at times, with headaches and nausea. That slowed us down, but was OK by me as we had time up our sleeve.
And so we plugged away, all the time the air getting thinner and colder. I have to say, the last hour was some of the most physically demanding stuff I have done. It wasn’t a trivial climb at all. We did have a good lightning show at times, thankfully in the distance. Then we reached the summit.
Holy hell, it was cold, with little shelter from the wind. Thankfully we only had about half an hour to wait for sunrise, but we needed to huddle together to stay warm. There were a few more people by this point, but still not the crowd I expected. What was also slightly disappointing was that the general store on top was closed. Sorry, no postcards for anyone from the summit of Mt Fuji.
We kept the spirits up in the cold waiting for the sun to poke its head up. Then it arrived.
I gotta say, it was pretty special. I am not sure I will ever see anything like it again. I was tired and cold, but the sun popping up was amazing. One of those moments really. No photos could ever capture it.
On top is the crater which you can hike around. I had all intentions of doing it however it was freakin’ cold, and I was not sure my legs could do another hour before heading down. We all seemed in agreement. So down we went.
It was a strange experience going down. As we had gone up with only the light of our torches, the climb down looked both kinda familiar, but also surreal. Did we really climb up this a few hours ago? We all seemed to have the same thoughts, part due to the darkness, but now also due to the lack of sleep and altitude no doubt.
The descent took about 4 hours, a bit longer than we anticipated. Usually a different path is taken down, one of mainly loose gravel and rock that you can actually run and slide down in parts. That wasn’t open for some reason so we had to contend with the same difficult trail we came up on. It was good to see it in the daylight though. We passed quite a few people on the way up, by which time it was getting to be pretty warm climbing. Poor suckers.
So about 9:45am we were back at the start, all exhausted and tired, a few a little more worse for wear. We had a bit of a rest at the 5th station, with some early morning celebratory beers. It had to be done. The bus ride back with the folk was a quiet one though. We all seemed to get an hour or so sleep, but only enough to make us feel seedier. We reached Shinjuku, and I bid farewell. We were talking about lunch but the overwhelming sense by all of us to get rest seemed to win.
So here I am. I’m feeling OK. Tired for sure, but not as physically drained as I might have been… more the fact I have had about 1 hours sleep in the last day and a half. But that’s OK. The weather was perfect, the climb tough but amazing, sunrise awesome. I have conquered Fuji.