Mt. Fuji is no normal mountain. First of all, it’s a volcano. The last time it erupted was December 16th, 1776. It’s also been predicted by experts, it’ll erupt again soon (next 100 years soon). Around Yamanashi you can find many shrines which were built to appease the mountain’s anger toward mankind. Cause mountains have anger, right? Well, without anthropomorphizing too much, I’ll say Fuji-san is very temperamental, meaning one can never predict if the weather will be clear enough to see the surrounding country.
Fortunately, we happened to hike on a clear day. We start the hike at Suburu Station number 5, which is about 2300 meters high (1700 meters to the top). Along the way there are several stations where you can buy snacks or water, albeit overpriced. You can also get stamps for your walking stick. Each stamp cost about 300 yen (3 dollars), and it makes for a great souvenir / conversation starter with other Japanese people when hiking.
Each stamp shows the elevation you’ve climbed, and each symbol has a different meaning ascribed to it. The stamp of the glowing lady is good luck for fertility. I can only guess what the dragon one meant. I went to every station and spent about 50 bucks in total, but I stand by it being totally worth the investment. It makes your trip a lot more memorable.
When we arrived at the eighth station (3,000 meters), we were welcomed into our lodge. We put down our heavy sacks of Pocari Sweat and peanuts, and just sat. The man told us that a typhoon was coming, and that it will start raining around midnight. He said to proceed with caution and wake up early if you want to summit in time for the sunrise –which, of course we wanted to do! We kinda knew a typhoon was coming so we weren’t totally thrown off guard. Then, we ate our curry lunch, handed over 8,000 yen for the lodging for the evening, and went to bed around 7:30 PM.
Only a few hours later we woke up at 12:30. This is usually the time I go to bed, so naturally it felt weird waking up. It was also raining. hard. We put on our rain gear and started heading up the slippery mountain. Our headlamps led the way for three hours to the top. It was cold, and everyone was soaking wet. I saw a few people wearing blue jeans, not suspecting the crazy weather Mt Fuji would bring. I really felt bad for them.
A close call happened near the summit where the wind began to pick up. We stood to the side to admire the city lights from approximately 3400 meters. An old man walking by us then fell, and started to slip down the side of the mountain. Another man jumped at him, and grabbed his arms. He pulled him up, and then continued on his way. This was a reminder to all of us to stay vigilant and keep the trail.
Hiking up Mount Fuji is really more like walking and then standing in line. Near the top, the crowds start to condense and you spend a lot of time just waiting for the line to move. By this time it was 4 in the morning, and we were all exhausted but excited to see the sunrise in just an hour and a half. Near the top of Fuji, the wind became so strong it could knock you over. Finally, we made it to the shrine, and I received my final stamp. I embraced warmth in the bathroom which protected me from the icy winds, just long enough to get feeling back in my fingers.
Moments later, we saw the sunrise, and it was magnificent.
We took our pictures, and then headed inside the small shop for dinner (breakfast?). The warmth of the ramen was life-giving. Next to me were two men wearing just shorts and a t-shirt. They were from England, and looked on the verge of hyperthermia. They had started the night before at about 9 PM. They seemed to not know the weather would change so drastically at 3,000 plus meters. I saw a look in his eyes that told me he had been through a great deal to get here. My sympathies went out to them but they had a great sense of humor. I realized how strong the human will is.
Shortly after, a man came to us saying to get down the mountain immediately as a typhoon was coming. We headed out from security and warmth to face the music. It was incredibly cloudy, cold and windy. the trek down fortunately only took three hours, but my toes were becoming cramped, and exhaustion began to hit me. We made it down, and drank coffee in the lodges feeling accomplished, yet tired from the huge task of climbing the tallest mountain in Japan.
What did climbing this mountain teach me? It taught me that we all need to be challenged once in a while. It taught me that extending kindness to strangers can be extremely gratifying. And finally it taught me that climbing Fuji is no joke.
If given the chance to climb again, I might decline. As the saying goes, “It be wise to climb Mt. Fuji once; you’d be a fool to climb it twice.”
Hope you’ve enjoyed, cheers.