Mt. Fuji: Why’d We Do This?

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.

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We happened to hike on a clear day, fortunately. 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 overpriced snacks, water, or get a stamp for your walking stick, which I happened to buy. Because Mt Fuji has a steep slope especially towards the top, I decided to buy the walking stick for only 1,000 yen. I thought it would save my knees. However, I also thought it was a waste of money to buy the various stamps on the way up –but after seeing how cool they looked — i couldn’t resist getting as many stamps as I could! Each stamp cost about 300 yen, at it makes for a great souvenir as it is a good conversation starter with other Japanese people on other mountains.

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 pregnant women, however, we had no pregnant women in our party (at least that I know of). I can only guess what the dragon one means. My guess is, in case the dragons of Japan’s ancient past, which sleep deep inside Fuji’s belly awake, I’ll have a serious advantage in fighting them. The dog one? This would most clearly means dogs will gravitate towards us. See! My investment to buy the walking stick is not a total waste (5,000 yen)!!

Anyways, The hike in terms of scenery on the way up was pretty dull. We got rocks on the menu, lots of them. Oh and a few leaves sprouting from the ashes of yesteryear’s volcanic demolition. Oh yeah and the sky was pretty blue. But nah, we couldn’t really see around the country as we had hoped. Like I said, Fuji is moody and she wasn’t “in the mood”. Her mood would turn from bored to just downright angry by the next day though, unfortunately.

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 duh that’s what 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, coughed up our dues of 8,000 yen, and headed for bed around 7:30 PM.

It was a weird sleep. I remember some dude coming into our lodge, turning on all the lights, thus waking me up. Like a freakin’ lunatic, I just stared at him, thinking what the hell he was doing. He then climbed up the ladder to the futons and closed a window cause it was raining already. We were all kinda cramped in our lodge, it wasn’t great sleep, but i managed a few hours.

When we woke up, it was 12:30. This is usually the time I go to bed, so naturally it felt weird waking up. It was raining, hard. We put on our rain gear and started heading up the mountain. Our headlamps led the way for three hours to the top. It was cold, everyone was soaking wet. I saw a few people wearing blue jeans, not suspecting the crazy weather Mt Fuji would bring. I felt bad for them. But also i didn’t.

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. I couldn’t help but feel partly responsible, cause we had stopped in the path to admire the view, granted we were hugging the safe side of the cliff. One person in our party tried to see if he was okay, and kind of gave an agitated response. i think tiredness and the high elevation was starting to get to people.

We kept stopping along the way up, which started to bother me. I was starting to get really cold, and stopping so much was starting to make me feel cold. I decided to trail ahead, not really caring for conversation at 4 in the morning. Near the top, the wind was so strong it could nearly knock you over. Finally, I made it to the shrine and I received my final stamp. I embraced warmth in the bathroom that reeked, just long enough so I could get feeling back in my fingers.

Moments later, we saw the sunrise, and it was magnificent.

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We took our pictures, and then headed inside the small shop for dinner (breakfast?). The warmth of the ramen was glorious. 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, and I did my best to make them laugh. They had a great sense of humor and 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? Without having to explain in detail how I came to these conclusions, I’ll say this: It taught me that you’re not going to get along with everyone, and that’s okay. It taught me that extending kindness to strangers can be extremely gratifying. It taught me that Fuji can be a real bitch. It taught me that sometimes it’s just nice to say you’ve done something for the sake of having done it.

Like I can say I’ve climbed mount Fuji, which is great! but it doesn’t mean i would ever do this trip again. 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.

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