“Why Climb Mt. Everest? Because it‘s there!” -Explorer George Mallory
“Why Climb Mt. Fuji? Because we’re in Japan!” -Phil
We did it! Brooke and I conquered and vanquished Mt. Fuji. We managed to climb all the way up and all the way back down Japan’s tallest peak/largest mountain/giant dormant volcano. There are no two ways about it: it was a hard climb. Leg muscles churning, cardio flowing as we hiked from 2,700 meters to the summit at a whopping 3,776 meters We figured that this was a can’t miss excursion –especially since we were lucky to be here during the brief Fuji climbing season of July 1st– August 31st. Check that one off the list. The day has been hard on the feet. And the calves. And the shoulders. Brooke said it was the most strenuous hike she’s ever done and it was the biggest climb I’ve done in many years. We’re tired, sore and a bit exhausted, but thrilled we were able to complete the climb.What a way to end our visit to Japan!
We set off early in the morning to make our way from Sagamihara to the Mt. Fuji area which involved four trains, a bus and an angry station agent who yelled at us in Japanese. On the long ride out, we watched the landscape change from big city to scenic, hilly countryside. We had a glimpse of Fuji from the train window; our first chance to size up what we’re going to be up climbing in the hours ahead. We rode the bus up to the fifth station which, at an elevation of about 7,800 feet, is where most hikers begin their climb. It was packed with some people just completing a sunrise climb, to others getting started to even more who were just hanging out. But to be fair, it seems to be packed with people just about everywhere in Japan. Onward! We began our mountain climb with a walk down the trail to the lower section of Fuji. Brooke and I both managed to dodge any symptoms of altitude sickness of which we had been warned. And the weather, which can change on a dime, held up wonderfully during our entire time on the mountain.
Since Fuji-San sticks out alone, we were quickly up higher than anything within sight. The mountain truly does tower over the country side. There are huts and stations at different altitudes up the mountain. For 200 Yen (about $2.50), each hut will “stamp” your walking stick (a simple wood stick purchased before starting the hike) with a custom wood burn. In lieu of views on the way up due to some morning clouds, we have stamped walking sticks to commemorate our experience. The further you go, you find that the climb becomes steeper and the bottled water becomes more expensive. We certainly passed people who were headed back down after giving up on reaching the summit. By the time we even reached the 7th Station, that felt like an accomplishment in itself. One of the most surprising thing we saw were a number of people enjoying a cigarette during their climbing breaks. Come on, people! Fresh mountain air! Lung capacity!
When the clouds did clear, we could see back down on how far we’d already climbed. Whew! It became a little bit harder to catch our breath at 9,000 feet and breaks became more frequent, but we were not to be defeated! At about 1.5 km away, we could SEE the top. We found ourselves even more determined to reach the summit when we saw 7-year old children and grandmothers on the climb. Ego tends to click in when you start thinking there is no way that they’re going to climb the mountain and I’m not!
Eventually and with much rejoicing, Brooke and I reached the summit in about six hours – which is an about average time but it felt like a huge win. A true accomplishment! Going up station by station. Bit by bit. Man, we can’t emphasise enough how difficult those last 400 meters were. They saved the toughest climb for the end – that ascent from the 9th station is just a killer. Lots of breaks. Lots of slow going. But you start getting in the mentality of just putting one foot in front of the other to make it to the top (as inspired by here).
After a bit of resting and examining the top, we began our descent. On the way down, we met Yon and Sean – travelers out of Santa Barbara, California also visiting Japan. We were treated to some extraordinary views below as the sky cleared. Visibility for miles meant that we even spotted Tokyo’s Sky Tree Tower way in the distance. Contrary to what people had told us, coming down was NOT harder than climbing up. We were able to chat leisurely the whole way down while half-walking, half-sliding on loose rock (with many near falls) and curving, switch back trails. All in all, it made for a comparatively quick walk. Looking back up at the summit, I determined that hell would be being told to turn around and climb back up.
We made the descent in three hours. Also not bad! We broke out the flashlights for the final kilometers as the sun set. Along the way, we passed large groups of people with headlamps who were just starting a night climb – which seems a bit miserable to us, but to each their own. Upon reaching our original starting point, we were exhausted but had made some new friends. Yon, Sean, Brooke and I ended our ten hours at Mt. Fuji sitting on a curb, toasting Kirin Beer fresh from a vending machine. That was one beer that went down easy. While waiting on the bus, Brooke gave me the best gift she has even given me: half of her cold, delicious beer.
Riding the bus away from Fuji, we traded notes with some other Americans who made the climb. Wherever we go, we keep finding lots of well-traveled westerners to converse with which is kinda fun. Overall, today was a fantastic day that ended with us feeling tired but accomplished. And now we can say that we’ve climbed to the top of Japan’s tallest mountain. We climbed Mt. Fuji!And that’s pretty cool.
PS- I had this catchy, funny, odd number from the video mash-up group Fall On Your Sword in my head the whole time I was climbing, so I thought I would share.