Fuji Climb

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August 11th 2010
Published: September 13th 2011
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 Video Playlist:

1: Mt Fuji Sunrise - It's COLD! 57 secs
2: Mt. Fuji Sunrise View 36 secs
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Waiting at the Kawaguchiko Stn for our bus to Mt. Fuji. We are SO STOKED!
I've delayed writing this post for over a year, because it took that long before I could think of this mountain without a sense of aversion and dread. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but after the experience I had I think it's safe to say this is something I will only do ONCE in my entire life.

Where to start...

My good friend from home was visiting and on a whim we had decided that we would hike Mt. Fuji together. We figured it would be fun, exciting, and at the very least something cool that we could do together during her stay.

We went into this venture well prepared. We'd made a list of everything we would need - food, lots of water, hats, flashlights, gloves, oxygen, mitts, change of clothes, rain ponchos, emergency medical supplies, sun screen, bug repellent, emergency toilet paper, gravol, pepto bismal, advil...you name it we had it.

On August 10th we awoke at the ass crack of dawn (real time 5:30 AM) to catch a 6:30 train to Nagoya so we could catch a 7:30 AM bus to Mt. Fuji's base station, Kawaguchiko. We were stoked and totally ready to climb. Neither of
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Our restaurant was literally sitting in a cloud... GO AWAY RAIN!
us had gotten much sleep since we stayed up till 2 AM packing and double checking our bags to make sure we hadn't forgotten anything. No problem, right? We had a 5 hour bus ride ahead of us so we figured we'd just sleep on the bus.

WRONG! The bus had quite possibly the smallest seats I have ever seen, and I've been in Japan a while. It was impossible not to touch your neighbour with your elbows and forget about leg room. Needless to say, neither of us got a single wink of sleep.

We arrived at Kawaguchiko Station at around 1 PM and took note of the ominous clouds in the distance. "No problem," we thought. "It'll blow over!" Still giddy about our impending adventure, we picked up some last minute supplies and then caught the 1 hour bus to Kawaguchi Gogome (5th) Station on Mt. Fuji.

Rather than hike up from the base, we decided to cheat a bit and start from the 5th station. This seemed like a popular idea since a lot of people seemed to be doing the same and our bus was standing room only.

By the time we
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Waiting out the rain...
arrived at Kawaguchi Gogome it was pissing rain. Fun times! We put our extra bags with our change of clothes in a locker and grabbed a bowl of ramen for dinner before heading up the mountain. We waited around the 5th station a bit taking pictures and hoping that the rain would let up. It finally went from pouring to drizzle around 5 PM so that's when we started on our journey. Cheerful, well packed and full of food we began our hike making sure to say cheery hellos to all the exhausted looking hikers who were passing us on their way down.

The first few stations were a breeze. Apart from a bit of rain, the hike wasn't all that bad and we took it pretty easy, stopping for a few minutes at each station. We even made some videos in the hopes of keeping a diary of our adventure up the mountain.
Once the sun set, the views of the city lights were just beautiful and the stars were out of this world. Very impressive! We had flashlights with us just in case, but with the moon above and the amount of head lamps around us lighting

Inspiring artwork inside.
the path we didn't end up using them all that much.

After the 7th station the climb became noticeably steeper and we took more breaks (mostly at my insistence). Since we were climbing mid-week the crowds weren't bad at all and for a majority of the hike we were alone. We made decent time and reached the 8th station at 9 PM, intent on making it to the top for sunrise.

At this point, we'd been hiking for 4 hours on about 3 hours of sleep. We were both feeling a bit tired but were sure that after a little break and some food we'd be right as rain and ready to go. I'd heard about the huts where you could pay for a spot to sleep for a couple of hours, but looking in on a few I saw a bunch of strangers wedged into a room like sardines for an exorbitant price. Even if we'd stayed we wouldn't have gotten any decent amount of sleep, so we decided to plod on and rely on the strength in our youthful limbs to take us to the top.

I will take a moment to make special mention

Some pack horses chillin' at Kawaguchi Gogome (5th Stn)
of the toilet situation on Mt. Fuji. They suck. Picture a hole in the ground that smells like it's full of the excrement of 2,000 people and that's exactly what the toilets on Fuji are. The best part is that you pay 100 yen for the privilege of using them. Just to clarify, I'm no princess - I'm used to peeing outdoors while camping or using less than sanitary toilets in my travels (my cottage, for instance, boasts no indoor toilet, only an outhouse) but the smell of the toilets on Fuji was enough to make me gag more than once.

If you are superhuman and can hold all bodily functions during your climb up and down, I applaud you and envy you. If not, be prepared to have some coins and toilet paper handy. Though if you're really brave I'm sure the side of the mountain could be another alternative (though I don't really endorse crossing that conspicuously placed metal chain marking the edge of the safe trail...)

When we did finally reach the 8.5 station it was 3:30 am. We were exhausted, cold, hungry, damp and knew we wouldn't make it to the top for sunrise.

Our intended route - Kawaguchi. Easily one of the most popular.
It was at least another hour, according to the signs, and we just didn't have it in us. So we stayed at the 8.5, set ourselves and our cameras up on a bench and waited for sunrise.

It was beautiful and in retrospect I think we made the right decision not to press on. We had a seat (!!) AND a great spot to set up our cameras for crystal clear sunrise photos. We wouldn't have had either at the top so I'm glad we stayed.

Those last few moments before the sun came up were excruciatingly cold. You don't feel the cold while you're hiking because you're body's moving and working but within 10 minutes of stopping a bone numbing chill sets in that you just can't shake. I was so thankful I had thought to bring an extra sweater in my backpack. Layers are your best friend on Fuji. By the time sunrise hit I was wearing long underwear, a t-shirt, a 3/4 length shirt, two hoodies, a scarf, and 2 pairs of mitts. Even with all that padding and Canadian blood in my veins I was still cold, so that gives you some idea of
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The power of Hello Kitty!
what the temperature is like up there at 4 am (bloody cold!!!).

We rested in the hut at the 8.5 station with some hot chocolate until about 6:30 and then continued on.

At this point you're probably wondering why. I mean, we'd already seen the sun rise. We could have just turned around and gone home. But no. Silly, crazy girls that we are we were determined to get to the top. I, for one, was adamant that I was going to get to the post office at the top of Mt. Fuji and mail all the postcards I'd written to my friends/family about our climb. Also, another part of me knew that after what I'd experience so far there wasn't a chance I was going to do this again so it was now or never!

Feeling a bit more rested, we plodded on towards the summit, all 3776 meters of it. We reached it just after 8 AM, meaning we had been climbing for the better part of 15 hours. On no sleep. We said an exhausted "Yatta!" and then cried because we couldn't believe we'd actually made it. We'd done it! We'd climbed a fucking

I believe our thinking was, if Hello Kitty can do it, we can too!
mountain! Cross one giant life accomplishment off our bucket lists.

Once the euphoria wore off, we realized that we were exhausted to the point of being zombies, hungry to the point of feeling sick, and that to use the bathrooms was going to cost us 300 yen each. Thankfully we'd brought some money to the top with us. My recommendation to anyone climbing is that no matter how well prepared you think you are, bring at least 2000 yen with you to the top just in case. Drinks cost 300-500 yen, our bowl of plain white rice (no toppings, just rice) cost 500 yen. The bigger bowls of udon were closer to 1000 yen... you get the picture.

We ate our less than appealing rice in silence and then literally collapsed onto the benches we were sitting on. We slept for about 30 minutes and then realized that the staff were glaring at us so we grabbed our stuff and headed out to the other shops to get our walking sticks stamped and pick up some souvenirs. I got a pretty cool pin for my bag, which they stamped with the date. I think it only cost 500
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Let's conquer this bitch!
yen and was definitely worth it.

It took about an hour before we realized that the post office was nowhere in sight. We managed to flag down some fellow hikers and asked them where it was. Turns out it's on the OTHER side of the mountain, an additional 40 minute hike. I just about wanted to die, but damn it all I was determined to deliver those postcards! So off we went, snapping a few victory photos of each other at the summit along the way.

We eventually made it to the post office and dropped off our mail. By this time it was hot and being at such a high altitude we both started to burn within a matter of minutes. Thank god for large hats and sunscreen! Though even after slathering it on, I managed to walk away with a pretty sick looking 3/4 sleeve tan.

By noon-ish we were feeling our lack of sleep and decided to power our way down the mountain in 3-4 hours and get our ass back on a bus home. The last bus was around 5 PM and we knew we couldn't miss it, but we had time so

Once the rain cleared up a bit, the sunset was kind of nice if a touch cloudy.
we started down our route pretty slow. We'd heard horror stories of people taking the wrong path down the mountain and ending up in other prefectures so we decided to double and triple check that we were on the right one - no problems there! Whew!

Now, my friend Carlo had told me that the hardest part of climbing Fuji was going back down. I didn't believe him. I mean, you're going DOWN as opposed to up - how hard could it possibly be? Let me tell you...it was fucking agony. I have pretty crappy knees to begin with, but walking on a downward slope atop loose volcanic ash/gravel for several hours is my idea of torture.

Things only got worse once we got below the clouds at the 8.5 station and it began to rain. Again. So now the loose volcanic ash that was already slippery was now WET and slippery. Cue me falling at least 2 dozen times. After the first six it takes every single ounce of your strength to pull yourself up and keep going. I may have cried. No, scrap that, I did cry. Numerous times. In fact, I don't think I've ever

Rocking our Canadian-themed ponchos courtesy of the dollar store.
cried to much in public in my life. It was miserable.

My friend, god bless her, did her best to keep us both cheerful but by the time we reached the 8th station were were trudging along in silence. If you plan to undertake Fuji I strongly recommend you do not go with a significant other unless you are both blessed with a saintly level of patience. Take a friend and make sure that it's a friend you can go through absolute hell with and still remain friends once you get to the other side. Better yet, hike with a stranger so that you can be as miserable as you like on the way down without feeling like a complete shit about it.

By the time we reached the 6th station my body was on auto pilot. I had no energy to talk, no energy to smile, no energy to do anything other than wearily shuffle one foot in front of the other. We only had 40 minutes to reach our last bus so we picked up the pace out of necessity and blasted our way to the 5th gate.

As we rounded that last bend and it came into view I made my way towards it like a starving man toward an oasis. Absolutely nothing was going to stand in my way! When a kind Japanese guy asked us about our hike I ignored him completely and pressed on while my friend discussed with him the advisability of sending his 12 year old daughter up alone the next climbing season. NO! DEAR GOD NO! I thought, but since I was too tired to shout anything at him, I hobbled towards the gates standing before us with tears streaming down my cheeks. Yes, I was crying. And no, you cannot judge me until you have been there and done it on 3 hours of sleep. Not being an overly emotional sort of person, I can confidently say that prior to my descent down Fuji, I had never cried in public in my adult life.

Thankful to finally be off that godforsaken mountain, and looking akin to a creature that was plucked out of the deep dark depths of some corner of hell, I headed for the place where our bags were stashed. Laura was right behind me and pointed out that there was a bus waiting
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Chillin at the 6th Stn. All's good!
in front of the building. I figured it was the bus to take us back to the train station so I gave her the locker key so she could grab our stuff while I went to check out what time the bus left.

As I approached I noticed the bus was absolutely packed full - standing room only. Fabulous, I thought. Just fabulous. There was nothing I wanted more than to spend the next hour standing on a bus after having JUST climbed down the mountain.

I poked my head in the door and asked the driver what time the bus was leaving. "NOW!" he barked at me, pointing at his watch. In my broken Japanese I begged him to wait one minute while my friend came with our bags. I absolutely couldn't leave without her and like hell we were getting stuck on this mountain for the night. Thankfully Laura chose exactly that moment to walk out of the building so I shouted at her to run. Run she did, with all our bags, and jumped on the bus just as the driver slammed the door shut behind us and started down the mountain.

The bus
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Chillin' at a stop along the 7th Stn. area. A bit cold, but still all's good!
ride down is about as fun as you can imagine it would be following a 24 hour-long hike on 3 hours of sleep. I think there were points I drifted in and out of consciousness. Laura looked visibly ill by the time we got to the Kawaguchiko Stn. The first thing we did when we got to the station was take off our shoes and put on flip flops. It felt like heaven! I had blisters the size of my thumb (no exaggeration) on the heels of both feet. There were blisters on my toes as well, but those weren't as bad. My 3/4 length sleeve burn had also pinked up nicely.

Our bus to Nagoya arrived within the hour and we stumbled on and promptly passed out. Thankfully this bus was a touch roomier and the seats reclined nicely. To be honest though, at this point I was so tired I think I could have slept anywhere. Altitude sickness finally caught up with Laura about an hour into our bus ride and she was violently ill the rest of the trip. We made it to Nagoya around 11 PM and then caught the last train back to my
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Around the 8th Stn we needed a dose of O2 to keep us from going crazy.
station, 40 minutes away.

I don't remember the walk home or getting into bed. In fact, I don't remember much of anything after the bus ride to Nagoya though I do remember saying to Laura on the train "Almost there... We're almost there!" while she did her best not to vomit.

I think it's safe to say that this mountain conquered us and not the other way around. During our descent I couldn't help but relate Mt. Fuji to childbirth. Once you've started there isn't any way to get out of it except to finish and hike your ass down to the bottom. It will take absolutely everything out of you, but at the end of the day you'll be glad you did it.

I'm pretty proud of my Mt. Fuji hiking stick and the little pin on my bag. I still can't believe it when I look at the pictures of us at the top, standing proudly at the summit. It doesn't feel real, but then someone asks me to hike it with them and it all comes rushing back - the cold, the wet, the pain, the exhaustion - and my answer is the same
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Bundled up just before sunrise (and still cold!)
every time: "You couldn't pay me to hike that again!" and I mean it, too.

Additional photos below
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Laura at Sunrise

Fuji sunrise

13th September 2011

We'll do it again!
If you decide to stay in Japan for much longer, we'll do it again, and be better prepared this time - with sleep and supplies. We will conquer IT!!!! xoxox

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