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Published: September 13th 2012
Top of Fuji
The torii on the left marks the start of the descending trail
The infamous Fuji trip was upon us, organised by our cruel overlords on the FJET council (social event organisers). Each year our prefecture’s new ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) get together to tackle the countries highest peak, and probably the most photographed mountain/volcano in the world, Mount Fuji. Even with a modest amount of trekking under my belt, it was a tough slog, and an unforgettable experience. At 3,776m it is well over 3 times the height of Irelands highest mountain, Carrauntoohill, and for the average person it is a significant undertaking!
About 20 wide-eyed, eager first year Fukui ALTs (plus 3 Irish buddies from Hyogo) felt up to the task and signed up. Not all made it to the summit, and pretty much everyone was absolutely ‘flahed’ by the end of it…. but we had some craic along the way of course and it was a great bonding adventure…..as they say misery loves company!
The Climb – Yoshida trail
Most climbers do the climb overnight to avoid the midday sun, and to catch the sunrise. Also, the elusive peak is normally covered by mist or cloud, and the morning is the most likely
Bring it on!
Our enthusiastic crew ready to tackle Fuji!
time to avoid it. We started out at about 9.30pm in the pitch black, using our torches to light up the way. We started from one of the 5th
stations on the Yoshida trail, which is at about 2300 metres. It does feel like cheating starting half way up the mountain, but we had no choice and this is the most common way of doing the mountain if you want it done in a day. However, next time I want to do it from the 1st
station and stay over night somewhere (sadistic I hear you say?).
Every person is different. Some people will find this trek a walk in the park, while others will find the going tough and have to turn back before reaching the top. I read another blog where the blogger said it was the only time she has cried in public! http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Japan/Shizuoka/Mt-Fuji/blog-650437.html
We had perfect weather (no rain, minimal wind) and some of our group didn’t make it all the way up. Some parts of the track require a bit of scrambling up/across rocks and it is quite steep in places. I think the way down is actually the worst part, but more
Myself and three of the Irish Hyogo Jets (Neil, Amy and Tara)
on that later. It also gets quite cold. I was comfortable enough while moving, but my feet were cold in my boots when trying to get some sleep at the top. If you factor in a heavy breeze and rain I would have been pretty miserable, so next time I’m going to bring another layer!
The first few stations on the way up the mountain are easy peasy, and the view of the nearby city lights gets better the higher you climb! Everyone was full of enthusiasm and it seemed like we were going to storm the mountain’s flanks in a measly few hours! High Ho Silver!! Somewhere around the 7th
station it gets decidedly colder. Some of the terrain is quite tricky and for us it was bone dry, so in the wet it would be much more of a challenge. At times your scaling rocks and you have to use your hands to hoist yourself up. It’s my favourite type of climbing, as it’s fun and not too difficult, but one hand is holding your flashlight and this will not be some peoples cup of tea at all! After a fairly steep section of rock
scaling, the path turns into a series of switchbacks to lessen the steepness. The switchbacks also gives plenty of rest space, and you will see some people passed out with tiredness, taking hits from their oxygen cans and guides trying to motivate their groups. You will feel the burn in your calfs and thighs, and it seems to go on forever between the phantom stations ‘I thought we were at station 8 half an hour ago?’. As far as I can remember, it seemed to switch from light-to-medium scaling parts to switchback sections, and you will run into lots of queues …its festival time you know!
What queues you say? Well… that would be the other million people who are trying to climb the countries most popular peak. The climbing season is open only 2 months of the summer and we happened to be there on a festival weekend…bad decision! The biggest annoyance is the giant tour groups of about 60 Japanese people with flashing strobe lights and flags, so people don’t get lost. These really slow down the other trekkers. Seriously you can’t really get lost going up the mountain…only coming down! It is cool to see the
Roof of the world
Well Japan anyways..
trail of headlights behind you though, snaking its way up the windy, dark path.
It took myself and two others, Brett and Neil, about 5 hours to reach the top, but I’d say without the crowds that would have been somewhere between 3-4 hours. We were the foolish first group who froze our asses off at the top. Others in our group took it easier and times varied from 6 to 9 hours for the ascent. If I could do it again I would like to arrive just before the dawn at 5am, as myself and the two lads were stationary for 2 and a half hours before the dawn. This happens to be the coldest time of the night too... Also, it meant I spent longer at high altitude, which is not the best idea if you know you suffer at high altitude…
Unfortunately, I am one of the unlucky few that gets hit with moderate altitude sickness, as I learned during my 3-week trek in Nepal a few years ago. Altitude sickness can begin to take effect after 2400 metres (8000 ft). Again every person is different. It has no bearing
on your fitness, or physique, so the most active person in your group might hit a brick wall half way up and have to descend. The higher you go the air pressure is lower, so your body finds it harder to take in oxygen from the air, and it’s going to let you know about it! Only a few in our group got hit with altitude sickness, me included, and while at this altitude I wouldn’t say it’s life threatening, it is certainly uncomfortable.
Typical symptoms include:
-Lack of appetite, nausea and for some vomiting
-Dizziness or light-headedness
-Fatigue and shortness of breath
-Confusion, loss of balance
I’d say about one quarter of our group had a couple of these symptoms, for me nausea and headache, and while it ‘s not pleasant the symptoms do dissipate once you come back down to a lower level. One girl in our group really struggled with altitude sickness, but with support from friends, taking her time and with sheer grit and determination she made it to the top! Well done Erin!
The best way to try and avoid/minimize the effects:
-Keep well hydrated!
Drink lots and lots of water (there is loads of toilets). Dehydration is very common when climbing too, as you lose more moisture from your lungs at higher altitudes.
-Ascend slowly, take your time, and go at your own pace. Physical exertion also contributes to altitude sickness, so the more you push yourself the higher your chances are of getting a banger of a headache! Your climbing a mountain, so physical exertion is going to happen, but leave the mountain goats in your group run ahead and stick to your own speed!
-Minimise the time you spend at the actual top if you do feel you are struggling.
-If you feel too miserable there is no shame in turning back and trying again another day, even just being on the mountain itself is an achievement!
Well it's the reason you climbed the thing, so it would be rude not to have a peek into the crater and admire the views. At night the view of the surrounding countryside was astounding and I’m sure we could see Tokyo in the distance, but alas there was too little light to capture a solid
I was one of the only ones with a flag!
photograph. The first streaky brushstrokes of morning arrived at about 4ish, as the sun did its rehearsals for the main event. As dawn approached the valley filled with a thick cotton candy of clouds, which blocked the view, but gave an awesome blanket like effect as the soft sun’s first probing rays speared out from the horizon. This is filled with ‘oooos’ and ‘aaahhhhs’ from the crowd plus a cheerful chorus of banzai, from the energetic Japanese!
The crater is huge, and if you want to take a walk around it it will take you at least an hour at a good pace. The tallest part of the whole mountain actually lies on the opposite side of the crater where the Yoshida trail gets to the top. I felt too poorly to go all the way around, but one of my mates, Neil, did go all the way around to get to the highest point! He also happened across a post office where you can send postcards from the very top!
A number of toilets and shops (there’s even a few vending machines on the top!) are spread fairly well along the mountain. In
many places you can buy hot food/drinks and get in out of the cold for a few minutes. Shops are stocked with bananas, snickers and water to top up your provisions, so bring plenty of cash. In some places you can stay the night for about 6000 yen, but it is wise to book ahead online.
The toilets are mostly pit toilets and smell quite bad, but come on it's a bloody mountain not a hotel! These cost from 100 to 300 yen a pop. Anything beats the time when I climbed a mountain, Ben Lomund, in New Zealand and got natures call at the peak of the mountain… and had to use snow as my toilet paper…ya I got some blisters from that…not my best idea ever.
Do NOT Go the wrong way!!! At the top, make sure you take the descending route. It’s very obvious, but you need to walk past all the shops and huts to another Torii shrine and take the zig-zag scree path down. In your delirium you may stumble the wrong way, but there should be no steps like the way you came up, just all loose
Only in Japan...Vending machines on the top of Mt Fuji!
scree and rocks. It joins up with the main path further down, and helps separate people climbing and descending.
At about the 8th
station DO NOT TAKE THE WRONG PATH. If you are doing the Yoshida trail, follow the yellow signs for the Yoshida descent. It looks natural to take the other path, but you will end up on the other side of the mountain (Subashiri route) and feel like an absolute eejit having to pay 120 euro for a taxi. It happened to a group last year, so ya you’ve been warned! The Yoshida trail goes in front of a hut on a narrow path to the left.
Have you heard of scoria? Well you’ll have intimate knowledge of it by the time you reach the bottom. It is the dark black, deep-crimson coloured volcanic rock that lies in wait for you on the way down. It awesomely reminds you that Fuji is a dormant volcano that exploded, and you are now descending part of its solidified magma flow! Awesome right? Well ya it is for the first couple of hundred metres.
The terrible, loose rock is an absolute pain in the arse, and it seems
Heading closer to cloud level
to go on for bloody ever!! I read that some people say it’s great ‘sliding’ down the loose scree. My arse it is! People fall on said arse, get boulder sized chunks into their boots and it goes on for eternity. The hut at the bottom looks like an oasis of hope at the end of this mother-bi*** trail. Your knees will take a pummeling coming down, and you will see people walking backwards to ease the pain on their throbbing knees and feet. For us it wasn’t even raining and we were pretty miserable! Forget a thousand, this photo (the group pic with cloud behind) just says one word, well two actually…Miserable or delirious!
We started our descent at about 7am and reached the bottom at about 10.30, so it took about 3 and a half hours. Myself and Brett more or less ran down the last part, as I just wanted to collapse somewhere, so the more normal people took about 4-5 hours descending. Those people who said it takes 1 and a half hours coming down are all liars and should be shot…or at least have some nails pulled with rusty pliers lol.
The miserable bunch!
but we made it hehe!!
So…the million-dollar question…was it worth it? On the ‘oh so silent’ bus ride back we all had time to ponder this question. We had just climbed the tallest mountain in Japan, and seen a beautiful sunrise in the land of the rising sun! Yes, of course it was worth it! My memory has a great knack of weeding out the painful memories, like headaches and throbbing feet, and I know I want to do it again, with a bit of experience under my belt.
The famous phrase stands in my way though "He who climbs Mount Fuji is a wise man, he who climbs twice is a fool".
I happen to disagree with the phrase, and not just because I’m a women’s rights activist (anyone notice the ‘he’ part in there?). I think that with experience the climb will be much more enjoyable, and I can now plan ahead and possibly take a less busy route up the mountain, take more time and acclimatize better, go on a quieter day and with a smaller group of friends. Take that famous phrase!
I’ll leave you with some pure daacent Fuji trivia that I read:
symbol is a stylized design of Mount Fuji
-Women used to be banned from climbing the mountain, and the first woman to climb it was the wife of a British diplomat in 1867. She had a classic name to boot…Lady Fanny Parkes!
-The first foreigner to climb Fuji was in 1860, he was also British, and his name was Sir Rutherford Alcock…damn it’s as if I’m just making these names up!
-Fuji has erupted 10 times since the 8th
century, and the last eruption was in 1708
-It used to be classed as a dormant volcano, but in 2003 that was changed, and it’s now classed as an active stratovolcano. If it goes off it’s been estimated to cost the country upwards of 21 billion dollars! Krakatoa and Vesuvius were also stratovolcanoes so lets just say of Fuji goes off we’ll all know about it haha!
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