Japan 2010 Part 2: Climbing Mt Fuji

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July 7th 2010
Published: May 17th 2013
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Our Mt Fuji Climb Route

At The Top!At The Top!At The Top!

No, I wasn't crying. My contact lenses had dried out thanks to the constant strong wind, and my nose was dripping due to the cold.
This is the second of a three-part series on our Japan adventure. Part 1 is dedicated to highlights of our time in Tokyo and Part 3 describes our two-day trip to Hakone.

After our first full day of sightseeing in Tokyo we had a satisfying dinner at a Thai restaurant. Jeff is vegetarian, and unfortunately we had problems communicating this in Japanese restaurants so far on our trip, so we went to a Thai restaurant where I could order vegetarian food in Thai for him. With our bellies full, we went to the bus station next to Shinjuku Station and got onto a bus headed to Mt Fuji's fifth station.

There are a total of nine stations on the trails leading up to the summit of Mt Fuji. Most hikers take a bus to the fifth station and start their hikes there. Yes, it's technically cheating but our time was limited! We opted to climb Fuji overnight for the sunrise, and we also opted to not stop overnight at a resthouse.

The bus ride took approximately 2.5 hours and we arrived at the fifth station around 9.30pm. The bus was only about half full, with mostly foreigners on board, including a group of Australian college kids. Mt Fuji's trails are only open to climbers in July and August. As we were climbing at the beginning of the season, only one store was open at the fifth station. Fortunately, that was the store with the lockers. We rented one, placed our dry clothes inside, and strolled around a bit to start getting used to the altitude.

Starting our climb proper at around 10pm, the first part of the climb was easy and involved switchbacks. We reached the sixth station within 30 minutes, and we began thinking that this would be a breeze. Boy, were we wrong! Before long, it got steep and rocky and we had to use our hands at times to help hoist us up the trail. It also started getting windy and rainy. I had started the hike with track pants and a windbreaker over a dri-fit t-shirt, but before long my fleece pullover come on as well. Jeff has been up a similar altitude before (Mt Haleakala on Maui), but he had never climbed this high. I assumed he knew what he was in for, so I did not check what he packed. Unfortunately, it turned out he did not have gloves, and to make matters worse the rain gear he bought tore open so he was exposed to the cold. This notwithstanding, Jeff is a trooper and we both pressed on! Even though I have climbed to this altitude before (Mt Kinabalu in Malaysia, among others) and I knew what I was in for, I was still pretty miserable being wet and cold.

Once past the seventh station, it seemed as if there were huts at random places along the trail, so it was hard to tell where the eighth and ninth stations began or ended. The trail was steep and even though it was roped off in most places, we still went off the trail several times. Along the way, we peeked into the rest houses and we saw people wrapped up and sleeping on the floor. Lights were on in most of them and there were loud generators. We were glad we made the decision to climb all the way up and not stay over as we would not have gotten any rest!

Around the eighth station, we began to pass many people on the trail. I think these were either people who had set out before we did, or had stayed in the rest houses and were setting off for the summit (more likely the latter). It got crowded around the ninth station and it was slow going as we tried to get past the crowds. This was when we both got a little demoralized as we wanted to go faster.

Finally, we reached the famous torii which marks the summit at around 3.30am. Maybe getting stuck with the crowds was a good thing as it was cold and windy on top and sunrise was still an hour away! Even though this was just the beginning of the climbing season, I estimate several hundred people eventually got to the summit that morning. It was a huge boost to our egos to realize that the Australian college kids on our bus from Shinjuku did not make it up to the summit before we did. Granted, they were ill-prepared wearing tennis shoes and jeans, but those guys were half our age!

To our surprise, most of the Japanese climbers (many of them started crying as soon as they got to the summit; this mountain is holy to them) did not stay and instead started descending almost immediately. That was when I started to suspect there wasn't going to be much of a sunrise because of the cloud cover, and I was right. Despite this, we hung around the summit for a while, taking shelter next to a building (there were buildings there but nothing was open). There, we made friends with Doug from Ohio. After some exploring, we started our descent around 5.00am. We did not stay long because we were so wet and cold. Even then, we were one of the last ones off the summit.

After descending to what we think was the eighth station, we stopped for hot chocolate and a snack with Doug, after which he bade us farewell as he was descending to Gotemba. We continued down the Yoshida trail. Unfortunately, we did not know that there was a fast trail down that was supposed to reduce the descent to less than three hours, so we went down the same way we came up. The fast trail is made of ash or cinder and people pretty much slide down it; it is not open to ascending climbers because it is more difficult to go up. It took about four hours to descend. En route, we came across several groups of school children and we had fun replying to their greetings in English and seeing their reaction.

We reached the fifth station around 9.00am. Heading back to the lockers, I gratefully removed my wet clothes and put on some dry clothes, and I took off the contact lenses that had been in all night (I rarely wear contacts). I felt much better after this!

We had booked the noon bus back to Shinjuku thinking we would hang out at the summit for much longer than we actually did. We managed to switch our tickets to the 11am bus. While waiting, we strolled around the fifth station but we did not enjoy our time there too much as there were several busloads of noisy Chinese tourists occupying all the shops there. Jeff attracted a lot of stares from the Chinese tourists because his forearm was in a brace and he had a black trash bag slung over it because he could not fit all his stuff into his backpack. He does have a habit of looking like a bum - one time in Hawaii
Jeff Taking Shelter While Waiting For SunriseJeff Taking Shelter While Waiting For SunriseJeff Taking Shelter While Waiting For Sunrise

Our new friend Doug from Ohio is in the foreground...
a homeless person asked Jeff if he was headed to the soup kitchen!

The bus ride back to Shinjuku was uneventful and we reached our hotel at around 2pm. We showered and went to sleep. Jeff only woke up the next morning. I woke up around 11pm and went out to look for food. I found a good Indian curry place near the hotel and found out how the Indian proprietors got over the language barrier - they had a machine with pictures, you paid cash into the machine which then generated a ticket which you gave the staff. The Indian man there was so happy to learn that I spoke English and he sat near me and chatted while I ate.

The next day, we continued our Tokyo explorations. More of that in Part 1 of this series.

Travel Tips:

The fifth station, which is at 2,305 meters, is accessible via bus. There is a direct bus service from Shinjuku and it takes about 2.5 hours.

The summit is 3,776 meters. Climbing season is July and August only. Even though the trail is well marked and there are many structures along the way, we still
Doug at SummitDoug at SummitDoug at Summit

... and this is him braving the cold after he shed a couple of layers.
strayed off the trail once or twice in the dark. While Mt Fuji is a far more civilized climb than any other mountain I have climbed, you should only climb it if you are a reasonably experienced hiker.

A head mounted flashlight is a good investment for climbing at night as it frees your hands to grab on to stuff.

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Almost Down to Fifth Station, Looking Back UpAlmost Down to Fifth Station, Looking Back Up
Almost Down to Fifth Station, Looking Back Up

Switchbacks are in the foreground.

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