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Climbing Mt Fuji

Written on: Thursday September 4th, 2008

A journal entry from: Japan

I'll have some photos ready from the trip to Hokkaido soon, but in the meantime, here are some pictures from a couple days ago. Mt. Fuji.

 

Fuji is 3776m high, the highest point in Japan. During the climbing season, there are hundreds of people climbing the mountain every day.  There are several stations along the way, with huts for sleeping and (naturally, expensive) food and drink. Most people start from Station 5. This all sounds pretty cushy. But it's still a long, hard slog straight up for about 5-8 hours. It's high enough that altitude sickness is a concern, and they even recommend that you bring oxygen just in case.

Watching the sun rise from the peak is a tradition. Most people accomplish this by starting the climb in the afternoon and sleeping for a few hours in one of the huts. If you want a spot to sleep you have to book months in advance, though. The alternative is to start the climb at night, keep going all night and reach the peak just before the sun comes up. This is what I did.

 

When I started it was quite foggy and visibility was terrible. I was lucky to see three feet, and my headlamp wasn't doing much to cut through it. At a couple points, I could barely see as far as my hand. It was almost like walking blind. I was mostly alone for this first part, but as I got to the first few stations, I caught up to people who had started a little ahead of me, and people who had slept in the huts who were waking up. And by the time I had reached Station 7, I was above the clouds and it was starting to look lovely & clear. I can't remember the last time I saw so many stars.  

 

One of the unique parts of this climb is that you are doing it with so many other people, from different countries, with varying levels of experience climbing. It also means that as you get close to the top, where the trail is steep and narrow, it becomes crowded. The last couple hours of the climb was a strange experience, with a line of people snaking behind and before me. Everyone took a few steps at a time and then waited for the people in front to move on. Insane. But in a way it wasn't so bad, since I found I had to go slowly anyway to keep from feeling the effects of the altitude and 3am fatigue.

 

Once I reached the top, I felt amazing. I settled down with my feet dangling over a steep slope and watched the already bright eastern sky for the sun. It was an amazing experience, being at the top of the highest, most culturally significant mountain in Japan, watching the first glimpse of the red sun rising over a sea of cloud, sharing the moment with a couple hundred people around me who breathed an excited "ooh" simultaneously. 

 

By the time I got back down, I had been awake for over 24 hours, yet I still felt pretty charged. Can't say the same for my feet, though.