Two weeks ago my friend Makiko and I climbed Mount Fuji. One week ago I finally stopped feeling like my legs were about to fall off. Today, I have overcome my eternal foe, laziness, to write about the adventure.
If you’re looking for practical tips on hiking Fujisan, I’ll be making a post in about a week.
We went to Fujisan through a tour company. This, however, was an “expert hiker” tour, so our package, for 4950 yen each, included: roundtrip bus ride, emergency contact info should something horrible befall us on the mountain, and access to an onsen for an hour and a half after we descended.
4950 yen is cheaper than the price roundtrip bus tickets I found online, so we figured, why not get more for less? And as it turned out, the requirement that one be an “expert” climber to sign up was only because the tour included no guide. We were dropped off and left to our own devices, and expected to return by a certain time.
I’m not sure what “expert” climbing abilities would include in the case of Fujisan, anyway. Certainly the ability to not pass out delirious, and to be able to complete the hike in 14 hours (we were dropped off at 10pm and the bus left at 12pm the next day). Other than that I suppose it was just the ability to hike without anyone holding your hand. It was a very quiet and personal trip for both of us, so I’m glad we didn’t have a guide waving a little flag in front of us the whole time.
So, after leaving from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, we arrived at one of the Fujisan 5th Stations. There are four in all, and these are a few thousand feet up the mountain already. (Coming back down, the difference between “5th Station” and “the actual base of the mountain” made a big difference – and I was sooo glad when I realized, in my delirium, yes, we were going to the 5th Station, NOT hiking for three more hours…) Fujisan is high elevation in the dead of night, so cold, right? But when I stepped off the bus, all geared up, I said to Makiko, “Hey, it’s not SO bad.”
Then ten minutes went by while we ate our onigiri.
Then I said, “Okay, it’s cold.”
It was about 40F at most at the 5th Station. It got colder. But I also got more tired and out of it the higher we got, so it all worked out.
There were lights for the first twenty minutes of the trail, which was also an access road for the trucks that supply the rest stops along the mountain. Then it got pitch. Black. I had the stronger headlamp between us, but outside the that beacon of light, I couldn’t see worth a damn.
That second one is a red torii gate, about in the center of the crossbeam. My camera is a little bit to blame for this, because I could make out the vague outline of the rest. It. was. dark.
But so high up, in such utter blackness, I’d never seen starts like that. I wish that was something I could have captured, because the image is long gone from my mind, and all I have is the feeling of seeing them.
The hike up the Yoshida trail, one of the four trails to the Fuji summit, took us about six hours. We arrived right around 4am to see the sun creeping up the horizon. Traffic backed up on the trail for the last ten minutes of the climb, so rather than hike through the sunrise, Makiko and I sat on the side of the trail and watched this.
In all our just-hiked-six-hours-through-the-night-and-slightly-out-of-it glory, we were sure to get a photo.
I didn’t even notice that Makiko blinked until the next day.
The summit, like the rest stops on the way to the top of Fujisan, is extremely developed. I marveled at the size of the buildings, the fanciness – I use this word in a very relative sense – of the restaurant and public amenities, and the care with which the place was kept despite the huge amount of foot traffic that went through every day. Imagine having to hike up carrying building supplies! Food! Having to carry down trash!
And then I saw the service road winding its way all the way down the mountain. This was, actually, how we hiked down.
Well, that was a lot more practical.
We bought charms at the temple at the top of the mountain. There was no choice: we came all this way, there was no where else in the world we could buy these charms, of course we had to get some. I bought a little yellow one for 1500 yen for making dreams come true. It seemed appropriate, at the top of the tallest mountain in a country I’d spent five years trying to get back to.
Afterwards we ate the best bowls of ramen I ever have eaten and ever will eat in my life. The “restaurant” was a glorified shack, wooden walls with a tall roof and three long benches down the length of it, two on each wall and one down the center. There were no tables, you sat facing out the packed dirt walkway between the benches. The menu hung from the ceiling in pieces of paper. Pork miso, regular miso, a few kinds of ramen, udon, soda, and curry rice; also cocoa, tea, and coffee. There was also no counter to order. One of the proprieters would yell out: who wants Cup Noodles? and people would raise their hands. Then she would shout: who has another order? and we’d raise our hands. Then she’d point and say: what do you want? We said: two shoyu (soy sauce) ramens! And when the ramen was ready, someone else would come out with a tray and shout: who got the Cup Noodles? and people would raise their hands. Who got the shoyu ramen? and we would raise our hands. It was efficient. It was all in Japanese. We saw a few confused foreigners, but they wouldn’t be the first or the last, and they seemed to muddle through.
After our much-deserved meal, we began our climb down. This wasn’t down the trail we came up, which was steep, narrow, and at times required climbing single file and using both hands. Instead it was down the previously mentioned service road, which wove from base to summit in an ever-lengthening zigzag. Despite being well traveled, the dirt was thick, loose, and dry. I slipped a lot, fell twice, and was covered in volcanic ash when we finally made it down five hours later.
So please, excuse the accidental blackface. After about twelve hours on the mountain in all, Makiko and I took one last photo where we began.