Conquering Mt. Fuji

I’ve always been an adventurous girl with a great love for anything outdoors. I’ve got quite a few challenging hikes under my belt, but none of them come close to the beast that is Mt. Fuji. I read all the blogs, and watched all the videos to prepare myself for the hike. Like most things in life however, reading about it simply isn’t enough; you’ve just gotta lace up your hiking boots and do it for yourself.

We began our hike around 9:45 pm, (this was much later than we were hoping for because the bus ride up to Fuji 5th station made me sick!) It was dark and the blistering heat we had grown accustomed to in Tokyo had quickly dropped to a comfortable chill. It was the first time all summer that I could stand outside for more than five minutes without becoming a sticky, sweaty, mess. It was a lovely start to the very long night that laid ahead. We turned on our headlamps, grabbed our backpacks and began the grueling ascent to the summit of Japan’s highest mountain and most celebrated landmark.

The first part of the hike was a smooth, gentle slope and very misleading to what was awaiting us! I felt like we were taking a leisurely late-night walk beneath the stars, and moonlight. Most late-night walks however end by slipping into warm pajamas and cozying up in a nice, soft bed. Ours was a bit different as it would continue for the next 7 hours and when we finished it wasn’t a cozy bed that would be waiting for us, but a bitterly cold morning, strong winds, and a sunrise that made it all worth it. I don’t know about you, but I would take that over a warm bed any day of the week. We got to Fuji 6th station after about 30 minutes, grabbed a map and continued on our way.

The hike between Fuji 6th and 7th station was drastically different from the first leg of our journey. The gentle slope quickly turned into a steep incline, and it would only grow harder as we continued. When we got to the 7th station, we took a quick water break, and continued our ascent. The hike became increasingly difficult and the clear path became rockier, and rockier until there was no path at all; only large rocks that we had to climb over on our hands and knees. It’s amazing to see what the human body is capable of when we push past the physical and mental boundaries we set for ourselves. It was late, I was exhausted, my lungs were aching and my joints were screaming for relief, but this was actually the part of the climb that I enjoyed the most. I loved feeling challenged, and figuring out how to navigate my way over the rocks and around other climbers. It was exhilarating, and exciting and made me feel alive as cheesy as that may sound!

It was 12:40am when we got to the 8th station. We put on another jacket, chugged the rest of our water, ate some granola bars and continued upwards. My body was desperate for a longer break, but the weather had changed from the comfortable chill that it had been before to a bitter cold with strong winds making it feel even worse. It was better to keep moving than to sit still and allow the cold and exhaustion to catch up to us. As we continued, the winds grew stronger, the hike became harder, and the night stretched on. We continued layering our clothing as the temperature dropped and by the time we got to the 9th station, I was wearing gloves, a scarf, a tank top, long sleeved shirt, sweat jacket, leggings, long socks, a wool hat, and a thick winter jacket. All of this was still not enough to withstand the freezing temperature and I struggled to hold anything as my fingers were so numb! We took a slightly longer break this time, but the cold quickly became too much for us and we kept going.  At this point it was 2:20am and we were running on granola bars, adrenaline, and sheer determination not to miss the epic sunrise that was awaiting us at the summit.  It was 3:30am when we could finally see the top of Fuji. We still had a ways to go, and at this point there were so many climbers that we were sometimes at a complete standstill. We did our best to climb around tour groups and tired hikers stopping for rest, but sometimes the path grew narrow and we had no choice but to wait for the slow progression of the climbers in front of us.

By the time we reached the summit, it was about 4:20 am and I no longer felt tired. My heart was racing with anticipation and I frantically searched for a good spot amongst the thousands of hikers waiting for the show. We found a great spot with only a few people a bit further down and I sat right on the edge (sorry mom) and waited. The wind at this point was stronger than anything I had ever experienced before. We watched as people’s possessions went flying over the edge of the mountain until they were swallowed up by the clouds. We sat and waited with our backs hunched over, shielding our camera equipment and faces against the sand that was being blown against us like thousands of tiny pieces of glass by the unforgiving gusts of wind. To be honest, it was pretty miserable and I was a little disappointed that we had worked so hard and this is what was waiting for us at the top.

My disappointment quickly dissipated however as we watched the first orange sliver of light break through the thick blanket of clouds; a beautiful contrast in the black sky. I was dreading the insane crowds of people who would be hiking that night, but there was something so beautiful about sitting at the top of Mt. Fuji at 4am with a bunch of strangers who came from all over the world to climb this mountain and watch the sunrise from this very same spot. It’s one of the many things about traveling that has me constantly coming back for more; the way an experience can break all cultural barriers and bring thousands of strangers together to appreciate this big, crazy world we get to live in.

We continued watching in stunned silence as the sun made its slow ascent above the clouds until the whole sky was alive with light and dancing with varying tones of oranges and pinks and yellows and blues. We stood awestruck and looked out over Japan, this beautiful country that I am lucky enough to call home. Suddenly the long night that we had endured didn’t seem so long, and the hike up didn’t seem quite so hard. We came for a sunrise and got one heck of a show.

There’s an old Japanese proverb that goes: “A wise man will climb Mt. Fuji once; a fool will climb it twice.” As difficult as this hike was, I can’t help but disagree with this statement and I think I’ll find myself on top of Fuji again one day.  If you ever get the chance to go on this adventure, I hope you take it. It won’t be easy, I can promise you that; but the best things in life rarely are, and there’s nothing quite as rewarding as standing 12,365 feet in the clouds and getting to say, “I really did it. I just climbed Mt. Fuji.”

So…You want to Climb Mt. Fuji???

I had a million questions about the climb, so here’s some helpful information if you’re planning to take on the challenge!

What to wear:

  • Good hiking boots
  • Thick socks
  • Layers of clothing (start with something light, like a tank top or leggings and keep layering as the night gets colder)
  • Jacket
  • Hat
  • Scarf
  • Gloves

What to bring:

  • Hiking backpack
  • Head lamp
  • Water (buying water on the mountain is really expensive, We only brought 2 bottles and I wish we had packed more!)
  • Snacks (food can get pricey too, we brought granola bars, apples and chocolate!)
  • Sunscreen (for the hike down, it’s brutal)
  • Cash (can’t use a card at any of the stations)
  • Flashlights
  • Extra batteries (our headlamp died and we were left in the dark haha)
  • Handwipes (there isn’t a place to wash your hands in some of the bathrooms)

 

How to get there from Tokyo:

You can take a bus directly from the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to the 5th Station (the Fuji Subaru Line one), which is where the hike begins! Bus tickets cost around 2,700 yen (about $27.00)  one way, and the trip takes about 2.5 hours. Be prepared if you are prone to getting car sick, it’s a rough drive up! You can reserve tickets here.

 

Weather:

Every single weather site that we checked said that it would be storming on the mountain for the whole week. With my experience with weather forecasts in Japan (SUPER unreliable) we decided to go anyways and I’m so happy we did. It was seriously beautiful the whole time and didn’t rain once! I’d say go no matter what, and if conditions actually are bad when you get there, use your best judgement!

Other helpful information:

  • Hiking is only open July-September
  • Admission is free!
  • Book bus tickets in advance!
  • If you have room, bring a blanket for sitting at the top, it gets REALLY cold.
  • The descent: Just a warning, you may think going down would be easier than climbing up, (we did) but the hike down is BRUTAL and twice as hard. It’s best to be mentally prepared, and if you have any joint issues, bring a knee or ankle brace! It is a steep decline the whole way, and you will definitely be feeling it!
  • Restrooms are $2.00 to use

 

Hope this helps, and if you have any questions about the hike please don’t hesitate to ask! Have fun and Gannbatte! (Good luck!)

 

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