Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Climbing Mount Fuji

“He who climbs Mount Fuji is a wise man, but he who climbs it twice is a fool.” - Japanese proverb
The iconic mountain, as seen from Hakone in February

Mount Fuji is a well-known symbol of Japan around the world celebrated for its majesty and beauty. At 12,390 feet it is the tallest mountain in Japan and almost perfectly symmetrical, lending itself well to artistic interpretation and reverence. Climbing the sacred Fuji-san (as the Japanese call it) is not technically difficult;*only* 4.2 miles up and about 4800 ft. of elevation. Anyone that is relatively in shape, with a bit of hiking experience and proper gear can do it. Hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, Japanese and foreigners, climb it every year during the official climbing season of July and August. Still, it's no joke--it's a mountain, not a walk in the park. Regardless, this year there will likely be a record number of climbers due to Fuji-san's designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site

To be honest, when we arrived in Japan I had little interest in climbing Mt. Fuji. I was perfectly content to look at it and admire it, as the Japanese have done for thousands of years. Well, when I saw that there was an overnight trip on my birthday I thought--maybe--just maybe--it would be wonderful to reminisce: "On my 33rd birthday I saw the sun rise from Mt. Fuji."
And for Igor, it would be a chance to make it to the top. In 2006 he didn't make it up to the summit due to bad weather. So if the proverb holds true, then I am a wise (wo)man and Igor is a fool for climbing twice! ;)

My expectations were that the trip would be a a tough uphill/downhill slog through a harsh landscape devoid of greenery (and shade), with no guarantee of viewing the sunrise. Ultimately, it turned out to be about the journey and not the destination--and such a uniquely memorable Japanese experience. That being said, I'm never doing it again--my legs will thank me!

Our Route (Yoshida Trail):

July 21, 2013: The Hike Up

Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine - the original "trailhead" at the bottom

Our trailhead - Yoshida 5th Station, elevation 2305 m (7562 ft). There are 4 main trails to the summit and this one is the most popular due to its proximity to the Tokyo area.

Walking sticks for purchase. You can get them branded at each station.

We're going all the way up there?

Starting out around 9:30 am. The people coming down did not look very happy!

Switchbacks and mountain huts

Contemplating the view. A little hazy the first day.

"Bulldozers" used to bring supplies up and down the mountain...and if you get hurt you're coming down on one of these too. For 30,000 yen ($300).

Going through the clouds in a really rocky section

Above the clouds

Resting at one of the many mountain huts

Approx $3 for a Snickers bar. Captive audience!
Resting in the moonscape

So close but so far...

All tucked in for the night at the Fujisan Hotel (3200 m/11155 ft) after a hot meal. The 40(!) mountain huts can house 7,000 people. Just crazy.

July 22, 2013: Up to the Summit and Back Down

Getting ready in the morning to catch the sunrise at the top - 1:30 a.m. I slept 4 hours at the most.

Bathroom break? That'll cost ya 200 yen ($2) each time. Really, though, what does it tell you about the volume of people that they have these kinds of facilities??

Basically a back to back single file line all the way to the summit 1200 ft up. We were lucky to have perfect weather--not raining and just above freezing temps.

Patiently waiting in line. This is when Igor started getting vertigo - a symptom of Altitude Sickness. He managed to hike through it, but others weren't so lucky.

 What a surreal experience.

We make it to the top just before sunrise around 4:30 a.m. - about 3 hours after we started climbing. It wouldn't be Japan without souvenir stands and vending machines!

 Enjoying our breakfast cocoa. At this point we thought it might be too cloudy to see the sunrise.

Waiting for the moment with thousands of our closest friends at 4:41 a.m.
The sun starts peeking through the clouds--cameras and phones up!
 We were happy to see a glimmer of something at all.

Everyone gasps "SUGOIIIIII!!!" (Coollll)

A gorgeous start to my 33rd year!

Shrine at the summit
Land of the Rising Sun

Yatta! (We did it!)
The crater...the mountain last erupted in 1707.

Line of people still climbing to the summit
Lots of wind so you can't hear anything that I'm saying. Oh well, you get the idea :-/

Breathtakingly beautiful

Starting our descent - tired and ready to get off the mountain

The descent is mostly shuffling down a steep slope of several inches deep slippery pumice. You will get cut you up if you fall. The one thing I wish I would have brought but didn't was a rag or face mask...very dry and dusty. I had a dust mustache!

 Downhill. UGH.

I look a lot happier than I felt! Starting to remove layers of clothing due to the temperature change. It's around 85-90 degrees F at the bottom.

Back where we started at the 5th station! Feeling relieved I didn't slip and break my ankle on the way down--Happy Birthday to me! :)

Post hike udon at 9:30 a.m.-- never tasted soo good! I thought I looked really tired but I realized it is just all the dirt under my eyes!

These boots were made for walking. Indeed.


  1. awesome, what a uniquely japanese experience! maybe i'll be there in the summer some day... great job documenting the hike.

  2. Thanks Jon! You should do it -- we can tell you all about it. Just won’t be joining you, haha ;)