Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan stands at 3776 metres high. The dormant volcanic mountain soars from the ground, standing by its lonesome, daring the 400,000 people who attempt to climb each year to reach the summit to see the first rays of light, streak from the clouds to light up the day.
Before you reach the summit though, first you have to get to the mountain. From Tokyo it’s only 100 kilometres away, so it’s not so difficult but I was departing from Osaka and to get to the fifth station to commence the hike was a journey in itself. Luckily in the climbing season from July to the first week of September there is a regular night bus to Kawaguchiko from there in the morning, you then have to catch another bus to the fifth station of the mountain.
The fifth station , the highest point which the buses can go is like a chaotic circus, buses and people are everywhere and most of the time the people don’t really know where they are going. I admit I was one of them, I hadn’t even booked a hut to stay in fortunately the tourist information booth was very helpful and after calling a few of the huts the staff were able to get me into a hut on the 8th station.
Summer is hot in Japan, a summer day could be 37 degrees with intense humidity but from the fifth station (2300 metres high) it felt like a pleasant 20 degrees. There are a few trails leading up Mount Fuji from different areas of the mountain. The trail I climbed is the most popular Yoshida trail and most people take this trail.
The start of the hike follows the tree lined trail for a short distance before becoming a barren dry land, the emptiness of the volcanic mountain as you slowly walk up along the loose scree that forms the trail makes you ponder why from a distance is this such an iconic, beautiful mountain but up close it’s just gravel. You hope that above, at the summit the skies will open up and offer breathtaking views because so far it has been you and just the clouds I haven’t even seen Mt Fuji yet and I’m physically climbing it.
Walking from the fifth station to where I was staying Hakuun-so hut (3200 metres) didn’t seem so difficult, I was breathing heavily at times but I walked and rested at my own pace, so I never over exerted myself and still had lots of energy when I finally reached my hut in three hours. Taking your time is important when hiking mountains of high altitude as Mount Fuji is high enough to cause high altitude sickness.
Dinner was served at 16:30 and then we went to our beds in a large hall squeezed in with 300 people. Sleeping was hard due to it being so early and being in a room full of snorers as well as being restless due to the anticipation of what lied ahead. People on tours got up early some before midnight while I got up at 1:00am and went down for breakfast before leaving at 1:30.
Wow, what a difference hiking is between day and night while hiking through the day you see people but you are more evenly spread out over the trail but now everyone was climbing at the same time. The trails of light from people’s lamps snaked all along the mountain. Each hiker taking two steps before stopping as the trail was like a traffic jam.
I reached the top at 4:00 am in very good condition like most people, however one person I came across while hiking looked in a bad way and I would be surprised if they made it, others who were in tours were provided with oxygen so it made me smile each time I saw someone breathe into a bottle.
I had climbed with long pants and a fleece top and while hiking I was fine but now on top the wind whipped across my body which made me reach into my bag and pull out a fleece jacket. With two fleece jackets on sitting waiting for the sun to rise I was relatively warm but I do think the day that I summited was a warmer day than usual as I had heard it was extremely cold up there.
The sun rose at 4:40am and everyone cheered as the sky turned from dark to orange to blue it was interesting to see that soon after most people turned around and went back down. People think this is the actual summit but its not and I was determined to find it as every mountain that I have climbed at the summit there is always a summit post but right now, I hadn’t found it.
Following a group of people, a trail streaked around a plateau before a steep climb and there it was at the back end of the caldera, the weather tower the official summit of Mount Fuji. I stood a personal high for me at 3776 metres and reached in my pocket for my phone to take a photo of my accomplishment but the phone was dead. The battery was flat so my feat was left undocumented.
The caldera is the nicest section of the hike of Mount Fuji, The caldera spans five hundred metres in diameter and sinks some 250 metres in depth the only snow that I saw on the mountain was a small patch lying at the base of the caldera..
Descending proved to be much more difficult as my sneakers struggled to get a grip on the loose scree causing you to slip and slide, the calves ached at the back of the legs and your energy seemed zapped as the adrenaline started to wear off. As I neared the fifth station a Japanese proverb entered my mind He who climbs Mt Fuji is a wise man; he who climbs twice is a fool. I guess only time will tell if I ‘m wise or not.