The day we climbed Mt. Fuji, we woke up at 5am, an hour before we needed to. From our hotel window, we had a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji. After getting ready and eating breakfast, we headed to the bus stop around 7am. The bus only arrived at 7:30 am, but we thought it would be busy and we wanted a good seat on the bus. As it turned out, there was only one other man on the bus. It took about 1 hour on the bus to get to the Gotemba 5th station. At this station, there were a few little shops and we each bought a wooden hiking pole for 1100 yen (about $11) each. That is the best 1100 yen I’ve ever spent. I’m pretty sure I would have either died or permanently injured my legs without it.
We set off at a good pace. We were both in pretty good shape as we didn’t have a car in Japan and consequently biked and walked everywhere. We had to get to the summit and back down another trail to catch the last bus at 6pm. If we didn’t make it back down in time to catch our bus we would have to spend the night outside in the cold.
Mt. Fuji is 3776 m high so people can suffer from altitude sickness while hiking. The bus dropped us off at 1900 m so we had to climb the remaining 1876 m of altitude. The Subashiri trail we chose for the ascent was fairly treed at the beginning. Nonetheless, we were using our hiking sticks immediately to help push ourselves up big lava rocks, etc.
After the seventh station, the real work began. I started getting out of breath every few steps. Previously, we had stopped often to catch our breath and to wait until our hearts had stopped pounding in our ears, but now we were stopping more often. There’s less oxygen up there and we were noticing it. As we neared the eighth station, which was to be our turn around point if we couldn’t summit, I was ready to give up. We had been hiking straight up for over three hours, clambering up huge lava stones, and sometimes walking up this deep dirt that was the equivalent of hiking through sand or snow. I felt like I had been sprinting for the last 3 hours and I really didn’t think my body could take it. My legs were literally shaking. We got to what we thought was the eighth station and I was going to break the news to Allan- I couldn’t go on. We still had about 2-3 hours of hiking up let alone the time it would take to go down.
I finally told Allan, “I can’t go on, I think we should turn back. I’m sorry.
Allan in his most encouraging voice, “You can do it, but will you let me help you?”
I laughed a little and asked, “How are you going to help me?”
“I’ll carry your bag.”
Already Allan was carrying pretty much everything except my water, but I accepted. He carried our big pack on his back and my smaller bag on his front. One Japanese man on the trail pointed at Allan and said, “Good idea.”
I agreed, “I think so too.”
Later he passed us as we were resting and suggested to Allan, “One more baggage?” He wanted Allan to carry his bag too. This time, Allan didn’t accept.
We continued on, we didn’t stop for food because we were pressed for time. At about 2pm we got to the ninth station. We asked the guys there, just to make sure we knew where we were. They told us, “Summit.” Well, you should’ve seen me smile and laugh with relief- this was seriously the best part of the day. I thought I still had an hour to go uphill and I found out that we had made it to the top! I was so relieved. It only took us 5 hours to summit even though it seemed like we were going really slowly. We walked around part of the crater and of course took some pictures before taking the Fujinomiya trail down. We couldn’t spend too much time at the top since it was already 2:30 pm and it was supposed to take 3-5 hours to get down and the last bus was at 6pm.
The view from the top, much like the entire hike, was rather anti-climactic. It was so cloudy that really all you could see were clouds. On the hike, we were either in clouds or above them, only once did we get a glimpse of the land below, so the hike really wasn’t scenic. I’m used to hiking in the Canadian Rockies where there’s beautiful scenery of lakes, creeks, trees, flowers, etc. Up here, all we saw was lava rock and clouds. The popular way to hike Mt. Fuji is to hike up to the eighth station during the day, sleep for a few hours and then climb the rest of the way at night to watch the sunrise at the top. I think doing that would be rather dangerous since the path is so steep and rocky. I’ve heard that the sunrise is rather anti-climactic as well. One guy on his youtube video commenting on the sunrise said, “I could see this from an airplane.” He also named his video “Climbing Mt. Fuji: 8 hours of hell” so you can imagine his impression of it. I must say that I agree with him too, although I might call it purgatory.
After all that hard work to reach the top, we hardly had a chance to look around before we started down. We only stopped briefly to eat a couple handfuls of almonds to have some sustenance. There were some snowy parts going down and I ended up slipping and sliding on my bum down one of them which I think was the easiest way to go down- too bad I couldn’t have done the whole descent so easily. I never have felt so healthy and strong as I did coming down the mountain. I was holding onto the ropes, when they had them, with one hand and using my walking pole with the other to go down these steep rocks as quickly as possible. I felt like my body was floating while being thrown to and fro down the mountain. I think partly why I felt so strong was because I kept getting more and more oxygen. It’s hard to describe the feeling. Needless to say, that I definitely needed a hiking pole, my knees would’ve been completely shot without it. After 2-2.5 hours we could see the parking lot, but distances are deceiving so we didn’t want to start taking our time. We kept going at a good speed, the further we got down, the better the path got and by 5:30pm we were at the bus stop- half an hour before we needed to be. We were relieved. We drank some water, ate some food, and stretched. The view from the bus stop was beautiful especially after staring at lava and clouds for the past eight hours. We could see the summit above us, the clouds below us, and the sun was shining.
On the way home, we noticed that one of our water bottles had completely collapsed. I’m thinking it’s because it was open where there was less oxygen and then coming down to a lower altitude with more oxygen created this pressure on the outside to make it collapse. I thought that was pretty cool.
That was our trip to Mt. Fuji. When asked by a fellow Canadian living in Japan what we did on the weekend, I replied, “We climbed Mt. Fuji, I wouldn’t recommend it.” I really don’t understand how after you put yourself through that once out of ignorance or to have the bragging rights, you’d want to do it again. I met a few people who had climbed it multiple times and wanted to again. I wonder if they’d change their minds if they came to Canada to hike.