Mount Everest has been in the news a lot lately, and it got me thinking about the time that I climbed Mount Fuji.
I’m not sure about Everest, but when you set out to climb Fuji, most people don’t start at the bottom. Instead, you take a bus up to the fifth “station.” This is sort of a base camp where you can buy water or other supplies before heading up.
Stations are basically waypoints along the trail and I think there were eight of them in all, before you get to the summit. I don’t remember there being much at the 6th, or 7th station – maybe a flag to denote that you made it.
By the time we got to the 6th station, it was pretty much dark so there wasn’t a lot to see. We found our way through much of the rest of the trail by holding on to a chain that was looped through spikes placed along the route.
Making your way up Fuji-san isn’t actually rock climbing, more like a strenuous hike, although there were a couple of times that I did have to climb hand over hand.
Here’s What I Learned:
Don’t wait until the end of the season.
We climbed during the last week before the mountain closed to climbers for winter, which is much earlier than you’d expect. I think it was the second week in September. It was already pretty cold by this time and the temperature kept dropping, the closer we got to the top.
Don’t go without walking sticks.
They sell these at the fifth station and while you may feel like an old weirdo buying them, by hour 7 of hiking you will actually feel like an old weirdo and will be happy that you have your sticks.
Start hiking in the afternoon, not morning.
You’ll hike for many hours to get to the last station, but you want to stay there overnight rather than heading up to the summit right away. One of the big “moments” when climbing Fuji is to be able to catch the sunrise from the summit. You want to leave late enough that you don’t wait around forever for sunrise, but not so late that you hike the whole way in the dark.
Leave in the afternoon, hike for hours, hunker down in wet, sandy bunks and then get back up around 3am to hike the last couple of hours to the top so you get there just before sunrise. It’s incredibly worth it.
Be prepared for a rough night.
There’s nothing at the 6th or 7th station, but the 8th has a hut where you can get food and shelter, and use the toilet.
There will be a handful of other hikers who came in sometime before you. We left a bit too late in the afternoon and didn’t get to the eighth station until around midnight, and I think we were the last group to arrive.
The toilet situation is rough. Around the corner from the hut, there are a few haphazardly assembled stalls, open to the sky, each with a hole and a hose.
Inside isn’t exactly warm, but relative to outside, it feels pretty nice. If you’re hungry you can buy a cup o’ noodles…for roughly $20. I ate a granola bar. 🙁
I think we paid to be able to sleep there but I can’t remember. I do remember that the “bunks” were a single row of plywood, one mounted just off the ground, and another over it, like a bunk bed. Roll out your sleeping bag next to your neighbor, hope the dampness of the boards doesn’t soak through, and try to keep the sand out of your mouth as you shiver.
I’m not sure why it was sandy, but it was.
It’s not enough to simply have the sunscreen in your backpack. You need to actually put it on your skin. (D’oh!) The sun on the descent is brutal. It is cold outside and you won’t feel it. I had my jacket cinched tightly around my head for most of the 5 hour walk down the mountain and basically turned my entire face into the Japanese flag: mostly white with a bright red circle in the center where my jacket didn’t cover.
Last but not least: if you have the chance, take it.
Japanese people have a saying:
Everyone should climb Fuji once, but only a fool does it twice.
You know how in hindsight you tend to paint a rosier picture of how things happened? You kind of ratchet up the good feelings and dial down the bad? Well, looking back at these photos I kept thinking, ‘Man, I was miserable.’ …and that is after over a decade of rose colored tinting, lol.
But it sure was a beautiful experience and I’m glad I had it.
Soul mate, dog mom, little sister; curious pragmatist and dedicated budgeter. I love traveling and I love planning and have managed to interweave both into my career and personal life. I’ve lived in 3 countries, traveled to over 35 more and have worked for a decade planning off site business functions and incentive events. Read more…