Conquering Mt. Fuji
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Mt. Fuji is one of Japan's most iconic symbols and standing at 3,776 meters it is no small feat. However, I can say I still greatly underestimated this climb.
I decided to book on a tour with "Tokyo Gaijins" as it was going to be my first time climbing a relatively tall mountain. We set off on bus from Shinjuku in the early hours of the morning towards the Fuji-Subaru Line 5th station. Of course, for inexperienced climbers like myself do start from the 5th station - this is where normal cars can no longer pass and where most climbers begin. Only the hardcore climbers challenge the mountain from the very bottom. At the 5th station you can expect airport-like prices but still everything is much cheaper than further up the mountain, so if you find you need more water or anything, make use of the opportunity. It was at the 5th station where I felt I reaped the benefits of being apart of the tour group. We had exclusive access to lockers and a tatami rest room on the third floor, which was particularly great to escape the crowds outside.
Our tour followed the Yoshida trail, this is perhaps the most popular route but because we chose a weekday to climb it wasn't too crowded however, we were still very much climbing in a line. Overall it wasn't too difficult but be warned, there are parts where you do have to use your hands to help you climb when the path gets really rocky. Nevertheless, it is still all relatively safe, few accidents happen on Fuji each year. The main thing you have to worry about is being ill equipped, which leads me on to weather. We experienced stormy weather as we climbed, which is not unusual for Fuji. At which point I regretted not renting a waterproof cover for my backpack as I would later come to find everything in my bag soaked. In normal circumstances, I would have found the storm absolutely terrifying, and part of me did because on a rocky mountainside with no shelter and in the cloud layer, I can think of other places I'd rather be. Fortunately, our guide put my mind at ease as he could tell that the lightning was not near us. But I felt very sorry for the under prepared climbers in our group who had no rain jacket and were just wearing a t-shirt and shorts. It's safe to say they did not make it to the summit, they made the sensible decision to turn around at the 8th station the next morning. At the summit temperatures can be as low as 0 degrees and the wind is very aggressive (even in summer) so be prepared with extra layers and a hat/ ear muffs.
The reality of our sleeping quarters. I'd heard rumours of how treacherous the accommodation on Mt. Fuji is, but hearing about it and then actually experiencing it, are two very different things. Nevertheless, I really recommend booking accommodation, especially if you are aiming to see sunrise at the summit. It's good to have a warm meal and escape the rain and cold for a few hours and believe me, Mt. Fuji is COLD, don't let the summer weather across the rest of Japan fool you. As for expectations, expect to be lying next to someone with just maybe an inch between you and you'll be sharing a large blanket. To put it into perspective, you are directed to a pillow rather than a bed, but at least it's cosy warm, right?
The last push. We woke up at 1am... I'm just kidding I didn't wake up, I didn't sleep. Delirious. From the 8th station we had just under 2 hours to climb to the summit. We lit up our head torches and looked behind us at the other climbers. The sight was truly amazing as a thread of light twisted up the mountain, emitted from all the other climbers lights. For our last stretch, our guide was strict - no one would be allowed to overtake him. The pace had to be steady and slow. We breathed in slowly and out even slower to warn off any impending signs of altitude sickness. With this in mind, it is essential you bring lots of water and drink little but often. Many climbers fall victim to altitude sickness as Mt. Fuji is a steep climb that rapidly increases in altitude.
The last push was the hardest but the relief of reaching the top and the feeling of fulfillment overcame all of our hardships. Though our guide only had to have one glimpse at our tired faces to decide to shepherd us into the restaurant. I ordered the most expensive udon I've ever eaten, but it acted as a comfort against the raging wind outside, I then excused myself for the most expensive toilet experience of my life (the toilets only get more expensive the higher you go). But at 4 am it was all worth it. Crowds were gathering around but our guide beckoned us to follow him down the trail a little. He claimed that although the view was spectacular from the top, it was something magical when experienced in a small group. We walked down until we reached a perfect point on the path where the view was crystal clear. We sat and waited in our little group and as for the sunrise, I'll show you.
There's nothing quite like it.
Overall despite the hardships the climb was well worth the effort. I encourage you all to tick this one of your Japan bucket list. If it's your first time taking on a big rock then I highly recommend booking with someone like "Tokyo Gaijins" the booking is fairly priced and you can hire a guide and all the equipment you need (like waterproofs) plus after the climb they take you for a well deserved onsen before going back to Tokyo. My final tip is that if you're feeling up to it once you've reached the 10th station, you can actually hike a little higher to the post office, the highest post office in Japan! You can even post a card but be sure to prepare your card before you climb the mountain.
I was really glad that I opted to be in a group with a guide, not only did he not let me give up, he also had interesting anecdotes about the mountain. But once our feet safely reached the 5th station again, he announced "I climb this mountain everyday!"