Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hiking Mt. Fuji (August 2012)

Obviously, a lot has happened over the past ten months.  I think one of the most significant things we did in the past year (besides get married!) was our hike up Mt. Fuji.  

The day we hiked Fuji dawned clear and sunny.  Sunrise is around 4:30 a.m., but we boarded the buses in the dark, so that should tell you how early it was.  When we arrived at the bus loading location, I noted to myself that J. and I were WAY more prepared than most of the people waiting with us.  We were wearing hiking pants!  And hiking boots with ankle support!  And had brought snacks and rain protection!  We were going to conquer this mountain.

A little background information on Mt. Fuji ...

Mt. Fuji stands at 12,388 feet tall and is Japan's highest mountain peak.  It is officially open for climbing season each July and August.  During these two months, the mountain is usually free of snow, the weather is relatively mild and the mountain huts are open at each station (and in between each station as well).  There are ten stations on Mt. Fuji, with the first station located at the base of the mountain and the tenth station located at the peak.  There are paved roads up to the fifth station - and four fifth stations around the mountain.  Most climbers start their hike at the Fifth Station.

We were no exception.  Our bus dropped us off at the Kawaguchiko Fifth Station and we milled around, eager to be off the bus and get our hiking sticks.  These are the famous Fuji walking sticks that you get stamped at each hut along the way, marking your progress.  They also proved to be very useful on the hike down.

Mr. S. at the Fifth Station

The Fifth Station

J. and I with our hiking sticks

141 Ladies - Mrs. D., COW, Mrs. Bag-O, Me, Mrs. R. and Mrs. S.

J., Mr. S. and Mr. Bag-O

Our little group of friends!

Wait, you can ride a horse up this mountain?!  Why didn't I sign up for that?

Here we go!

We started on a dirt path, up to the Sixth Station.  It was an easy hike and we stopped pretty frequently to take in the scenery and take pictures.  I could tell that I was already getting winded easily and hoped that the altitude wouldn't bother me as we climbed higher.

Climbing Route

Summit - UP!

Our view up towards the summit.

The trail changed from dirt path to stairs ...

Climbing up, up, up ...

Our view out over the valley

J. with our hiking sticks ... the valley behind him

At our first "official" station - Sixth Station!

I think they were stamping our sticks in the little hut ...

Looking down at the trail we just hiked ...

Our freshly stamped sticks

Mountain Dog!

Back on the trail ... it gets very crowded and it is common to have to wait in line to climb certain parts of the trail

Coming into the next station

Having our sticks stamped at one of the huts along the way

Looking down ... still a beautiful day at this point!

At another station getting stamps ... 

It got kind of confusing, because there are only technically 5 stations between where we started and the summit, but there were definitely more than 5 places to stop and have our sticks stamped.  It was nice because it gave us a chance to stop, rest and have a quick snack but we didn't always exactly know where we were.


I think we are entering the Eighth Station here ...

At 3,250 meters!

Mrs. S. and I at the Eighth Station

Sadly, we have no pictures after this.  On the other side of the Eighth Station, it started misting rain so we packed our camera into our backpack in hopes it would stay dry.  We then covered ourselves in all of our protective rain gear and hiked on.

It only got worse from there.  With each step I took, I could feel the water streaming down my legs and my feet sloshing in my hiking boots.  The only thing that kept me from turning around and going down was that if turned around at that point, I would have to climb down the route we had just come up.  I had heard that the route going down from the summit was easier than the one we climbed up.

I sat down at one point and told my group to go on ahead without me.  I would walk two or three switchbacks and then sit down and rest (and silently curse J. for talking me into hiking this darn mountain).  I met a friend whose group had long since turned around and we made small talk at each break we took.

I finally reached the summit and met up with the rest of my group.  I have done a lot of hiking in Washington and would love to say that reaching the top of the mountain made the miserable conditions and miserable last few hundred meters worth it, but sadly it did not.  Usually in Washington, the hike would be challenging in some places but the view from the top was always worth it.  Not the case here.  There was nothing to see because the weather conditions were so bad.  The wind was practically blowing you over at the top and we couldn't even see the crater.  The conditions were so bad that they advised that we changed our socks, warmed up for a bit and started down.

Our friends took this video about an hour prior to our arrival at the top ... conditions were worse by the time we made it.

We had a quick bowl of beef and rice, put drier socks on and started our descent.  It was almost as miserable as the ascent.  The downward trail was switchbacks as far as you could see.  By this point, my feet were swimming in my hiking boots (how I did not get one single blister I have no idea!) and my knees were killing me.  We practically ran down, just to get to the bottom.  It took significantly less time to get down and the conditions did improve closer to the bottom, but overall, I would rank climbing Mt. Fuji up there with one of the worst days of my life.

J. says he would do it again in perfect conditions but I say "no thank you."  The Japanese say "a wise man climbs Mt. Fuji once, a fool climbs it twice."  


Mt. Fuji was recently named a Unesco World Heritage Site and starting this year, they are going to start charging a 70,000 yen (roughly $70.00) climbing fee to hike the mountain.  I am glad we did it last year when our costs were minimal - just our transportation to the mountain!  

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