Home > Pre-Japan > Dash’s whirlwind trip around the world, part 2: Mt. Fuji

Dash’s whirlwind trip around the world, part 2: Mt. Fuji

What better way to follow up a wedding in America than a grueling hike up Japan’s tallest mountain? I can think of a few better ways actually, all of which involve sleep, and not mountaineering. But I had chosen my path long ago.

After Stu and Becca’s wedding on Saturday, early Sunday I had to fly out again. I really wish I could have stayed at least one more day to catch up with my friends, but alas my schedule was tight. Sam and Ivy graciously offered to drive me to the airport and I humbly accepted, but only after refusing twice, in true Japanese fashion. (I had not realized they were staying in the area, I was under the impression they were offering to drive from their apartment in San Francisco to Benicia, then back to SFO.)

My flight was uneventful. After discovering that my seat was smack dab in the middle of the row, I asked the flight attendant if there were any other seats available. Amazingly, they found me an exit row seat! I had so much leg room I barely knew what to do with it! Thanks to my fortuitous seating re-arrangement I was able to be quite comfortable on the 10 hour flight back. We even arrived 45 minutes early, which turned out to be quite a good thing, as I will explain. From the plane I hopped on a train to Kawaguchiko, a small town at the foot of Mt. Fuji where my friends were staying. Little did I know I would spend nearly as much time on the train than I did on the plane! Well, that may be a bit hyperbolic, but it took me four hours and 15 minutes from Narita airport to Kawaguchiko station. I had to switch trains three times, and the last two trains were locals, each taking about an hour each. It was only after I arrived that I came to realize I could have taken a bus from Shinjuku station, saved myself two hours and probably 2,000 yen or so. Ah well, live and learn! I arrived at the hotel at around 9:45pm, understandably exhausted. I caught up with my friends for a bit, ate something (which I hadn’t done since about noon) and then hit the sack, preparing to climb Mt. Fuji in the morning!

I don't think I ever want to catch the swine flu after reading this...This sign was in the lobby or our hotel.

Being somewhat smart people, we did not hike Mt. Fuji all the way from the bottom. We did what most people do, which is take the bus to the fifth station a nice 2700 meters up. It is recommended that you hang out there for at least a half an hour to allow your body to adjust to the sudden change in altitude. We did this by shopping around for supplies and souvenirs. Also, after speaking to some other foreigners who had just finished we all decided to buy some oxygen spray bottles. They weighed barely anything and would give a nice burst of oxygen if we started to feel light headed. After a lunch and the arrival of our last companion, Sarah (she took the train in the morning from the Kansai area) we got started!

Foggy at the 5th station

Some of us ready to hike! Takuya, Hannah, Kate and Alex

Heading into the fog!

Getting dimmer!

Not a ton of visibility

These trees are doing their best to get as much sun as possible!

Flower on the side of the road.

We reached the sixth station in about 45 minutes and I was beginning to wonder whether this “Fuji” was really anything to be worried about. Even reaching the seventh station about an hour and a half later didn’t deter me. It was slopey, but still nothing serious. Truthfully, the hike itself never got really difficult. After the seventh station we reached the rocky parts, which meant more “climbing” than hiking, but besides taking a few big steps up these rocks things didn’t really change. The challenge of Fuji is two fold. First, the altitude. If you are not used to going up this high (and why would you, Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, so it’s not like there are higher mountains to climb in this country…) your body has real trouble adjusting to the lack of oxygen up there. You are breathing heavily thanks to the hike, but your body isn’t taking in enough oxygen to be satisfied. It’s hard to catch your breath, and you start feeling light headed. In bad cases (which unfortunately one of our group experienced) you start feeling nauseous and throw up. Not a pleasant experience considering you know you have to keep going up because that’s the only way to get back down. The second challenge of Mt. Fuji is not a Fuji thing, it’s a people thing. Mt. Fuji is only climbable by amateurs six weeks out of the year, in late July and August. Any other time it’s simply too cold and you need an ice pick to get anywhere. The lodges are not open either, meaning you have to do the trek in one go. Thanks to this short period of availability, it is CROWDED! Often times we were literally standing in line to get up the mountain. This suited some of our slower companions as they were given ample opportunity to stop and catch their breath, but for Kate and I who are used to pushing our bodies while biking this came to be quite a bore.

We're walking through the clouds, so naturally it rained. You'd rain too if something was walking through you...

So many people!

Here's the group, minus me! Sarah, Aine, Kate, Hannah, Alex and Takuya.

Fog on the slopes

The eighth station! Above the clouds!

Sun setting on Fuji

Kate and I reached the eighth station where we would rest until midnight at around 5:30pm (about 4 hours after we began) and the rest of our group followed shortly after. We had reserved spaces at a lodge on the eighth station so that we could wake up early and hike to the top to watch the sunrise from the apex. We ate dinner and then settled in to sleep. Well, settle might be a bit of a stretch. We were literally squished in like sardines! I have never seen anything like our sleeping quarters that night. We were all lined up next to each other, shoulders touching, in a long row on the second floor.

Like sardines in a can...

Not only was it uncomfortably tight, it was excruciatingly hot thanks to the 200 other people in our immediate vicinity. To top this all off I was beginning to feel the effects of our height and had developed a nice little headache. After trying to squirm for a good hour (real squirming was impossible because I was wedged in between two other people I went downstairs to get some air, and huff some oxygen. I then noticed that most of the first floor was not in use for some absurd reason, and asked the staff whether they could allow me to lay down there for the remainder of the night. I explained that it was hot on the second floor, and that my large frame simply did not fit in the space that was given (which was absolutely the truth, my head was touching the edge of my “bed” even when I was curled up in the fetal position. They graciously acquiesced (they were very accommodating there, something I am ever thankful for considering there was really no reason for them to be. They held all the power.) and I was able to catch some shut eye for an hour before we all woke up at midnight to hike the last two stations to the top.

Everyone's got their lights on!

Aine feeling good

Hiking in the dark is yet another kind of challenge, but just about everyone had a little head lamp so it wasn’t super dangerous. I had bought a traditional flashlight but found I did not need it, and would rather hold my oxygen tank. It was slow going up the mountain, and a trek that probably would have taken two hours during the day took us right about four hours. We finally reached the top and searched for a good spot to settle down and watch the sun come up. By this time I was freezing as all the sweat on my body cooled and settled. Yet finally at around 4:30am something began to happen. We could see a bit of pink light coloring the clouds closest to the horizon. Everyone around us was tittering with excitement, some even beginning a futile 10-1 countdown every 30 seconds or so. We watched as slowly the sky brightened and the sun’s bald head slowly poked it’s head out of the horizon and into our field of vision. Cameras clicked and our surroundings flickered thanks to a few photographic amateurs who had forgotten to turn off their flash. It was quite beautiful. Standing there, literally above the clouds watching the sun come up after eight hours of climbing and one hour of sleep, really gives you a great sense of accomplishment. As soon as the sun came up I huffed it inside because I was really worried I would get pneumonia if I stayed out there any longer. Kate, the one with the fancy camera, stayed and took pictures as we headed inside the warm confines of the ramen shop on top of the mountain. Once Kate gets done with her absurd trip home through China, Mongolia and Russia on the Trans siberian railway, I will share her pictures of the sunrise, which are no doubt magnificent. I managed to snag a few decent pictures, but they don’t really reflect the whole thing.

We made it to the top! Kate Sarah and Aine

Smiling, despite the cold

Not sure what's going on with this cloud, but it sure is pretty!

Everyone lined up to watch the sun rise!

It's starting!

Peekaboo!

Coming up slowly!

Once the sun came up it warmed up immediately, and everything looked amazing!

So glad there were clouds so I could take these pictures!

Kate posing under the torii above the clouds

Takuya and Alex posing on the mountaintop

At 5:30am we headed back. Going down was probably the most challenging aspect of the whole climb, as the way down is one long zig zag of soft dirt and stones, at just enough of an incline to make it rather uncomfortable. It probably took us about four and a half hours to get down, and while I reveled in the sense of accomplishment of climbing Fuji, everyone else came down quite grumpy and seemingly lacking any kind of feelings other than: “Thank God that is over. Never again.” I’m sure the feeling of accomplishment crept in later, perhaps after a bath and a good night’s rest.

We were all exhausted. Kate and Sarah decided to be pro-active about what to do about it.

Doing a little jig

Alex and Takuya making their way down the mountain...backwards

Like little ants...that'll be us soon

My one best friend on the mountain.

We made it!!! YAY!

Sleeping on the bus down the mountain

Climbing Mt. Fuji was an experience unlike any I’ve had. It is an ugly, desolate mountain. There were only two times climbing up that I was able to look out and really appreciate what it offered. The first was reaching the eighth station when suddenly we found ourselves entirely above clouds. After walking through them for most of the day, their mist and rain drenching us to the bone, we turned around and BAM! Gone was the rain, there was the sky and the gorgeous patterns of clouds all around. The second was, of course, reaching the top. Regardless of what Fuji looks like or the conditions surrounding your ascent, reaching the top is a good feeling. A great feeling. I’m really glad I was able to climb it with the people I did, glad I was able to spend the time with my friends, two of whom left the country right after to go home. It was an incredibly busy week for me, flying all around the world, but as I said earlier it was one of those vacations that tires you out entirely but keeps you wanting more. I’ve been back home for four days now, but I still find myself thinking about the trip, which is unusual for me.

So thanks, everyone, for such a fabulous seven days. Both the wedding and the climb up Fuji were entirely and satisfyingly enjoyable, and it wouldn’t have been as much fun without each and every one of you there. Let’s hope this isn’t the only time we can have such a wonderful experience together 🙂

Please enjoy my pictures! There are more on the webs, as usual. Just clicky here

-Dash

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Categories: Pre-Japan
  1. Uncle Dickie
    August 16, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    wonderful, as usual
    have to ask –how high IS it?
    the intimate appeal of the isolation in the mountains seems somewhat diminished or at least changed by sharing the experience with dozens –hundreds?– of others
    remarkable that the Japanese culture manages to be so crowded but presumably good natured about it

  2. Dash
    August 17, 2010 at 4:47 am

    It’s 3,700 meters high, give or take a few! 🙂

    And yes, everyone was quite good natured about it. No screaming or yelling or anything!

  3. Stu
    August 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Dash, these pictures are amazing!

  4. Joel
    August 17, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    I never made it to mount Fuji in 8 years of Japan–in part because I was too lazy to organize a trip, and in part because I heard a lot of stories like yours which indicated it was almost more work and crowds than it was worth.

    Still, I wish I had done it now.

    Apparently there’s a Japanese proverb: “A wise man climbs Mt Fuji once. A fool does it twice.” Would you agree with that? Are you going to climb it twice?

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