Boarding a bus from Shinjuku station, my friends and I embarked on our way to conquer Japan’s tallest mountain, Fuji-san (富士山, the “san” is the character for “mountain”). Having read various articles written by past hikers, we got a rough idea of how the climb would be. We had to keep in mind various factors: weather, altitude sickness, food&water, time, etc. After visiting a few hiking shops in Tokyo, I decided that I would try to climb Fuji on a budget since hiking gear is too expensive for a college student! I borrowed a friend’s head lamp, heat tech tights, and long tennis pants (in case it rained). Using my swiss gear backpack that I used for school, I packed it with:
- big bottle of water
- energy drink pouches
- Calorie Mate packs
- onigiri (rice balls)
- tennis pants
- spare clothes
- sweat towel
- gloves (didn’t use)
- 100 yen coins (for using the toilets on Fuji-san)
So with my backpack in tow, I brought multiple top layers for the ascent: tank top, exercise short sleeve shirt, long sleeve henley, and a sweater. Throughout the hike I would put on and take off layers due to the perspiration of hiking and coldness/wind of the higher altitude. On my feet, I wore wool socks and used my hiking boots I had bought earlier in the school year for when I hiked the Northern Japanese Alps. Gym shorts over top Uniqlo’s heat tech tights kept me warm from the waist down but allowed for flexibility when climbing over rocks. On my head, I wore a beanie and my head lamp so I could see where I was going in the dark.
Like most people, we planned our ascent from the 5th station. A little over 2 hours and we arrived at the 5th station just as the sun was setting. In total, there were 5 of us. 3 Japanese, 1 Swede, and me, the American. The Swede and I were exchange students at the International Christian University and our fellow Japanese hikers are/were regular students there (members of the yearbook club). After arriving, we went through our gear and made sure everything was good to go. Milling in and around the store at the station, we waited for our bodies to get used to the high altitude.
And here we go!
Starting out at around 8 p.m., the trail was initially fairly flat and provided a nice view of the city lights glowing brightly against the night sky. As we made turned onto the Fujiyoshida trail (the most popular trail) we slowly made our way. With me and the Swede typically taking the lead, the others were usually 30 yards behind us. Every hour, we would take a rest for about 10 minutes. Coming from Mitaka, Tokyo, none of us were used to being at a high altitude for a long time. So to avoid getting altitude sickness, we agreed to pace ourselves and to take frequent breaks. Altitude sickness can only cured by going to a lower elevation, and we didn’t want anyone to admit defeat after coming all the way from Tokyo.
The hike up is essentially a series of gravel switch backs with occasional mountain huts where you can buy food, drinks, oxygen, gloves, etc. Of course, there is a markup in price so if you’re feeling a bit faint, be ready to shell out around $10 for a canister of oxygen. Feeling thirsty? A bottled drink will cost you around $3-$5 (Japanese yen only of course).
“OMG, I’m hiking Fuji-san!”
About halfway through the hike, I started feeling a bit euphoric and wasn’t sure wether it was from altitude sickness or if it was from that sense that “OMG, I’m hiking Fuji-san!”. My fellow hiker, the Swede, also felt this way but instead of worrying about it we just kept going. Eventually, the feeling left and was replaced with “OMG, where is the top of this damn mountain?!” and “Why are there so many people here?!”.
After reaching the 8th station, we were meant by an insane amount of people. Seeing that we only had a few more hours until the sunrise, we shifted into high gear. Steep paths filled with old people, young people, kids, off duty U.S. military soldiers, other foreigners, and even soldiers from the Japanese Self-Defense Force on an exercise made getting ahead of the crowd pretty difficult. Luckily, there were Mt. Fuji staff workers telling climbers to divide into 2 lanes. Right lane=fast lane. Left lane=take it easy lane. Eventually becoming separated from the Japanese people in the group we started out with, the Swede and I raced to the top in time for a quick rest before the first sliver of the sun revealed itself.
We made it! The top of Mt. Fuji!
Upon arriving at the top, it was kind of like a back alley market with vendors for food and trinkets. Once we made our way through the crowd, we made it our way towards higher ground near the arch. From there, we waited for what seemed like forever. Finally, the sun revealed itself at around 4:30 and was welcomed by a clapping of hands and cheering from the climbers who hiked through the whole night to just get a glimpse of this precise moment.
After watching the sun show itself in it’s entirety, we peaked down into the mouth of Mt. Fuji (it is a volcano after all). Nothing but rocks and leftover snow. Feeling a bit peckish, my Swedish friend bought a hot bowl of tonjiru (pork soup) as we rendezvoused with our Japanese counterparts. Wanting to rest a while before we started our descent, we sat on the elevated floor in the heated hut. With the warmth of the hut and our own fatigue setting in, all of us ended up laid out on the floor, sound asleep. This lasted for about 30-60 minutes and then we slowly roused ourselves awake.
Up in 8 hours, down in 2.5 hours
Heading down on a different path, we barely stopped to take any breaks. With 8 hours spent going up Mt. Fuji, we descended it in only 2.5 hours. Once again, losing our fellow Japanese hikers in the dust, quite literally. The path down was nothing but rock so every step sent up clouds of dust. The constant downward hiking put constant strain on our knees so we walked at an angle, slid through the rocks, and even walked backwards to help take the strain off.
After powering through the descent, the Swede and I made it back to the 5th station just in time to not get completely burnt by the ever rising sun. Celebrating with a beer, we laid in the shade and waited for the rest to make it back down. Mission accomplished.