Conquering Fuji
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The City from the Mountainside

At the Seventh Station

What can I say?

It was too dark to take many pictures

Except at these stations...

Akiko, her third Fuji climb

Bottom of Station Eight

Akiko and Mossfoot

Me and my walking stick

Top of Station Eight

The Noodle Shop on the Mountain

Station Ten? Where was Nine?

Trinkets on the volcano

The coming dawn

I made it! Yatta!

Oceans of clouds

Icicles in August

Almost there...

Almost there...

...and SUNRISE!

Time for a Triumph pose

Akiko and Manuela

Another view from the top

Starting the descent down

A final look back

Manuela the photographer

A long, painful climb down

It's murder on the knees

It's the ONLY toilet on the way down.

The view is the only thing worth looking at

Sure as hell isn't the rocks

or the dirt... oooh, red dirt!

Still way above the clouds

First signs of life

A glorious day

Getting towards the tree line

still going down...

The treeline, at last!

Back at Station Five

The hills are alive, with the sound of music!

The ride home

MAN am I beat...

Fuji by Sunrise

This is something I have been putting off for a long LONG time. It’s not my fault, really! It’s just that I’ve always figured the journey to be a full day trip. Considering my work schedule, this was not convenient to pull off during my fragmented Saturday/Monday weekend. And on holidays, well, Gillian and I end up having other plans.

However, this is my last year in Japan, and the climbing routes close after the end of August. This past week I’ve had my final week of paid vacation before I leave, so I decided to make my move. Unfortunately, my planned time to go just happened to coincide with Oban, a very important Japanese holiday that JUST HAPPENS to be when most people climb Mount Fuji.


I had to shift it over to the LAST day of my holidays, and what was worse, I couldn’t go up in the morning and down in the evening as I had planned. The bus schedule was completely incompatible to it, and though there are FOUR routes up to the top of Fuji, I couldn’t find scheduling information for any of them!

So, I ended up taking the last bus in the evening, planning on coming back down after sunrise and getting back home by 1pm.

At the bus station it was clear I wasn’t the ONLY foreigner going to Fuji, but then I read that 30% of all Fuji climbers are foreign. I met a couple of gals, one from Australia, the other from the U.S., and got some information from them, but it turned out they were on a different bus than me (still going to Fuji, however).

On the other bus, I settled in the very back seat (I got very late tickets), and was soon met by Manuela, a flight attendant from Germany and only here for a couple of days.

Okay, you can cut out the cheesy porno music going on in your head, it’s not like that. We’re both involved and she’s older than me. And you can cut your cries of “Awwwwww” as well. I’m not here to satisfy your sick fantasies. This is an adventure, dammit!

Anyways, Ela (as she is called for short) has been to Japan before, but never actually vacationed here. She says for one or two days on layover, and sees as much as she possibly can. This time it’s Fuji, which she decided to do almost on a whim. We introduced ourselves, got to know one another, and, by the time we got to the Fifth Station, both realized we didn’t wasn’t to go up alone. And so a team was born.

At the 5th station there was gear and equipment for sale, along with endless piles of tacky tourist crap. The fact you can buy oxygen to take up there with you should have been a warning to me, but I just assumed it was for the old and weak.

What is almost a traditional given for Fuji climbers is the walking stick. A cheap, no-nonsense stick which you can get branded at each station going up. Cool idea, each brand is a mark of achievement. Of course each brand costs money, and the higher you go, the more they cost. Yeah, right. As if I care about that! But the stick itself is a cool souvenir. The stick comes with a set of bells and colorful ribbon on it, which I quickly removed (the bells can get annoying fast).

Walking stick in hand, and Mossfoot in my pocket, it was time to start our assent.

However, starting our way up the hill in the dark away from the mini-village of the Fifth Station, we realized that the blind leading the blind wasn’t that much safer or reassuring than going alone. Turning back to make sure we were going the right way, we came across Akiko, an experienced mountain climber who was climbing Fuji for the third time.

They say you’re crazy if you’ve never climbed Fuji, and you’re crazy if you climb it twice… what does that make Akiko?

Akiko knew a little English, and we followed behind her like lost puppies. Which was fortunate, since she tended to know the best ways to climb, could explain things for us, and gave us the LIFE SAVING advice of buying some gloves at the next station… okay, not life saving but finger saving. Still, it was a good job she told us to do that, because we had NO idea just how cold it was going to get!

The trip started off as a nice nighttime nature hike, lulling Manuela and I into a false sense of security. Manuela cut her leg on a metal pole at one of the stations, but my first aid kit took care of it.

It was a beautiful night. I think I saw more stars than in Algonquin Park in Ontario, but I can’t be sure, at one point I even saw a shooting star. Looking behind us we could see the slow parade of flashlights coming up the trail, like pilgrims holding candles. Of course, climbing Fuji has religious significance, but it’s also a tourist attraction. For me, however, it ended up taking on elements of both.

As we journeyed, I began to think of it more as a pilgrimage. Not one of a religious nature, but personal. After all, I have always considered myself an adventurer. And climbing Fuji was just something I had to do. Of course, at this point I was still optimistic, bright eyed and thinking this was just going to be a fun hike. By the seventh station I was still thinking “Hey, this isn’t so bad, if the rest of the trip is like this it’ll be a piece of cake!”

It was not.

You see, if you go above 2400m above sea level in less than a day, your body starts doing weird things to you. Lack of oxygen and other factors can result in headaches, shortness of breath, nausea, loss of motor control, and growing faint. In the course of our journey, I witnessed or experienced all of these things. We saw an older man crawl over the edge of the path and dry heave for what seemed like a minute. A younger woman lost her footing on some easy stairs, slid onto all fours, and wasn’t able to get herself back up. People along the edge of the road were taking breaks a full kilometer from the next station, taking deep breaths from portable oxygen tanks. Manuela got a bit of a headache as we went up (she described it more as pressure than an actual headache), and I found myself slipping and tripping a LOT more than I normally do. It was bad enough that on occasion, saw people heading back, presumably not having reached the top (the routes up and down are separated).

After the eighth station things were looking grim for me. Manuela was also an experienced mountain hiker, having hiked through the Alps and even Mount Sinai in Egypt. As each step upward became a painful struggle, and the weight on my back felt heavier and heavier, I was wondering if I was in fact slowing them down. I had to shift my side bag over to the other shoulder, and that simple task ended up taking five minutes, getting tangled up and whatnot in the sleeves. Manuela who had stayed behind with me, couldn’t help but laugh as I thrashed around trying untangle myself from my self made straightjacket. Akiko had gone up ahead, and I feared we were permanently separated. However, perhaps fearing for the well being of such an inexperienced traveler, she kindly waited for us at the next bend and we continued our journey together.

At this point the journey seemed to go on FOREVER, and by the time we got to the ninth station I was considering either quitting or letting Akiko and Manuela go on ahead, and I’d struggle up to the top on my own after I took a loooong rest.

Fortunately, the 9th station turned out to be the 10th station! THE TOP! Quite a relief I can tell you, because I don’t think I could have gone much higher. The ninth station doesn’t really exist, apparently. It was closed down and I passed by it without even noticing. Later I found out that there probably never was a ninth station, because the Japanese word for Nine sounds similar to their word for “discomfort” or “suffering”. The number 4 is also bad luck, having a connection with death. So while there are indeed 10 Steps going up, there are no Stations at 4 or 9. Oh well, it was worth the relief of having made it at the top like that.

At the top were a traditional temple, traditional Japanese meals, not-so-traditional Japanese souvenirs and vending machines. Yeah, vending machines. Oh well, that’s practically traditional here now anyways. I saw the center of Fuji, the big pit, if you will, but the wind and bitter cold were terrible so I didn’t stay there long. Fortunately for me we were usually protected from the wind on the side we climbed up.

On top of that, I got a chance to greet the sunrise… and what a sunrise it was. If I might be allowed to get all sentimental, it was a sunrise that inspires poetry. It is hard to imagine as impressive a sight as what I saw there occurring in nature and not solely in the mind of an artist. There is one picture I took that captured the moment perfectly, as the sunlight seemed to flow into the valley like it was made of liquid rather than light. For that moment alone, the journey was made worthwhile.

I mentioned before how I had no intention of getting my walking stick branded, but instead, now that we had all made it to the top, I had Akiko, Manuela (and Mossfoot) sign it. After the hours of hiking and talking and eventually struggling we had been through, this was a far more meaningful souvenir. I had also brought along my official dice bag, made for me by Dan and Jane Moonkin, to bask in the sunrise. Now it’s a bag with a history to it, and all shall tremble in fear when I bring it out before a game! Muhahaha!

All too soon it was time to go. Akiko stayed on top, she was going to hike to the other side of the crater where there was a massive building (a hotel I believe) and a post office, so she could mail herself a post card from the top of Fuji. Cute. Manuela and I, however, simply couldn’t justify another two hours in hiking there and back. For us, it was time to go down.

This was both the most boring AND the most painful part of the trip. Not the most difficult, mind you, that was still the climb up. Getting down got easier from a technical standpoint, but also grew more and more painful on the knees. For hours we trekked down the steep dull, boring, zigzagging gravelly slope.

(And when I say dull and boring, I mean you’d gladly listen to your least favorite history teacher describe the 1929 stock market crash on a stock by stock basis rather than do this)

The most interesting thing that happened was the appearance of some plants… but they were all the exact same kind. The slope was made of volcanic gravel, which was sometimes red, sometimes black, and for a real treat, sometimes reddish-black or blackish-red. But to be fair, the tedium was only made bad through the pain. Had it been an ordinary hike, I would not have minded nearly as much.

But all things must come to an end, including pain and suffering. The slope leveled out as we reached the tree line, where we saw they had horses for rent, presumably for those who had just had enough of the whole “walking around” thing. Eventually we got back to the Fifth Station. Now in the bright light of day, we could see it was more like a small Swiss village in appearance.

I have a tradition that for every adventure I go on I add a patch to my knapsack. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find ANY patches for Fuji or Japan in general (for my previous bike trip last September). However, they did have a fabric rubber coaster with Mount Fuji on it, so I guess that will have to do. It’ll be a real pain to sew into the knapsack, though.

Holing up in one of the many coffee shops at Station 5, we took it easy for a couple of hours, and treated ourselves with a coffee float until we could take the bus back. I didn’t actually have a ticket, but like everything else in the trip, it all worked out in the end.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to collapse in a heap of agony on the bed for seven or eight days.