Mt Fuji – an adventure in volcanic ash

Here is the famous silhouette of Mt Fuji from two hours drive away, in Shinjuku, Tokyo:

And here it is from rather a lot closer:

Yes, it was Fuji-climbing time. Other than “because it’s there” and “because everyone cool is doing it”, there is a very good reason to climb it:

Lots of pictures and details about climbing Mt Fuji after the fold!

The plan

A very popular way to climb Mt. Fuji is to do a night climb. Set off at around 6pm, aiming to get to the top by about 5am in time for sunrise above the clouds. You will need:

  • hiking stick with Imperial flag;
  • snack foods to eat on the way;
  • 2 litres of water (spelt the correct way);
  • chalky CalorieMate food-like food substitute;
  • amazing, almost-needs-a-prescription energy drink;
  • hat and suncream (less atmosphere means more burning on your way down);
  • headlamp;
  • every other spare spot in your bag filled with warm clothing;
  • cannister of O2. Really – some people were huffing oxygen after twenty minutes.

The ascent

Climbing Mt Fuji is unique in many ways. Firstly, it is rush hour for hikers. Summer is the official Fuji climbing season, and thousands of climbers make their way to the summit every day. At some points on the narrow trails surrounding the summit, traffic is at a standstill – three steps forward, wait for ten seconds, then another three steps. This makes walking up a mountain at 3am in the morning even more tiring than it should be.

Speaking of tiring, the thin air certainly takes it out of you. A popular way to climb is starting at station 5, which is at about 2300m altitude. It doesn’t take long before an inexperienced climber (like me) begins to feel the fatigue, and become quite short of breath. However, you also recover quite quickly when you stop, but I did catch myself hyperventilating as I got closer to the top. It was quite common to find people collapsed, sleeping by the side of the path, curled in the fetal position and hugging a rock.All the way up, there are stations which sell just about anything you need – drinks, food, ramen noodles, and in some cases, a warm bed. I don’t want to tell you how tempting it would have been to check in for some sleep, no matter what it cost.

The other thing each station will do is stamp your walking stick for a fee of 200 yen (about $2 AUD). There are maybe 15 or so stations on the way up, so if you want every stamp, you’ll have appreciated its value significantly to the value of around $40 (plus the $10 stick cost).

In fact, everything costs money on the way up Mt Fuji – use of most toilets is 100 yen. Of particular note was the sign “Using the toilet: 100 yen. Falling asleep in the toilets: 5000 yen”. Though, if you could have fallen asleep in the rather wonderful odors within, you probably really, really needed sleep.

There’s a couple of eerie things about the walk up. The first thing is that there’s very little to look at, other than volcanic ash and rocks. There are no plants. There are no animals. It could really be the surface of the moon. Just to help that other-worldly feel set in, you’re above the clouds, too:

That’s the moon, by the way. We all had headlamps, but really the incredibly bright full-moon gave you lots of illumination.

The summit

By the time I got to the summit, I and my climbing buddy for the trip (Dave the Canadian stuntman) were both suffering altitude sickness (multiple times), were extremely tired and it turned out I didn’t quite bring enough warm clothing after all. Even though it was a summery 28 degrees in Tokyo, sunrise on top of Mt Fuji is -4 degrees, with no shelter to speak of. For the record, a thermal undershirt, t-shirt, skivvy, long sleeve fleecy shirt and hiking jacket is not enough. I was so violently shaking that I could barely hold my camera still enough to take a picture.

So, now that you’re on the summit, you can enjoy sunset above the clouds with 1000 other people – and it certainly is spectacular. I perked right up again as soon as I saw it – maybe because I knew it meant I could start the descent.

You can see some of the smart people who brought thermal space blankets. They’re toasty and warm. I wish I had been smart and toasty and warm.

The descent

The descent was easily the best part of the trip for many reasons:

  • it was the fastest way back to a warm bed and a shower;
  • the climb up took eight hours, but the trip down took three. Gravity and motivation are awesome;
  • it’s daylight and you get some phenomenal sights like these:

The aftermath

After arriving home and sleeping fourteen straight hours, I was just fine other than some very sore legs. As you might have correctly surmised from the above – the trip up is hard work. I am, however, very happy to say that I’ve done it, and had a great feeling of accomplishment. As always, someone has already summed it up perfectly:

A wise man climbs Fuji once, but only a fool would climb it twice.

More pictures at the gallery too…


11 thoughts on “Mt Fuji – an adventure in volcanic ash

  1. Once again Japan disappoints me!

    Where are the giant pointy-shouldered robots transporting visitors back and forward from the summit with ease? At least unmanned drones that hover in mid-air and make strange beeping noises (or ‘tanks’ with gimbaled feet) to take photos and then bring them faithfully back to their masters who spend all their free time looking after their fridge-penguins.

    The Japanese have lost their way. Clinging to rocks in the fetal position indeed!

  2. Oh sure, they’ve got giant robots. But I guess I’m a mountaineering purist at heart, so I thought I should do it old school. Oh, and incidentally, none of my shots happen to contain pictures of any of the robots.

  3. Well we just went to the “Ubiquitous Dream Hall” where we saw many a deadly robot in guise of a little flipping dog or a vacuum cleaner. We barely escaped with our lives but at least the floors where clean.

  4. Hey Rach, you’re in luck! They’re organising an autumn Fuji climb in October. Only this time, it will be -15 degrees at the top, experienced climbers only. So you’ll have to let me know how that goes because I’ll be here at sea level, nice, warm, and Mt Fuji-ed out.

  5. HAHA!!! No chance of getting me to go in Autumn. Japan’s Autumn is like our Winter!!

    Hopefully I’ll get back to Japan next year for Obon and perhaps do the Fuji thing then.

    Sounds like you are having heaps of fun. I really enjoy reading about your adventures and seeing the pictures too.

  6. Pingback: A quantitative three year blog anniversary « 4000 Miles North

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