Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I finally climbed Mt. Fuji!

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After being asked an innumerable amount of times if I’ve ever climbed Mt. Fuji since moving to Yamanashi nearly 6 years ago, I finally got around to doing it earlier this month. I am not really sure why I put off this blog post for so long. Maybe it was due to me being very busy this month along with me sharing most of my details privately on a few social networking sites I visit. I’ve already lost a lot of good things I wanted to write about because of how long I’ve procrastinated! So here’s the crowning achievement of all my local hikes; a short blog entry and some of the best pictures I’ve taken on a hike.

So I went on my hike on the evening of September the 7th. Officially, the climbing season ended at the end of August, but this official announcement is ignored by most everyone, especially hiking tour groups, and you’ll find plenty of people making the pilgrimage up the mountain. When I went up just about everything was still open and operational even the souvenir shops at the parking lot. Many of my Japanese acquaintances who I let slip that I was going out after the hiking season were surprised I was ignoring the season’s end which in turn surprised me as I thought everyone knew Mt. Fuji was unofficially busy well into the end of September, early October even.

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My timing couldn’t have been any better as it looks like starting next year there will be a mandatory climbing fee along with a possible parking lot fee and they are also starting to strongly discourage speed hikers that can knock it out without a rest in one of the shabby huts along the trail. I was one of those speed hikers and I can say it’s doable but it isn’t all that easy, especially the way down. If you’re planning to do the hike all in one shot, at least train up for it like I did. I am sure I wouldn’t have made it if I didn’t feel as comfortable with 4-6 hour hikes as I do now thanks to all the ranges in the area I’ve hiked.

I did the hike with a good friend who has done it once before so I felt confident I’d be able to make it up. We got to the parking lot during a heavy foggy evening with a somewhat light drizzle on the drive up. Lucky for us the rain and fog ended just before the trail head at the 5th station parking lot on the Subashiri side of the mountain. The sky was nearly clear and the stars shone brightly in the dark night sky. The starting point was nearly empty of other humans but the parking lot was nearly full and there were even parking security guards to wave on late night travelers to their parking spots. As we climbed we could see flashes of lightning in the far off distance below. Lucky for us it was nowhere near the mountain but we were concerned that weather could go bad at anytime. Fortunately we made it through every station at a very brisk pace and didn’t run into other hikers till the fork at the 7th or was it the 8th station where both trails meet up for the final ascent to the cone.

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I was feeling fine despite an odd cramping up of my calves half way up. The cramps never went away till the descent but the pain did subside enough for me to keep moving at a relatively good pace. By the time we reached the final station before the peak, we had caught up with what looked like hundreds of people in long, slow moving, tour groups. They really clogged up the final stretch and tacked on at least a good hour or so to the climb. We were worried we’d miss sunrise as the darkness slowly began to recede back into the drab brown land beneath our boots. We powered through the crowd as best we could despite some exchange of words with another small group of foreigners that thought the line was un-skip able. In reality the line was caused by the tour group and the tour guides were bidding that anyone not in the group pass them at their leisure, even asking the tour group to give way on the right side. The other foreigner group didn’t seem to understand this because they probably either didn’t hear the guides or didn’t know enough Japanese to understand what was going on. Either way it was a bit annoying to have to stop for something like that.

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We made it to the top in just the nick of time too. I managed to capture quite a few shots in the tranquil rays of the morning sun. Seeing the sunrise so high in the clouds was a thing of beauty, something everyone should experience. I was beat but when I saw that sunrise I got my second wind and thought the way down would be a piece of cake… oh how wrong I was. I did make it up without falling over, tripping, or getting any hint of altitude sickness but my body was pumped so full of adrenaline that it forgot to warn me that my legs were as wobbly as fish. I ended up tacking on a good extra hour or two on the way back down which should have been 4 at the most because I was just too exhausted and a bit worn out by how steep the descent was. Going up at night really gave me a different image of how the land was laid out and I thought I had it in the bag on the way down. What an underestimate. But man, that sunrise… that sunrise made it all worth it.

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I ended up cursing and grumbling a good part of the way down because I really got disheartened by how barren, featureless, and boring Mt. Fuji is up close. Of course I knew it was a volcano, but even the trail had few switchbacks and even less places to just sit down and rest closer to the base of the trail. So all in all the hike up is great as is seeing the sunrise but the hike down is crap. Now I understand why people rest up in the huts. It’s pricey but hey at least you’ll have rested your body for the doldrums.

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Now that I’ve climbed one of the tallest mountains you can climb in a day, I can take it easy and knock out some more leisurely hikes in the area I still have yet to do. I can also say I’ve already climbed Fuji if anyone asks. And no, I probably won’t be going up again once is enough really. Mt. Fuji looks best from a distance, and even better with a snowy cap. Summertime Fuji is brutal and hot but it’s also the safest time to do it so meh.

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I’m glad I went up at night. Seeing this all the way up would have left a much different impression on me. Not to mention the weather went to crap shortly after we got down. We totally lucked out.

7 comments:

  1. 'Speed hiking' is the only way. The only things sucks harder than Fuji are the huts. Go to the North or South Alps!

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    1. the huts are a scam. ive seen pay toilets, fee-for-staying under the porch to avoid rain, 20 dollar cup of raemen, and people kicked out of the huts in freezing weather for minor in fractions. take the first bus out and take a taxi up from the train station, cheaper and you don't have to lose a night of sleep.

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    2. Absolutely. Speed hiking is the only way to really experience the mountain.

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  2. going to japan next month, planning to climb Fuji between Oct 5-9, is it still good to climb it weather wise? as in is there much snow or ice present near the top than?

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  3. Great question. It's the end of the climbing season for Mt Fuji so conditions are iffy. There shouldn't be snow or even much rain yet but it will be cold and windy at the top. I really can't guarantee fair weather though. Things change quickly there.

    Just make sure to come prepared with rain gear, proper footwear, and a change of warmer clothes for the higher elevations.

    Good luck. I hope it stays clear for you.

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  4. Great question. It's the end of the climbing season for Mt Fuji so conditions are iffy. There shouldn't be snow or even much rain yet but it will be cold and windy at the top. I really can't guarantee fair weather though. Things change quickly there.

    Just make sure to come prepared with rain gear, proper footwear, and a change of warmer clothes for the higher elevations.

    Good luck. I hope it stays clear for you.

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  5. They say if you dream about Mount Fuji at the beginning of the year, you get to enroll Tokyo University. I must have Japan tours to see and dream about Mount Fuji.

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