In August 2015, I did something scary, challenging and new. I climbed the 3,776 metres up Mount Fuji – also known as ‘Fuji-san’ in Japanese.
This experience can be summed up by a swirl of emotions; fear, exhaustion, and awe. We started our journey at the 5th station, which we accessed via a bus from Shinjuku station (Tokyo.) Here we ate a hearty rice based meal and geared ourselves up for the climb, which we started at about 8pm. Everyone I’d asked for advice said – just bring a head torch, extra clothes for the cold temperatures at the peak, a lot of water (as it’s expensive on Fuji) and to wear comfortable shoes. So with all of these in bag/hand, we ventured up into the depths and heights of Fuji.
The first hour didn’t seem too daunting, it was just like walking up a steep hill – until we passed two American women who were descending – they said ‘Good luck and buy a stick, you’ll need it as the climb down is just as hard as the ascent.’ I started thinking Damn, we’re not even halfway up yet don’t get me scared of coming down! But anyway, we carried on. Up until around the 6th station, it seemed like a steep walk and I thought, yes I can do this, until we were faced with steep rocky terrain. These parts were the hardest to climb. You had to use your hands to assist and steady yourself, and watch where you put your feet on the slippery, uneven rocks. In my head I was cursing everyone who said it was just a walk!
Anyway, after many more of those rocky steep bits which were tiresome and felt endless, I was expecting it to ease out a bit. And in some places it did, but we were often faced by the intimidating rocky patches, and it was getting quite dark and foggy. At points where I felt like I was going to fall or hurt myself, fear kicked in and I wanted to turn back, but my encouraging friends reassured me it would be fine and worth it. When we finally approached the 8th station, it was pretty cold and we were knackered, and the hot chocolate I bought was the best thing ever – the expression ‘hug in a mug’ couldn’t be more spot on.
After many short breaks at each station (which provide toilets which you should bring change for, and snacks/water) we finally reached the 9th station. And that’s where it got busy. The last hour was probably the worst, I lost my friends and was amongst a bunch of also very tired but determined to reach the peak climbers. It wasn’t a nice experience, it felt like we were all fighting to a piece of flat rock to stand on and wait on until the queue started to move. It was around 3:30am at this point and I was just so fed up but knew I had to reach the peak – I was so close. I was impressed by the amount of old people who were tackling Fuji too – I thought to myself ‘just man up and get to the top’.
4am – I got to the peak! Yay! After a gruelling 8 hours of climbing (bear in mind this as my first mountain climbing experience) we finally made it! I took a few photos of the sunrise, but to be honest, I was just too tired and cold to even appreciate the beauty before me – thank god for cameras! Our group reunited and went for some breakfast in a restaurant at the peak of the mountain (how surreal!) and got some of our energy back before going back down.
Although I moan about the experience, it was a great one and probably something I’d never see again, so I don’t regret it at all. Once piece of advice is – don’t try to do it all in one evening like we did. As an inexperienced climber, I think if I had stayed in one of the huts on the way up it would have been a less tiring experience.
The descent – We chose to walk down the Yoshida trail. And that’s where the American lady’s piece of advice stuck me! Walking down was like walking on slippery ash/rocks, as it was so steep! You basically had to slide down which really hurts your knees. It would have been much more handy to have a stick to stop yourself. It felt like every step was just catching yourself before you fell. After about 4 hours of struggling to get down, we finally made it! It’s safe to say I couldn’t be happier to finally be on a bus back to Tokyo saying Sayonara to Fuji – my legs and feet were so worn out!
Overall, there’s no way I’d like to do it again, but what an experience, the views were worth it. Until next time Fujisan…well not literally, although next week I plan to visit Fuji five lakes, but there’s no way I’ll be climbing anything again!