|岡崎 (okazaki), july 2006|
if you ever go to japan, this is the one thing you absolutely have to do: climb mount fuji during the night and watch the sunrise from the top
everybody knows mt. fuji or has at least seen pictures of it - it's that perfect shape, majestic, white peak, symbol of japan, tallest mountain in japan (3776m). it is indeed beautiful, at least seen from far away - mount fuji is actually not really pretty from up close: it's just a heap of vulcanic rock. no trees, almost no green, no spectacular view while climbing, NOTHING (actually climbing during the night, the nightview of fuji town is rather nice.
after a dry spell, climbing fuji is even bad for your lungs. a lot of fuji is vulcanic ash and the crowds are kicking up a lot dust - which you are
gonna breath in. the best time to climb fuji is thus after a rainy day on a weekday in the late afternoon when it's cloudy and therefore not too hot.
mount fuji is only open from june to september. reason is, because it's not really dangerous and a lot of ppl climb it (or rather scramble to the top) even ppl who normally don't even walk to the closest konbini try to do mount fuji. add this to unfavourable circumstances and you have a hill full of ppl in for something over their head and bad weather. change bad weather to snow and you have a hill of corpses in spe. that's why you're only to climb mt. fuji in summer.
the pussy way of climbing mt. fuji is taking the train to the shinkansen shin-fuji station and getting into the bus which will take you take shin 5 choume, halfway up the top already. in contrast, the hardcore way would be to climb from the very bottom but no sane person really does that (i think)
5 choume means the fifth station counting from the bottom. a station is
a mountain hut (they come in various sizes, some are full-fledged
restaurants, others are just large shelters from the wind, 8 choume even
comes with a doctor and some rudimentary medical equipment).
my attempt at climbing mt. fuji was as tourguide for the yamasa fuji tour. usually it's declan (our director of the international office) who does the fuji tour but he's played king of the hill on fuji more often that he has fingers on one hand (and he's no mutant) so he prefers to watch mt. fuji from afar drinking a cold beer rather than climbing it.
a japanese proverb says:
we started climbing at 17:00 on saturday. it was cloudy with some very
slight rain. ideal for suppressing dust and not too hot. declan
accompanied us up to 6 choume (between 5 and 6 it's nothing more than a
walk). at 6 choume where the real ascent started.
being the leader, i stayed at the back with the slowest climbers in our group. up to the top i carried other people's rucksacks, bottles of water and occasionally even pushed others up, up and up (but not away).
the path to the top is well marked with cords, handrails, flags and paintings and can't be missed. towards the top and after 02:00 in the morning you're barely on your own either. everybody wants to see the sunrise from the top and climbing is less a solo-action rather than waiting for the person in the fron of you to move on. I kid you not! the line of other climbers below looks like a glittering snake winding up its way towards the top as everybody is carrying a flashlight.
the consistency of the path changes quite often. a lot of it is rubble - loose stones and hard to walk upon. then there are rocks and boulders with huge steps (mt. fuji is not recommend for people in wheelchairs ^_^).
at 8 choume we had to leave to zaya from mongolia behind. she was feeling sick. the doctor at 8 choume supplied her with oxygen but advised her against climbing any further. i exchanged phone numbers with her (yes, mobile phones work - depending on what phone company you're using) and we agreed to come back with the whole group if she started feeling worse and accompany her down. luckily that wasn't the case and she turned out to be the only student out of 16 who didn't make it to the top. she stayed in the hut in 8 choume and was feeling well and smiling when we picked her up while climbing down on sunday morning. the problem turned out to be a bad stomach caused by something she had eaten the evening before.
a lot of people underestimate climbing mt. fuji. with much of japan being just slightly above sea level (50m+) not a lot of people are accustomed to the low level of oxygen above 2000 meters. climbing too fast and not giving your body the chance to get used to the thin air up there you start feeling naseous which only gets worse if you continue climbing. of course, smoking doesn't help either. the only cure is to stay put and wait and see if things better. if not the only thing you can do is to climb down.
we got to the top at around 3:45 in the morning and it was freezing cold. i didn't check but it must have been around 0 degrees. amongst others i packed a woolhat and winter gloves when i left and it felt absolutely foolish. it was around 30 degrees and the sun was shining. no need for winter gear, right? well, i'm glad i packed rain gear too because it helped keeping the wind out. i gave the gloves to some freezing taiwanese student (being a leader is cruel and cold work) who appreciated it but didn't recompensate me with anything (being a leader is not thankful work either). to my surprise, she gave me the gloves back the following week after having washed them! that was nice.
the people working the shops on the mountain top don't have any sense of business at all. it was cold and dark and they could have made a fortune with instant noodles and tea but no shop was open. they opened later (after the sunrise) and of course everybody bought some soup or hot beverage.
the sunrise was beautiful as you can see. we were lucky enough to see it - apparently last year it was cloudy. the view from the top at sunrise is really nice and was worth the pain and struggle of climbing (i didn't know of the pain yet to come - the descent). some areas at the bottom around mt. fuji were covered in clouds - a literal sea of clouds, others were visible.
it made for a great view. also noteworthy is that mt. fuji is reddish from close-up. it's volcanic ash, probably oxidating too. after taking a group picture we started the descent because we promised zaya to meet her at 8 choume at around 07:00. this meant i couldn't walk around the crater which would have been interesting. i only took one quick snapshot of the crater but didn't have time or a victim for a sacrifice. the walk around the crater takes at least 60 minutes. maybe i will do that next time but i don't wanna be a fool.
we got to 8 choume in time but my knees were not grateful for that. walking in general was painful for a couple of days anyway, i didn't know blisters could get that big. zaya was smiling and welcoming us. her stomach problem had evaporated and she even felt good enough to eat a bowl of ramen at 7 choume with some other student which delayed our departure for 20 minutes.
we met a lot of people climbing up - it was a constant stream of weekend hikers, some of them equipped rather for a beach than the hightest mountain in a country. the sun was shining quite heavily and from 10 o'clock it started getting hot again. all the memories of the cold and the freezing memories literally melted away.
at around 11:00 we got back to shin 5 choume where the yamasas buses were waiting to pick us up. declan was kind enough to meet us at 6 choume (which happens to be just a short walk from shin 5 choume).
no one was probably too sad when we left mt. fuji for some family restaurant before heading back to okazaki as everybody except declan and tomas (the designated and well-rested drivers) was dead tired being up for more than 30 hours and having climbed more than 1800m in height.
it was definitely an adventure and if you have the chance (and the
equipment) you should climb mt. fuji too (at least once but don't overdo
it). there's no need to be superfit but if you don't take regular walks
and the distance between the tv and the fridge is all you ever walk then
you might be better off watching mt. fuji from the distance in an onsen
with a cold beer in your hand rather than climbing it.