Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world. When you go to a new place, it is really a necessity that you be open to new experiences. When you go to Japan, be open to the idea of sleeping in a coffin sized capsule, bathing nude with old Japanese men (or women), and being pressured to climb Mt. Fuji. Every tourist from here to Hokkaido has talked about climbing Mt. Fuji. It seems to be a staple conversation topic in the hostels. I definitely wanted to spend time in the Fuji area on my trip to Japan, and I was aware that I would be here during the climbing season of July/August. I was undecided on whether or not I was to do it. After seeing the mountain, I decided I had the balls. Oh, what a mistake!
When I got to my hostel in Kawaguchiko, at the foot of Fuji, I was seeing people in head to toe hiking gear. Everyone around me was either climbing or had climbed the sacred mountain. I was pushed to do it too when I had another climber tell me that there is an ancient Japanese saying that states basically, “You’re a fool if you don’t climb Fuji, and you’re a fool if you climb it twice.” Whether it is true or not, after hearing that I said, “I’m climbing this bitch!”
There are four routes up the mountain, depending on which way you come to Fuji from: Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, etc. My route was the Yoshida trail. There are four common schedules: 1. One could ascend and descend from the mountain’s fifth stations in one day’s light 2. One could ascend to the 8th station, rent a mountain hut and wake up early to finish the hike for the sunrise at 4:53 A.M. 3. One could ascend in daylight, watch the sunset, and descend in the night. 4. One could ascend at night, watch the sunrise, and then descend. Which sounds worst? Definitely #4. Which one did I decide to do? Yup… #4.
In retrospect, I’m a dumbass. I saw people with sunburns and windburns who said that it wasn’t cold at all. I had hiking shoes, wool socks, a hat, gloves, a t-shirt, a dry-fit long sleeve, a running jacket, and a waterproof shell and pants, and a head lamp. I have never climbed a mountain before, but judging by what everyone says, this would be easy.
So I took my bus to the Fuji 5th station, which is the drop off point for the ascent. I made friends with a backpacker from England named James. We decided to hike it together. We started our ascent at 9 o’clock with our hiking sticks, and one layer of clothing. The trail was a series switchbacks at first – ain’t no thang. At the seventh station we put on our next layer of clothing. Then after a couple of more aid stations and huts, we had on everything we had brought.
At this point, we did a very mild bouldering. We passed people in jeans, tennis shoes, shorts, no hat or ear protection- idiots! The wind rapidly picked up as we climbed from one hut/station to the next. I was told by two French climbers earlier that day that I could climb the whole thing in about 5 hours. So I should leave by 11 to allow for a couple of ten minute breaks. I left at 9 and barely made it on time. Mostly because at every mountain hut, James and I snuck into the bathroom common spaces to let our bodies thaw!
We skipped the smelly ones at first, but after 3,000 meters, any shelter from the wind was greatly appreciated. We had a thirty minute warm session with these Danish climbers as we all laughed about the little Asian woman taking a massive shit in the stall next to our pow wow. We climbed for a bit with a French woman named Sandra who ditched us for some other Frenchies, and at one point we snuck into the 8th station lodge. We climbed into the bunkbeds for some quick shut eye, despite the price being an overpriced $80 a night. What they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em.
As for the walking, when we were moving I was completely warm. When we got slowed by a queue (my new favorite word) of people all scrambling for the top, I started to freeze my balls off. I never really had a problem with any of the labor. My heart was beating like a drum, but I was confident that my quad-zilla legs would get me up there. But it was the damn Japanese old people who would stop at every switchback to take a pic of their accomplishment. We eventually started climbing outside the chain lanes so we could leave them behind. There were hardly any stars, just Tokyo light pollution.
About 10 minutes before we got to the summit, it started pouring rain…great. I had been up for almost 24 hours and I was too cold to move. We could see the sky turning a pale blue. We found our spot facing east and stood in the wind… nothing. Clouds. No sunrise, just rain. We ducked into a food tent to get warm and then descended our asses off! We couldn’t see anything. I honestly was too cold to take my bag off and get my camera out. We were at the summit for maybe 20 minutes, and we were down the mountain in 1.5 hours.
On the way down, I realized I was pissed. I did all of that and what was my reward? Clouds?! But as we climbed down, the sun came out. The clouds rolled back, and you could see everything in the area. The view was spectacular! The air got warmer. BUT… I was still pissed. It wasn’t until I got some sleep, some food, and some onsen that I realized I climbed that bitch. I have about three pictures to show for it. But my boots are covered in volcano dirt and my knees feel worse than a two dollar hooker’s. So maybe this should be a lesson: Be open to new experiences, not new viewpoints for a camera lens. I climbed a mountain. I don’t need pictures to remember how much it sucked. And hey, I never said you had to enjoy your new experiences. Simply be open to doing things that may suck.