“He who climbs Mount Fuji once is a wise man. He who climbs twice is a fool”.
It was just a random idea at the time of planning the trip to Japan. I really wanted to see Mt. Fuji, but I had never imagined climbing it. Until the idea just flashed through… A very busy week in Japan and you want me to pack an exhausting (hell of a) mountain climb? (yeah, I talk to myself sometimes. Everybody does, right? …right?…) So I started to read more about it. Some pages made me feel like I can do it, some exactly the opposite. Easy or not I decided to try. And so I planned to do the climb on the way back from Kyoto to Tokyo. Mt. Fuji ate a day I have had reserved for Kyoto, but do I regret that? Not at all! It was such an amazing experience. I had never been higher than 1600 meters above the sea level before, so climbing 3776 meters on my own at night without any professional equipment or training is nothing to be proud of, but well, I’ve made it! 🙂
Apparently I was very lucky, because the weather throughout the whole hike was really good (not so common). And also the conditions at the top were as rare as 1 to 30 hikes (I overheard that from a professional guide who took a group of foreigners up the cone). I wonder if the weather had been more severe, would I have finished the trip or decided to go down instead? The hike was exhausting as it was, so can’t really imagine if it rained and if a cold wind blew in my frosted face…brrrr! Anyway let’s start from the beginning. Here are few things you should know before you try to climb Mt. Fuji:
- The volcano is open for climbing only 2 months a year: July and August. It is said other months are just too dangerous to be open for public due to the temperatures up the at the summit and severe conditions in general on the way up. I did my trip on the 6th of July.
- There are 4 trails to get up the mountain. I took the Yoshida trail (yellow) as it’s the one closest to Tokyo and relatively easy to get to by public transport. It’s not the easiest route though as it gets quite steep at times.
- Due to the sudden and significant change in the altitude it is recommend to stay for couple of hours at one of the huts located on various levels. An altitude sickness is not a rare occurrence (I witnessed one myself where a guy could not stop throwing up). After all you would be going from almost sea level up to 3776 meters within one day (or two if you decide to stay the night at a hut) so the likelihood of being sick is increased.
- As on any mountain the weather is unpredictable and can change quickly. Do not be mislead by high temperatures and sunshine in Tokyo for example. Make sure you get waterproof cloths and windproof jacket. It will get cold at the summit (especially if you are there to see the sunrise – the temperatures WILL fall close or even below 0*C). I regretted so much for not taking gloves… my hands were proper red/blue as I was taking pictures. If you do forget to take them – you can buy some at a hut (only in the season).
- Torch or headlight is absolutely necessary when going up at night. The trails are not lit up and the ground is not stable. It’s all rocks and debris after all.
- The level of oxygen drops significantly as you go up and it’s surprisingly noticeable. Maybe not when breathing, but by the muscles’ responsiveness. I had to take a break every 50 meters or so because I just couldn’t walk anymore (I literally couldn’t…). Then after sitting for 2 minutes I felt like a newborn and thought I could even run up the mountain. But after few meters of walking I felt super tired again which quickly turned into exhaustion. So I again had to take a short break after which I was ready to go again. Rinse and repeat until the top (don’t be surprised to catch yourself wishing you never did it…).
- Make sure you have plenty of water and food. The hike is very tiring and you do need loads of energy. I had 2 x 1.5l bottles of water, snacks, few energy bars and few sandwiches. On top of that I had a simple dinner at the hut and a breakfast-to-go. I ate everything and run out of water.
Getting up to the top does not take that long as some might think. It is said it takes about 3-4 hours from the 5th station (a bus drop off point) to the 8th station (that’s the hut where I stayed). That’s more or less half way to the top. From the 8th station to the top that’s another 3-4 hours. I did the first bit a little bit faster as it took me 2h 20mins. I think my long legs helped a bit! 🙂 I was constantly passing people by. Not because I was racing, but because I wanted to get to my hut before they closed. I showed up way before that though. I just did not want to miss my sooo well
expensive deserved dinner! (one night stay at the hut + dinner costs about 8200 yen – about £60)
So, how was my trip you may wonder? Long, exciting, exhausting, surprising, educating, amazing and in some way fulfilling. But let’s start right from the beginning!
Getting to the 5th station was relatively straightforward. Get the train, get the bus and the bus again. I found no issues finding my way to the correct bus stops or buying the ticket anywhere. Most of the signs are in Japanese but also have some basic English translation underneath. When asking for directions using short sentences with the destination properly pronounced helps – even if somebody doesn’t understand English – they can recognize the name and can point the direction (happened few times to me). So… once at the 5th station there was only one way: up!
I met a nice German girl on the bus and we decided to walk together all the way to the 7th station where she had the hut booked for the night, I carried on to the 8th station alone. The very first part between the 5th and the 6th station was surprisingly flat. I reckon it’s basically a first stretch to get to the mountain itself. We could not see the cone from this point as the overwhelming and mystique mist showed up. It was a weird feeling knowing you are at a bottom of a volcano and you can’t see a thing. But we carried on strong through the unknown for about 1h.
We moved past the 6th station relatively quickly and moved on to the 7th stations where the first huts were located. My German friend was a bit disappointed to be getting there so quickly. She wanted to do as much as possible then when she still had energy and leave as little as possible for the 2nd part. Unfortunately she didn’t know that getting to the 7th station wouldn’t be that difficult (my advice is to get a hut as high up as possible!). Either way we carried on. It wasn’t until almost at the huts where the fog started to clear and reveal the beauty of the mountain…
And it wasn’t until at the huts where we turned around and could see that… the fog wasn’t just a fog. We had been in the clouds all that time!!! And just made it above the cloud level! The fog (clouds) really made us unaware of our location and made this such a lovely surprise ! ❤
Unfortunately at this point I had to bid my friend goodbye and carry on all by myself. I only needed to get to the next station, but the hike between the stations was a little bit more challenging. Fortunately I had this beautiful view behind me to motivate me to keep on going higher and higher so it wasn’t really that difficult. I could notice how the environment was slowly changing from flat green, to green patches to rock and red soil.
I finally made it to the 8th station – about 2h 20 minutes after the hike had commenced. I was tired but somehow hoped my hut would be located closer to the top. I did have some spare energy to get me going but well, my hut was there and my name had been written on the board so I had to stay! 🙂 It was slowly getting dark anyway and I could admire this beautiful show the sun and the clouds put up together. A truly astonishing sight!
The Taishikan hut (3100 meters above the sea level) has a capacity of 350 people and is by no means a luxury resort. You get basic food (you can opt out), sleeping bag and a pillow covered in a foil. And you sleep with hundred other snoring people. If you think you gonna have a restful sleep here – think again. It’s more or less to acclimatize your body and dismiss the risk of getting the altitude sickness and maybe relax tired muscles a bit. I hadn’t thought of taking earplugs with me so had to deal with the situation by listening to music. And pretty loudly too…
I got up sometime past midnight as I couldn’t sleep anymore. I decided to start the 2nd part of the hike a bit earlier than planned (I initially planned to do it at 1:30am). When I got out of the hut it was obviously completely dark, but I was surprised to see so many shimmering lights of people’s torches climbing the mountain at this time. I think it made me feel quite comfortable knowing there was always someone to ask for help if needs be. After all I was going all by myself in the middle of the night. And it was pretty cold already and was only to get colder…
I am not sure what pushed me to do this part as soon as possible. Maybe because it was cold and I wanted to keep warm, or maybe I wanted to see the crater or just finally be there at the top? I do not know. I only know that I started the hike around 12:30 am and got to the top at 2:45 am so a little bit over 2 hours. Obviously I had to take numerous short breaks on the way as the level of oxygen was lower and the paths were steep. It wasn’t until about 3:30 am though until I found the best spot to watch the sunrise. And by the best spot I really mean the best spot with no obstruction on the way and free of any other people (well, it was free until people noticed me up there and decided to join me along…!).
It wasn’t until later in the morning when I realized where I was and how ridiculously stupid the idea was to get up there in the middle of the night. Mind you I had only a headlamp (although pretty strong) and could not evaluate the risk properly. At one time I knew I was sort of on an edge but this? …
Anyway the waiting time for the sunrise seemed to take forever. It was dead silent and freezing cold and I did not have anything to get myself warm, so I exercised a bit and wondered around (safely) to see what was there. It wasn’t that much really apart from endless amount of frosted rocks. The sun rays slowly started to lit the mountain up and reveal my surroundings in a beautiful deep blue light.
It took way more than an hour for the sky to get proper “sunrise’y”. An hour of mixed hot and cold feeling. But in the end the sight was amazing and well worth every struggle to get up there!
I set the camera on the rocky tripod to take some sunrise shots and at the same time I tried to simply enjoy the moment. Boy it started to get really beautiful up there. Mind you there was no wind whatsoever, only silence (or the sound of my footsteps). Kind of scary but emotional too. One of the highlights of my life really.
I do not think that any of the pictures here can do the justice to what I saw. Maybe I am overreacting a little bit because I’d never seen a sunrise while being above the clouds (although I’ve seen a sunset from a plane). That wast open space and the rays of sun touching my
smiling dead serious face. I loved that moment!
The light also revealed the bottom of the volcano – something you just don’t see everyday. Mt. Fuji is an active volcano meaning it can erupt basically anytime. You cannot really see much going on in there, but I bet there was some gas being released down there. Luckily I wasn’t tempted to check it out myself and was pleased to see it from the distance 🙂
And with the sun it actually started to get a little bit warmer. Not as warm to take the jacket off, but I finally felt a little bit more comfortable without the hoodie on 🙂 I think I spent about 2 hours in that best spot of mine but enough is enough. The last glance at the sun and let’s walk around the volcano and climb the highest point (that small peak that is lit up in the above picture). So last look at the sun and let’s move on!
The trip round the cone can take up to an hour and is not always possible (will tell you more about it in a minute). It’s rather flat except for the small peak where the meteorological station has been built. I was surprised to find a small frozen
lake pond. A proof it was really that cold! (I’m sorry I must be boring now. I promise not to mention that again :). I did not dare to step on it though!
The Automated Weather Station has been built at the highest peak of the mountain and at the same time the highest point in Japan reaching 3776 meters above sea level (2,388 ft). Fujisan is the 35th highest mountain in the world by height. It last erupted in 1707-07 and the next eruption is expected… or was expected couple of years ago. But there has been no activity detected to prove an upcoming eruption. Not that it hasn’t crossed my mind though. What if…?
My plan was to walk around the crater but as it turned out the trail was closed due to the remaining snow. I was just about to turn around when I noticed a group of hikers crossing the fence with a very subtle sign “do not enter”. If they can do it… and I just follow them, I should be ok, right? I kind of convinced myself and decided to carefully follow their exact steps. I wasn’t the only one though. I can’t say it was a smart idea. Not the first one on that day either… whats the worst that could happen? A single slip would only end up in sliding to the bottom of the volcano 250 meters down… well, let’s do it then!
But my “courage” was rewarded in quite a surprising way. I was super exhausted and wanted to finish the hike as soon as possible, so almost missed one of the most iconic sights one can see from up there. The shadow Mt. Fuji is only visible on a clear day early in the morning. Just wow…!
And interesting fact here. If you have ever seen a movie called “The Forest” – about a suicide forest located in Japan – it’s real and you can just see it in the top right corner of the photo. Aokigahara – Sea of Trees, is a very dense forest with a rich soil made of lava erupted in 864 AD. The porous lava absorbs sound making it feel like an isolated place. Possibly for this reason the area become world’s most “popular” place for suicide with up to 100 documented suicides a year… anyway I wasn’t near that state (although some stupid decisions that day can prove otherwise…) and I wanted to get down the mountain asap (I had run out of water which was very bad).
I got to the point where I had reached the top earlier, but the descending trail is a separate one (think of the trails as one way streets). I never understood why the way down would be this much quicker, but I found it out pretty soon. The descending path was made of small rocks and ash and I could actually run down (no kidding). It was quite a scenic route too!
I think it took me just about 2h to “run” down the mountain (all thirsty and dying for water!). I have to say I was amazed to see how the black and red soil turned into blooming green! That was only when I wasn’t looking at where I was running (I had probably passed like 200 people by).
I hurried so much that I even managed to get on the first bus at 08:00 am 🙂 I was so knackered and thirsty that I felt asleep on the bus instantly. I woke up in Kawaguchiko and rushed to 7-11 (the most popular convenience store in Japan) to get a big supply of water and food. And so I finally could get rid of the ash in my shoes!
Hope you have enjoyed this post. Thanks for reading and have a look at the gallery below for more pictures!