if anyone had told me or even asked if I would climb Mt Fuji, the answer would have been a “maybe” but having been in Japan for a year and having seen the mountain many times, that answer slowly changed. For most Japanese a Mt fuji climb is something to do atleast once and having been there I see why. My husband and me decided to attempt the climb over a period of 2 days. We started at kawaguchiko go gome or 5th station where it all begins. Our bus from shinjuku arrived there in a couple of hours. It dropped us at the very busy go gome square where we saw the first of many little groups getting the prep talk to climb the mountain. Having decided to climb ourselves after reading a couple of blogs, we moved on past the groups to find the entrance to the trail. As expected Mt fuji has its own shrine which is located a little before the entrance to the trail. The shrine is beautiful and has an awesome view of the mountain on a clear day. The day we picked was more misty than clear, which was probably a good thing, because then it is possible we may have abandoned ship before we started.
The first part of the hike was relatively easy with some slow climbing until the 5th station. From the 7th station, the climb started getting a lot more difficult with some scrambling over steep rocks and huffing up pretty tough switchbacks. On the way we passed some huts which had satchets of an energy drink that claimed to give you the energy equivalent to a small ball of rice. Since energy reserves were seriously on the downhill path, I guzzled down quite a few of those, and felt like an athlete at the start of a race. As we kept moving and rising above the cloudline, the mist lifted and we were able to see the most unbelievable view of the mountain’s volcanic slope. Having never done a hike above a cloudline, this was extra special. The only time I have been standing above the clouds has been in Hawaii’s big island at mauna kia, which is easier to get to than Mt fuji partly because you can drive up.
We finally reached out hut at the 8th station after about 5 hours of cimbing! Our sleeping quarters were a part of a large dormitory of 200 or more beds. Since we were climbing at the end of the season, most of the place was empty. The cook agreed to cook a vegetarian version of the japanese curry and rice that I was supposed to eat. Here is a nice picture of our dormitory.
After some very tasty curry and rice with pickles and some great conversation with our hiking companions, an Australian couple, a couple of Americans and 2 Spanish people, we snuggled up in bed at around 8pm. It was hard to sleep with all the excitement of getting this far still we managed to get a short nap in before being woken up by the sound of voices and flashing lights, we realized that groups of hikers were going up to the summit already to beat the crowd coming in a bit later. We decided to exit too.
Boy, what an amazing sight to see a line of flashlights before us. The climb was steep, but in the midst of heavy breathing sounds(as the air thins) we heard the sound of chanting, then we saw them. A group of monks, clad in white with what seemed like very basic slippers climbing the mountain and chanting Buddhist prayers. The chanting had a mesmerizing rhythm to it, which made it easy to take the next step. Breathing became a bit labored as the air thinned higher and higher up. It seemed that this did not make a bit of difference to those heavy smokers who decided this was a good place to smoke that last cigarette.
Ah – finally we are at the summit- we enter the last Orange gate to mountain heaven and we know we have made it. The view is breathtaking- we are above the cloud-line and wait to see the rising sun that magically transforms the morning sky! we hug our fellow climbers some from colorado, some from canada and many from tokyo itself. We take a walk around and see Fuji san’s amazing crater, and then realize that it is really very cold at the summit. We rest with a hot cup of cider, it was the best cider that we had ever drunk.
As we prepared to hike back down, we realized how far we had actually come. The summit was a tough hike but going down was going to be harder it seemed. My knees were feeling the impact of the steep downhill ridge. As we literally slid down the steep incline we thought we had made it down to the base in an hour only to find we still had a lot of sliding to do. I began to think of whether I would be able to actually drive the car at my driving test the next day. Luckily it seemed that Fuji san had blessed me and I was to become the proud owner of a Japanese driving licence.