Climbing Mount Fuji
I often talk about my “bucketlist” but to be honest, I haven’t even written down any real list. Maybe it’s just a multitude of experiences I have in mind and keep adding to over time. Maybe I should write it down some day.
Anyhow – until I do that, I’m still gonna try to do the things I have on there (in my mind that is). I have done Machu Picchu, went to and climbed down the Colca Canyon in Peru which is twice as deep as Grand Canyon, I went up the Empire State Building, traveled to Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing and the Great Wall, Los Angeles, San Francisco and many other places and in two days, another of these items can be checked off: Mount Fuji in Japan.
I have been wanting to do this for quite some time now but I never really started to plan things and get into the details. A couple of weeks ago I talked to a friend and she told me about her experience climbing up the mountain a while ago and how beautiful it was. So I thought it was time to get to work and nail this thing down.
I started with a plan on what to take, when to go, how much time to calculate and which trail to take.
These are three of the four trails that get you up the summit – depending on your experience. I consider only three as I’m not an experienced mountain guy. I just love to be on high spots and shoot pictures. 😉
Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to take a flight to Tokyo and I will arrive on Saturday during the morning. I will have to sleep for a couple of hours and then around 4.30 pm I’m going to take the bus to the 5th station where I will start my hike up. I’m probably going to start at around 7 pm and the website says that it takes 6-8 hours to get up to the summit. We will see about that. Maybe I’m the first person to take 10 hours. 🙂
The mountain is pretty high – with an elevation of 3776 m the air gets very thin up there. I know what it feels like since I spent 2 weeks in Cusco/Peru last year which is almost at the same elevation and I know that it’s going to be challenging for sure. But I do have time. Sunrise is not before 4.40 in the morning so I can take it easy.
I wanted to pack light so I only took the necessary. You can see it on the photo in the gallery on the right.
On the right there is a list with all I packed and why.
It’s going to be a challenge for sure. After all I am going to climb a mountain that’s almost 4000 meters high during the evening/night – jet-lagged and probably tired as hell…but you know what? I CAN’T WAIT!!! I hope the weather will be in my favor and that I’ll be able to shoot some of my own amazing summit photos. If you want to know how it went, read on!
A wise person climbs Mt. Fuji once, only a fool would climb it twice.
- Japanese proverb
To fully understand this quote, you have to have experienced it once and as I told you in the first part of the article, I had planned it for a couple of weeks before finally going up the volcano this past Saturday night. The flight to Tokyo is long – it took me 10.45 hours to get there from Munich. After arriving at Tokyo airport at around 10 am, I got to the hotel around noon which gave me 4.5 hours before my bus left for Mount Fuji. Only 4.5 hours to sleep and get ready! I was excited and after checking in and getting to my room, I started packing everything for the hike. A quick shower later, I went to bed and slept for 2.5 hours…
The bus for the base camp of Mt. Fuji (5th station) leaves from Shinjuku station which is a 10 minute walk from my hotel and it takes 2 hours to get there. The tickets can be bought at a small office close to the bus stop and personnel is very helpful if you have any problems. I would however suggest to make an online reservation a couple of days before. It’s all in English on the website and you already get your seat number. Always give yourself enough time for the return bus. It makes no sense to go up Mt. Fuji for sunrise and book a bus at 7. That will put you under more pressure and make the descent dangerous. I booked a bus at 10 am which gave me 5 hours for the descent – and peace of mind because I knew I wouldn’t miss it even when the descent would have taken longer than planned. Anyhow – after getting to the 5th station at 6.30 pm, I was facing a breathtaking panorama with a setting sun. The surroundings of Mt. Fuji are stunning and since the base camp is at 2304 meters above sea level, we were above the clouds making for an unforgettable scenery. I took a couple of photos and went for a quick bite at one of the many restaurants. Temperatures had already gone down and so I had to put on the first layers of clothing. The view of Mt. Fuji was stunning: the setting sun kissed the summit and made it look beautifully warm while the half moon was right on top of it. It looked surreal! It was hard to believe I was actually there. Funny thing was – the weather forecast for that day had said that the chance of rain showers was pretty high but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and so I was looking forward to a beautiful sunrise the next morning.
At 8 pm I started my journey. I took the yellow trail (actually I had no choice because that was the closest trail to Tokyo) which is one of the harder trails to take. With only 6 km it is quite short compared to the others but that means that the climb is pretty steep. That rapid change of elevation can cause exhaustion very fast if you’re not used to these altitudes. It became dark very quickly and I was glad I had my trusty Petzl headlamp with me. The first kilometers were pretty easy and since there’s many huts along the trail to the summit, you can easily motivate yourself to get up to the next one. They have clean restrooms (which cost 200 YEN to use) and even little shops to get drinks or food. Getting from station 5 to 7 was all right…I had found my rhythm and not too many people were on the trail which made it pretty enjoyable to walk up. From station 7 on things got a bit more difficult as the trail changed. What had been gravel roads and steps, changed into boulders and what used to be an uphill hike, turned into a climb. Not one where you needed ropes but sometimes you had to use your hands to hold on to rocks and every step had to be thought out well in order to get a good grip and not to slip. Getting to station 8 was tough…I had to stop numerous times along the way to catch my breath and I was happy to have brought enough isotonic drinks and power bars. They gave me enough energy and I didn’t feel hungry at all. The number of people got smaller as I was coming closer to the summit. Some of them had stopped at one of the stations to sleep in one of the little hostels. Others who had started strong in the beginning, fell back and had to take longer breaks to regain power.
After station 8, the condition of the trail got a little better. The boulders turned back into gravel road and steps – but it got a lot steeper and the air thinner. I had to catch my breath every 200 meters or so but you could see the 8.5th station (which is the last station before the summit) brightly which motivated me to keep going. To be honest, the trail has something meditative. When you walk, you’re all by yourself. I had a playlist on my phone with meditation music and so it was an exhausting, yet satisfying undertaking. Shielded from the noises of the surroundings. I made my way up to station 8.5 and took one final break. I got a cup of hot coffee to give me the energy for the last 500 mete rs to the summit. It doesn’t sound as much but believe me – those 500 meters were the hardest. I was out of breath. My shirts were dripping wet. The last meters to the summit were the steepest and most difficult ones. And there was no light to guide you or motivate you. I was practically walking towards the dark top of the mountain. I passed the remains of station 9 – an abandoned, rock-covered building and the sign indicating what was left of the station. Up here it is very windy and dusty. The volcanic rock is pretty small and the wind blows it everywhere. I was happy to have a face mask. It kept me from inhaling dust and I helped keep my breath warm and humid.
As I was walking and looking back to where I came from and seeing the lights of the climbers behind me, I couldn’t stop wondering, how the hell I have been able to come that far. I’m not a very athletic person. I’m not used to climbing mountains. I just have a strong will – an inner motivation to succeed. I guess that’s what made me keep going. And as I was climbing and sweating and breathing hard, a wooden gate came up. I touched it and noticed coins in the cracks of the wood. I kept walking up and a second gate appeared…and behind the gate I saw the outlines of a dark building: the Kusushi Shrine! I couldn’t believe it: I was at the summit! It was overwhelming…I even cried for a couple of minutes – out of happiness and exhausting I guess but mainly because I didn’t think I would be able to make it. But there I was. 3776 meters above sea level, on top of the highest mountain in Japan and it had taken me only 5 hours to get there. I was thrilled, proud, excited, happy and in a frenzy.
After taking it all in, I wandered around the summit to find a restroom. Then I looked for a spot to settle down for sunrise and maybe even get some sleep. There were already a couple of climbers in their sleeping bags and so I found a nice spot in the first row facing right to the east where the sun would rise in almost 5 hours. After shooting some pictures of the awe-inspiring views, I brought out my sleeping back and tucked myself in ready to go to sleep at least for an hour or two. But only 30 minutes later I had to get up again and use the toilet. And I was cold. The temperature at the summit was 8 degrees Celsius and sitting or lying around doing noting, makes your body temperature drop quickly.
Back from the toilet, I put on a second pair of socks, another shirt and got back into the sleeping bag which protected me from the wind and cold. Slowly more climbers made their way to the summit and the noise level increased. There was no way, I could sleep anymore. The more people came, the more had to fight for your spot in the first row. I was lucky because I had my sleeping bag, my backpack and my tripod all set up so nobody could get too close. But behind me people started piling up to get a glance of the sunrise. And so I waited. I waited for almost 4 hours before the sky became lighter and the sun finally broke through at 4:57am. I have no words to describe how beautiful it was. I think the photos can do that for me. After the sun had come up, it became pretty chaotic at the summit as more and more climbers were reaching the top. I was overtired, cold and exhausted and I just wanted to get down again. So I started to hike down.
Believe it or not – it felt like the descent was harder then the ascend. The trail zig-zagged it’s way down the mountain but the tough thing was the gravel and lava rocks. It was so slippery and you had to watch out for every step to avoid slipping and falling. Being pretty steep, you slip forward in your shoes and the toes are repeatedly being pressed against the shoe tip. It is horrible and painful. I had to stop more often than on the way up and I had the feeling, I would never get down. The temperatures increased the further down you got but I didn’t want to take of my jacket and gloves in case I fell…so I was sweating again. It’s amazing how once reached a target, your level of motivation goes down and fatigue starts kicking in. I swear – on the way down I was more than once at the verge of giving up. But as usual – after a while you surrender to the situation and just go on. The signs about how long it was to the base station were very rare which made it hard to guess how much longer this torture would continue (I guess I’m being overdramatic here but it felt like that). And then I finally reached station number 5…the base. Home far from home. I dropped everything at a street stone and sank to my knees. I felt exhilarated, happy and so incredibly satisfied. A couple of minutes later after I had gained back my breath, I changed into something dry and drank like a camel. It was good to be back and after a nice breakfast I only had to wait another hour for my bus to arrive and get me back to Tokyo and my hotel (which was screaming my name btw.). Two hours later I could finally get a shower that felt heavenly and drop in bed like a sack of potatoes. What an amazing experience that was – but I’m never gonna do it again! EVER.
- Waterproof sailing bag
(it might be raining on Saturday – so I better keep my batteries and sensible camera stuff dry)
(no explanation needed)
(I want to shoot the sunrise at Mount Fuji and maybe some panos so this is essential)
- Energy bars/food
(it’s a long walk and energy is key to succeed)
- Softshell jacket
(weather conditions change rapidly at such altitudes and a softshell jacket keeps you always nice and cosy)
- Sleeping bag
(once up the summit, I will have some time to kill until sunrise. So I thought I might catch some sleep and be warm)
(they’re always very useful when you want to attach stuff to your backpack)
- Inflatable pillow
(more comfort while sleeping)
(starting at 30° Celsius at the bottom temperature drops to 8° Celsius at the summit – you wanna be prepared and layer up your clothing while you climb up)
- Gloves, beanie
(in case it gets really cold and windy)
- Cotton facemask
(this tip I got was the BEST - the higher you get, the windier and colder AND dustier it gets. Volcano dust isn't the healthiest thing to inhale plus the mask will keep you from cooling down too much while breathing heavily)
- Hiking pants and thermo socks
(the pants are pretty tough and I don’t mind ripping these on the volcano rock)
- Batteries, flashlights and headlamp
(you don’t want to run out of power in the middle of the night on a volcano)
- Thermos and watercontainers
(you need to drink a lot and hot tea will do you good during the night)
- Trekking shoes
- Camera (Nikon D7000) and my travel lens (18-105mm VRII), enough batteries for the camera and a remote control to trigger the camera for longer exposures