“A wise man climbs Mount Fuji once but only a fool climbs it again!”
That proverb may be true but within a couple of years of ascending Mount Fuji for the first time I became interested in doing a follow-up climb. When we did the original climb in 2007 it actually began from the 5th station which is already over half way up the iconic mountain. That is where almost everyone starts but I still feel I haven’t done it properly so have long wanted to complete the full 3,776 metre climb by starting from Fuji-Yoshida at the base.
However, that has never happened for a variety of reasons like laziness, injury, too much work, bad weather, not enough time and so on. The short window of opportunity which is the Japanese climbing season also makes it quite difficult to get organised but I still hold hope that it’ll happen one day!
Anyway, as 15 years have passed since the first climb it is maybe a good time to look back on that adventure which began after a hard days work. Colleagues Shinobu, Mark, his friend Joey and I ignored many other teachers negative stories and were still keen to overcome the challenge of conquering the symbol of Japan.
Most teachers I’d met back then had already conquered Mount Fuji, and I wanted to be able to say that I’d done it too. The subsequent years have taught me how true that was as I have referred to climbing Japan’s tallest mountain a fair few times.
The bus took us from Shinjuku up to the fifth station which lies 2305 metres above sea level. We set off on the climb at about 10:15 pm equipped with just about everything possible thanks to Mark’s research. Within a few minutes I had used up, and undoubtedly annoyed everyone with typical juvenile remarks like “race you to the top” and “are we there yet?!”. To prevent altitude sickness we took it easy to start with and used our oxygen cans complete with the inevitable Darth Vader impressions!
As we ascended the mountain, layers of clothing had to be added but that wasn’t the only change as the food and drink prices at the huts increased the higher we got. 600 yen for a cup noodle!!
I was actually close to enjoying myself as we climbed from station to station and I thought we still had a while to go till sunrise. My original thinking was just to reach the summit but as I continued on I really did want to see sunrise. However we then hit a sh*tload of people at the final station.
Absolutely hundreds, if not thousands, of people seemed to appear and we realised that we wouldn’t be at the peak for sunrise in the land of the rising sun. This last part of the climb (about 500 metres) was so frustrating as you just couldn’t move more than a few steps every half minute or so on the thin path. Sadly no Disneyland-style FastPass was available and it was near to complete silence among the crowds with so many depressed faces to be seen.
Just under nine hours after we had set out we finally reached the top at about 7am.
A round of applause, cheering, champagne, fireworks, balloons, people partying and celebrations all-round – there was none of that of course!! There was just a sense of relief, the inevitable crowds, a kind of village with the ubiquitous souvenirs and a massive line for the toilets. Nothing like relieving yourself in view of a line of people and I only had to pay 200 yen for the privilege!!
Although we didn’t catch much of a sunrise we did see the crater and a small shrine at the top. We decided to not walk round the crater to send our postcards from the post office where you can get a special postmark. Instead we passed them on to a couple of trustworthy looking old ladies and began the descend which is said by many to be the worst bit.
Fearing a re-occurrence of knee problems I’d had at that time from jogging I put on my knee supports and descended down the loose volcanic rock trying to keep up with Shinobu the speed demon. My trainers were getting filled with the gravel and the heavens opened up after a while on top of that. Not wanting to hang around too much we bolted it down in a lightning fast 2.5 hours.
Sadly when we reached the bottom we realised we had taken the wrong course down and had ended up in Shizuoka Prefecture rather than on the other side of the mountain in Yamanashi. This was the last thing either of us wanted after such an arduous climb up and down the sacred mountain and so getting home was delayed for a few more hours.
As previously mentioned, my original aim had been to just climb Mount Fuji but I was still a bit disappointed that I couldn’t observe sunrise from the top having made the effort. Whenever I’ve seen the picture-perfect views of Fuji-San since that weekend 15 years I have been able to afford a wry smile knowing that I have climbed it. I was originally happy that I’d never have to climb it again but times change and I still hold out some hope of climbing it in full one day.
Click here to read ‘Hokkaido 2015 Pt I: Mt Meakan’
Click on the links below to read about other mountains which can be done in day trips: