No trip to Japan is complete without climbing Mount Fuji. During last Eid weekend which turned out to be the last weekend of this year’s official climbing season, I felt privileged to be able to summit the highest peak in Japan. A memorable SOTG’s first trip to Land Of the Rising Sun.
Faith and Art
Being recognized under UNESCO’s World Heritage site since 2013, this iconic mountain located in Yamanashi and Shizuoka Prefecture has been historically a sacred and significant site in Japanese culture as object of faith and source of art. In the ancient time, Japanese feared and honored the gods in the mountain due to repeated eruptions, so they pray at the shrine. As volcanic activities subsided, the worshipping from afar became mountain pilgrimages till today, so Mount Fuji is considered a holy mountain. In term of art, the majestic symmetrical cone has been crucial source of landscape wood block print and painting called ‘ukiyoe‘.
Start at Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station (2,305m)
Given time limit and weather condition, 5th station was chosen as starting point. This is the most common start point with great facilities such as tourist information center, restaurants, and shops. Because of overcast weather, no visibility of summit from the base station. I took one hour to acclimatize while enjoying vegetarian curry lunch (Japanese style of course) and last minute preparation: tidied up the backpack, bought bottled waters, and wrapped gaiters around shoes. Didn’t feel like I should waste 1100 Yen for an oxygen can sold at the shop.
Departed through Yoshida Trail route in yellow marked sign (this was the most popular route out of 4) after paying a voluntarily contribution (1000 Yen) to Yamanashi Prefecture who’s collecting fee for preservation efforts. Their booth located just beside the information center and opposite of the horse stand – yes horses waited for you less adventurous up and down the mountain in style!.
It was a slight downward in first 1km until a junction where a sign shows Mt Fuji summit. Great hiking among forest and breathed fresh air. A big group in front which I’ve managed to pass them and smooth hike until 6th Station. Here, there were toilets provided: Western and Japanese style stated on the door.
6th Station to 7th Station (2,700m)
From 6th station, steep climbing began with zig-zagging turn on dirt routes. Took few opportunity to look down and catch my breath as I gradually leaving the tree lines. It was satisfying when reaching first hut on way up called Hanagoya. Inside hut, a climber resting cozily in front of big warm kettle.
After 7th Station the climb involved steady steep climb and rocky section which I scrambled to keep going up. This narrow rocky path referred to area between Hanagoya and Horaikan hut. The provided chains/ropes were not for holding or support. As the climb continued, I was getting closer to the clouds. There were workers building a new hut and I said to them how much envy I was about their office view.
At Gansomuro Hut I was enlightened with discovery of Jikigyo Miroku, a Fuji religion leader who died by fasting beneath the big rock on the upper side of the hut. What he believed clearly written on the board near the hut,
“the human body was borrowed from above, and should be return after death, and that we would be saved only by working our hardest in our acquired profession to become unified with heaven. The most important thing was to work hard, and that there were no differences between gender and class distinction”.
Fujisan Hut, 8th Station (3,400m)
My legs thanks me for choosing to lodge overnight at Fujisan Hut (booked prior) which given a chance to rest and acclimatize after 4 hours climb. The hut located above cloud line is high enough for viewing sunrise, so we decided to have a wakeup call at quarter to 5am for 5.15am sunrise by balcony. This mean longer rest, no climbing in dark, and avoid morning crowd for sunrise at summit.
Dinner prepared with provision packed for the trip though it was tempting to order the hot curry and instant noodle. Next morning, my head felt heavy, dizziness kicked in as well as vomiting. Combination of thin air, dehydration and lack of sleep (light sleeper like me sharing room with 40+ others sleeping on narrow futon bunk style and some snoring clearly not helping!). As the result, I did not enjoyed the sunrise by the balcony despite how stunning it was. Given myself time to recover, drank plenty of water which includes life savior Coke (500 Yen) and constant deep breath helped at the end to get me to resume climb. As I left the hut at 6am, the hut staff busy airing the sleeping futon on the roof as they get ready for today’s new guests.
Steady steep climb continued to summit, I decided to start using my trekking poles, which at the end contributed to a steady good pace. Few climbers rested and lied down by the track side as the air became thinner. Some coins were left behind sticking inside wooden pillars for good luck sake.
Summit and Kusushi Shrine, 9th Station (3,715m)
Final section involved stretch of rock stairs (one single file advisable) through a gate where I reached summit in less than hour. Not too crowded given most climbers have descended after sunrise. Went to find the highest post-office, only heard that it was closed on 20th August so no love letters to be sent home. There were few shops beside Kusushi shrine – for hiking sticks stamping (most climbers bought sticks and get it stamp at each station!) and souvenirs. I nearly bought can of corn soup from one vendor.
Craters, Peaks and 360 View
From summit, I continued clock-wise direction around main crater called Dainai-in and passed by few peaks. Other small crater is called Shonai-in. The approximately 4km hike was interesting one in order to understand a volcano like Mount Fuji (active but calm) which has been seriously active for the past 100 thousand years, and completed it current form about 3500 years ago. Red and black rocks were evidenced from the volcanic activities.
There was another shrine to the South of crater where local having picnic and boiled water to cook ramen. Here I felt strongly on how sacred this place is to the local. The hike continued to the highest peak called Kengamine at 3.775m. I then stopped for breakfast (North-West of crater) to enjoy some breathtaking view of far off mountain ranges and spot a lake too from a distance – a slice of paradise indeed.
After a quick chat to a guy from New York who brought his cat to the summit (poor cat she seemed distress) and when a group started playing musical instruments, I made my way down which proved to be relatively easier than climbing up. During descending, I stumbled across a duo who volunteers to pick up rubbish all the way down to 5th Station, and a face covered guy wearing helmet (later I found out it could be useful as protection from falling rocks). Trail runner like me enjoyed downhill so I ran down the dirt route to reach 5th Station in 2 hours 30 minutes with some stops to rest my niggle knees. It was 11.50am and the atmosphere was buzzing from crowds that gathered to get ready for their adventure.
Final Treat and Do It Again?
Fed my hungry tummy with rice dish and melon bread – both in shaped of Mount Fuji. Before leaving the 5th Station, I wondered around the shops and passed by the nearby Komitake shrine. Serene feeling with the misty cloud on the air.
The spirit of Fuji calling me to return – perhaps next time all the way from Station 1 the traditional route. Besides, there are plenty to discover around Mount Fuji’s Five Lake region.
It’s true there’s nothing too technical about climbing Mount Fuji, but important to prepare carefully. So here’s some housekeeping and useful information:
• Getting There: Took direct highway bus from Shinjuku Station to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station. You can also catch direct bus from Haneda Airport, Yokohama Station, Tama Plaza Station/Centre-Kita Station. Or else, catch train from Shinjuku Station to Fujisan Station/Kawaguchiko Station, and then take bus to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station.
• Recommendation Itinerary: If you start from 5th station, total estimated time required for climbing and descend is 6 and 4 hours respectively. Decide for one day trip (with or without sunrise), or overnight (sunrise at summit or at mountain hut). Add 3 to 4 hours if start from Station 1.
• Tips: Plan when to go for climbing though ideally you can still climb till October or until first big snowfall (outside official July – September season e.g. winter climb require filling a form and bring own portable toilet), plan which route to take out of 4 (because each has varied climbing season, distance, elevation, number of huts, and toilets), bring small coins to pay at toilets (100 Yen, 200 Yen), check weather condition and volcanic warning before climb.
• Accommodation: If decide to overnight, book accommodation with mountain hut in advance especially when hiking during peak season. This site below (under useful info) is handy that provides summary of mountain huts e.g. information of staffs speaking English and contact for booking. Paid 7000 Yen (without hot dinner) at Fujisan Hut which offered morning wake up call, and attentive staff who very very organized.
• Gears: I wore Salomon hiking shoes, Colombia hiking pant, 2 layers of top including one inner, good pair of running sock, sunglass, ankle gaiter and hat. Carried OMM backpack filled with 2 litres of water, Yeti sleeping bag, head lamp, spare batteries, first-aid kit, aspirin (for altitude sickness), change clothing, spare sock, small towel, water-proof rain gear, glove, plastic bag for rubbish and some snack/food.
• Useful information: Official website here and more info here including maps. Blog reference: GaryJWolf for accommodation listings and tips. If you want to find out about climbing from Station 1, read here.
Sayonara, and hope to see you again soon Japan.
Live To Thrive,