Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Top of Mt. Fuji

The view from the fifth station.
This is Matt again with a blog post about an adventure I went on without Amanda. I knocked out an item on my bucket list: climbing Mt. Fuji. The mountain is iconic and can be found on almost all the famous art depicting Japan.

We planned our trip to Tokyo during the summer climbing season, but Amanda informed me she would not be making the trek with me. We found friends who did want to climb: our neighbor Dave and one of my best friends Asa who flew all the way from the states for this experience.

We traveled with a tour group that Amanda booked. The group left from our hotel lobby at two in the morning. When we arrived at the mountain it was still dark, around four a.m, and a brisk breeze was blowing. Some of our fellow hikers scoffed at our shorts, t-shirts, and very light layers from beneath their heavy parkas. We purchased our fuji sticks (a souvenir hiking stick that you can have have branded at the different stations on your ascent) and, in our impatience to get ahead of the slower group, we set off on our path. Turns out it was the wrong path.

Sunrise from above the clouds.
After coming to our first intersection we took what we considered the logical choice. The trail began to narrow and meander through a thick tree line. We traversed some steep and not-so-well-marked trails to reach the sixth station just as the sun was rising. As we stopped to apply sunscreen our tour group casually strolled up the paved access road that we missed when we took our first turn.

"Where did you come from?" I asked our tour guide.

"The only authorized trail. Where did YOU come from?" she asked in response. We had no good answer.

As our tour group stopped to shed their heavy winter jackets now that their bodies had warmed during the climb (hah! We win!), the three of us raced off again to keep ahead of the group. This time we followed the signs.

We climbed, the winds picked up, and the slope increased. The trail, though clearly marked, was often a jumble of rocks with plenty of places to roll your ankle if you are not careful. We decided that the fuji sticks were a practical investment and that climbing the mountain at night would be terrible. At each station we stopped to pay the 200 yen for branding our sticks and admire the view while resting. When the tour groups with over one hundred people neared our station we would take off again. As we climbed higher the switch-backs became more frequent and we took a lot more breaks to admire the scenery as the air became thinner. Pretty soon we were admiring the scenery every two minutes. While I knew the physical aspect of the climb would not stop me, we were all aware that we were winded very quickly and had started to develop headaches. We still had several stations to go, so I decided to purchase an oxygen canister. Dave and Asa decided they would tough it out, a few more stations and neat brands later (and after we had all shared my oxygen) we were starting to near the top.

The entrance to the summit is guarded by a torii gate. We stopped to take pictures and made the final ascent. The view from the top, despite being nothing but clouds, was still breathtaking. We purchased a traditional bowl of hot noodles and our last brand for the sticks and admired the caldera. We had plenty of time to make our way down before the bus left.

A reminder that this serene mountain is actually an active volcano.
At the bottom we changed out of our sweaty clothes and boots into flip-flops and went looking for more snacks and a solid nap.

The climb was a great experience made even more so by getting to do it with my friends, but I truly understand the famous Japanese proverb. "A wise man will climb Mt. Fuji once; A fool will climb Mt. Fuji twice."


  1. How very cool! Think I'll share this with my students! I especially like the part where you bought the oxygen. I remember the spotted T-shirts I saw on Pikes Peak! Could have used some oxy myself!

    1. That is so cool you want to share with your students! Mt. Fuji is so important to Japan, and Matt had to climb it. After hearing about his experience (as a tough Marine), I have no wish to attempt it myself. I don't think any amount of oxygen would make it enjoyable :)

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