Climbing Mount Fuji
"Part One: The Ascent"
My friends and I decided to climb Mount Fuji at night--a popular strategy--so that we could view the sunrise in the morning. For no particular reason at all, we chose the Fujinomiya trail. The trail begins at the Fujinomiya 5th station.
To get to the Fujinomiya 5th station, we caught a bus from the #9 bus stop at Shizuoka station. We caught the last bus, which leaves at 5:50p.m. It costs 2800 yen one way and takes two hours. You may also catch the bus from Shin-Fuji, Fujinomiya, or Mishima stations. (I don't know the cost or how long it takes to/from those stations.)
After we arrived at the Fujinomiya 5th station, we purchased a Mount Fuji walking stick. (See "What to Bring" for more info.) There were two shops at the 5th station, the larger one downstairs. We took some photos and then headed off.
We started our climb at 8:33p.m. To be honest, we didn't consult any maps, so had no idea how long it would take to each station. Therefore when we reached the 6th station in only 11 minutes (at a leisurely pace), we were quite surprised. We branded our walking sticks and continued on.
I don't remember how long it took us to the 7th station, but it was also fairly quick. Again, we branded our sticks and continued on. Then came the surprise: the next station we reached was also the 7th station! Someone then told us that the previous station was the "old" 7th station. Hmm... Okay. We continued on. Yet another surprise: the next station we arrived at was ALSO the 7th station. Huh? What the heck is going on here? Anyway, apparently the third 7th station is the "new" 7th station. So one thing you should know beforehand (to help prevent confusion) is that there are three 7th stations: two "old" and one "new". However, there isn't really any difference between the three stations (or any of the stations, for that matter). You can get services at all three 7th stations.
As we were hiking, we paused a number of times to enjoy the beautiful view of the stars and the city lights. There was even a hanabi (fireworks) festival going on in two cities nearby. It's quite interesting to watch fireworks from above rather than below. We tried taking pictures of the city lights, but the pictures didn't come out well. (I guess we need to buy better digital cameras, with high ISOs.)
We thought the hike to be fairly easy up until the 8th station. Until this station, I had been wearing only a T-shirt and shorts. (Yes, many people thought I was strange and probably laughed at me.) I hadn't been cold at all during the hike. (Yes, I *am* from Hawaii but the hike kept me warm.) However, we rested for about 15 minutes at the 8th station and that's when the cold started sinking in. (The cold breeze also didn't help.) I then put on my sweater, hat, and pants.
After the 8th station, a heavy fog set in. Not only was it getting hard to see, but everything got wet--including the things in my backpack! (I was using a cheap $20 GAP Kids backpack, which is probably why.)
NOTE: One thing I noticed is that after resting then starting again, we were soon breathing heavily (i.e., out of breath). This is because of the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. However, you soon get used to it and your pace quickens. I would recommend resting at each station, with longer rest periods the higher you get, to allow your body to get used to it. I wouldn't recommend bringing those oxygen cans or pills unless you *really* need it due to a health condition. (See "What to Bring".)
"Part Two: The Top and Descent"
When we finally reached the top, we were cold, wet, and quite tired. We reached the top at about 1:30a.m. It had taken us five hours for the climb, including our breaks. But we weren't in a celebratory mood. We still had about 2.5 hours until daybreak. It was still foggy and there was a strong wind blowing, so searched around for some shelter and eventually found a place near some rocks. There was even some space under the rocks, sort of like a small cave that you could lie down in. However, try as we might we could not sleep. It was just too cold! There was no escaping the wind. Everything was wet. We were tired and exhausted. It was a miserable and quite unbearably long wait. In fact, there was a family next to us who couldn't stand it. They decided to forego seeing the sunrise and return down the mountain at 3:00a.m.!
The fog did clear during our wait. (The wind hadn't let up, though.) That's when we had a magnificent view of the stars--the *only* positive thing during the wait until sunrise. I wish I had brought some powerful binoculars or a telescope so I could view the stars. (I know. Bringing them up would have been a pain in the a--rather, back.)
At 3:51a.m., the first glint of light appeared in the sky. Dawn! My friends and I searched for and found a good place to view the sunrise. I took many photos of the transition from night to daybreak to the actual sunrise. It was a stunning sight. I'll try to post as many photos as possible, but, to be honest, the photos don't do any justice to actually viewing it. Quite frankly, there's a lot of detail and color you can't see in the picture. Anyway, I'm from Hawaii and have seen many beautiful sunrises (sunsets, too). But the sunrise from the top of Mount Fuji was hands down the most beautiful I've ever seen.
We stayed for a little while at the top. We ate some curry and ramen (1000 and 800 yen respectively) and relished the warmth of the shop. Then we got our walking sticks stamped at a nearby temple. The temple stamp was quite disappointing. It isn't branded (burned) on like how they are at the stations. Rather, it's pounded into your stick. Some brown ink is added to it too. When they return it to you, they tell you not to touch the stamp until it dries. Let me tell you, it's hard not to touch that area because that's the area I held mostly when I used my walking stick. (By the time I finished my descent, my gloves and hand had brown ink stains on them. My temple stamp was smudged!)
Finally, the descent down the mountain was very easy. Unfortunately it took us about 3.5 hours because we were joined by another person who we met on the bus ride from Shizuoka. (She was *very* slow and we often had to wait for her to catch up. Talk about a momentum-killer!) But the daytime scenery during the descent was just as beautiful as the night was. We were still above the clouds--in beautiful, billowy formations--and had some great views of nearby cities.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience. I would recommend the climb to everyone. I would definitely do it again. Next time, however, I would try to arrive at the peak at around 3:00a.m.--not too long of a wait, but early enough to beat the morning rush hour of people hiking to the top. (I've heard of the trail getting congested, as much as three people wide!) That, and I would definitely bring another pair of gloves and a bit more warmer clothes.
"What to Bring"
It was my first time climbing Mount Fuji--my first *major* hike, for that matter. What should I bring? I asked many people and even read some personal accounts via various homepages. Now that I have some experience after doing the climb, it's time for me to throw in my two-cents.
(Note: this will be for a night climb.)
The following is a list of what I think you should bring/pack for your Mount Fuji adventure.
1. A headlamp (NOT a flashlight, to keep your hands free during the climb.)
2. At least two liters of water or a sports drink
3. Trail mix (nuts & berries) or power/energy bars... or both
4. Onigiri (Japanese rice balls; compact, easy to store, and good to eat.)
5. A rain jacket (The cheap ones from the 100 yen stores are perfect.)
6. Sunscreen (It gets quite sunny on the way down.)
7. A face mask (It can get very dusty during the descent.)
8. A cap or hat (i.e, something to keep your head warm during the ascent and to help block out the sun during the descent.)
9. Two pairs of gloves (One pair for climbing; if it rains or there's a wet fog, you'll want to use the second pair during the cold wait.)
10. A change of clothes (In the likely event of rain or a very wet fog, you'll want to have some dry clothes)
11. A long sleeve shirt
12. A winter jacket or thick sweater
13. Light, waterproof pants
14. An extra pair of socks
15. A garbage bag
16. At least 10000 yen (Better safe than sorry. Remember: everything costs money here, even the toilets at some stations!)
There is one thing I deliberately left out that I highly recommend you purchase at the 5th station (or whatever station you start at): an official Mount Fuji walking stick. It costs 1000 yen, but I believe it's worth every yen. It helps immensely during the hike and makes a great personal souvenir. Plus, you can get your Fuji walking sticks branded with the station name and number at every station, more "proof" that you made your way to the top. (Yeah, I know, a marketing ploy. But it only costs 200 yen each time and they look cool.)
I would like to stress how important bringing an extra pair of gloves and a change of clothes is. You'll likely encounter rain or a very wet fog during the hike and will also likely be sweaty. You'll definitely want to change into some dry clothes at the top.
I wouldn't recommened bringing or purchasing those oxygen cans unless you have a health condition. (The oxygen cans cost 1500 yen at the stations.) It's true that there's less oxygen at higher altitutudes. However, your body can adjust to such conditions given ample time and rest. Feeling light-headed? Rest and make sure to slow your pace.