Mt. Fuji – Should travelers really be climbing mountains?

Just like travel, the idea of climbing to the top of a mountain has an adventurous feel to it.   It certainly isn’t something one does regularly, and I am now fully aware just why that is.  Factor in what’s involved – getting to the mountain, climbing the thing, doing whatever you plan to do on top, and then making your way down – and you’re in for quite an experience.

Koji and I in front of the 7th station of Mt. Fuji in the Kawaguchiko Path up the mountain.

Koji and I about a third of the way up the mountain.

I decided to celebrate the end of my teaching job in Japan with the romantic idea of climbing Mt. Fuji.  I had convinced Koji, my Japanese co-worker, to make the climb with me, and the day after I finished my job we were on our way to the mountain.  Three trains, one bus and seven hours after we left, we made it to Kawaguchiko 5th Station – the starting point for the climb.  We arrived at 8pm and decided to wait an hour before climbing to try and make sure we were getting acclimated to the altitude.

One of the major concerns with the climb is avoiding altitude sickness, symptoms of which include headache, fatigue, stomach illness, dizziness, and sleep disturbance.  I find it hard to believe that you won’t feel some of these during a 6-hour, 1,471 meter (4,828 ft), midnight climb.  There are “mountain huts” along the climb during the peak season of July to August that provide a place to rest in addition to food and water.  The higher you go, the more expensive things get, so it’s best to bring food, water and oxygen, if you feel you need it, with you.

Many Japanese on the summit of Mt. Fuji, seated and waiting for the sunrise.

A captive audience waiting for a sunrise that, unfortunately, never showed it's face.

We started the climb at about 9pm and reached the summit at a little after 3am.  Roughly two-thirds of the route up is loose gravel and rocks while the rest is more like climbing, so gloves are a good idea.  Also, it gets much much colder as you get higher, so bring warm clothing for the summit.  At the top, there are a few places to buy souvenirs, get some food and hit the head.  There’s even a post office if you want to send your postcards with a Mt. Fuji postmark.

Man smoking on a cigarette while heading up the brand for stamping walking sticks.

As proof of your climb, you can pay to get a brand imprinted on your walking stick that states the date of your climb and the height of Mt. Fuji.

After taking care of a few odds and ends and waiting for the sunrise, which we couldn’t quite see due to heavy cloud cover, we started our descent.  My lack of sleep and general fatigue from getting up there conspired with the loose gravel all the way down to make it a difficult undertaking for me.  Needless to say, I was grateful when we finally made it back and all I wanted was some rest.  It was a grueling 14 hours, but I’m proud of myself for having completed something I never really saw myself doing.

A line of climbers descend the mountain with the cloud cover in the background

Nothing like an early morning climb down a mountain.

How bout you? What’s the next mountain you plan to climb (literal or metaphorical)??