I will note this will be a long post, but the pictures are totally worth it!
“He who climbs Mt. Fuji is a wise man; he who climbs twice is a fool.” -Japanese Proverb
No worries, there will be no fools here. Where do I even begin to talk about our epic journey to Mt. Fuji’s summit? Well I’ll start with this, I like adventure and most of the time I’m up for a challenge, so when a few other friends wanted to climb Mt. Fuji, I was on board. How hard could it be? It’s one of the most popular mountains in the world to climb and can be done by an “average joe”, or at least that’s what the internet told me. Well friends, Fuji-san is no joke. Let me tell you all about it, the good, the bad, the painful, and the most rewarding and exciting experience of my life.
Before I get started here is a picture of Mt. Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain (Yama山 is mountain in Japanese). Unfortunately, there was too much cloud coverage for me to get a good photo of my own while were visiting, so this photo is credited to google. Mt. Fuji is Japan’s tallest mountain coming in at 3760 meters or 12,395 feet, meaning it is one BIG Yama! For those that don’t know the mountain is actually a volcano, but has been dormant for quite sometime…not really sure how long (maybe I should google that). It is one of Japan’s three holy mountains and was recently added as a World Heritage site in 2013. Basically, Fuji-san is a big deal, as it should be.
John and I traveled up to Lake Saiko, one of Fuji’s five surrounding lakes, with another couple that we came to Japan with. We decided to make a weekend out of it and stay over night at one of the lakes before our big climb. Honestly, I wish we had more time at this lake house, it was stunning and what a beautiful area of Japan and a great way to prep for our big hike. Here are a few photos of the Airbnb we stayed in. For those planning a visit to Japan, the Lake Saiko and Lake Kawaguichi area is gorgeous and I would have loved to spend more time there.
Climbing Mt. Fuji has become a really popular thing to do and literally thousands of people climb it each year during climbing season, which is from July to early September. I’ve met a lot of people here in Japan who have done the hike and had a lot of mixed reviews on level of difficulty and what to expect. So it was actually pretty hard to know what I was getting myself into. The whole time leading up to the hike I kept telling John how nervous and anxious I was and he reassured me that it would fine, until he finally saw the mountain in person. Honestly, my husband very rarely lets his emotions show but the day of the climb he was legit nervous (sorry Johnny for outing you). It was nerves mixed with excitement for all of us, I think.
Our hike started at Mt. Fuji’s Subaru 5th station and is a 6km and 1,415m vertical hike to the summit. There are many trails the mountain has, but a lot of them don’t open until mid July due to weather. I believe the other trails actually opened the day we hiked, but we ultimately chose to do the Yoshida trail, which is the mountain’s main trail. We chose this for two reason, 1) we were climbing so early in the season that at least it would be open, even if the weather was poor, and 2) it is on the side of the mountain that no matter where you are you can see the sunrise. So it guaranteed us a sunrise, even if we weren’t at the summit. Because of Fuji’s popularity more often then not the trails are very crowded and you typically end up waiting in line to get up the mountain (which is crazy to even think about). We were lucky that the mountain was no where near as crowded as it will be this summer, but also got to experience the feeling of making this “pilgrimage” to the top with plenty of other hikers.
The Subaru 5th Station is Fuji’s most popular station and a huge tourist attraction. It allows for tourist to visit the mountain without actually having to climb it. There are plenty of gift shops, restaurants, and shops to buy last minute climbing equipment before the hike. It also, has a lot of trails that are for all levels of hiking experience and a pretty easy hike to the mountain’s 6th station. My last meal before the hike was Mt. Fuji ramen. Honestly they have Fuji on literally everything the station sells. As you can see even the nori in my ramen had Fuji on it. After taking some time to wander around the 5th station, we bought ourselves some pretty awesome hiking sticks that are stamped at every station as a souvenir, and headed out for the big climb at about 1pm. It was literally like a movie, all of us were super excited and couldn’t wait to get started, but of course this was just the beginning of what I came to learn was actually a really difficult and challenging climb to the top.
The trail started out easy enough, just a gradual climb to the top. In all honesty, the hiking doesn’t really start until after the 6th station and probably closer to the 7th station. But the gradual increase in altitude and constant climb was tough, thankfully the weather was good, it wasn’t too hot.
There are a lot of hikers that will hike straight to the summit in one big swoop…we were not those hikers. Fuji has multiple huts located on the trail starting at the 7th station, most of them have places for hikers to sleep and rest before continuing to the top. We chose to stay at one on the 8th station, about a two hour hike to the summit. This was the best idea ever because honestly the hike from the 7th station to the 8th station was difficult. The trail was no longer a dirt path, but became a legit rock climb.
With the increasing altitude and long hike we were literally taking each corner of the trail one corner at a time and then stoping to rest. Honestly, there was so much I read from people who say that Fuji is not a difficult climb. I beg to differ friends. I believe that because of it’s popularity people under estimate it’s difficulty. I’m sure that people in better shape then me could make in better time then I did, but this wasn’t easy and shouldn’t be considered so. That’s not to scare any one away from climbing, it is honestly one of the best experience I have ever had, but lets face it, Fuji is a real mountain.
After about 5 hours of hiking we finally made it to our hut, Gansomuro Mountain Hut at 3,250meters. I’ll tell you what, John and I were never so happy to sleep on a rice pillow and tatami mat! If I’m being honest, I don’t think that I would have made it to the summit without resting in one of these huts. The altitude at this point just had me beat and for someone that has not done a whole lot of hiking or climbing in the past this was much needed. We made it the hut about 7pm and was able to rest, eat dinner, and get some pretty terrible shut eye (due to the person snoring below us) for a few hours until we started back up again about 1:30am to catch the sunrise.
The stretch between our mountain hut to the summit was probably the second most challenging part of this hike. We started at 1:30am, so it was dark, cold, and the altitude sickness had definitely started to sink in. John and I both at one point looked at each other and felt that there was a good possibility we wouldn’t make it to the summit because we were both feeling so sick. But, with a little help from some purchased O2 and the camaraderie of other climbers we kept going. We were just below the summit for the sunrise at 4:30am and man oh man was it breathtaking.
I’ve never in my life seen something so beautiful. To be able to experience this was a once in a lifetime moment and I feel lucky to have friends and a husband that were crazy enough to do it with me!
With the sunrising, it rejuvenated us just enough to make the last little stretch to the summit and we arrived at about 5:00am. John and I hugged each other and I literally felt like I was going to cry. I was just so happy and relieved that I made it to the top and with the altitude I didn’t even know how to express these emotions. I’m not kidding guys, Fuji-san is hard but so worth it. Walking through the tori gate at the summit was incredible and something I will never forget!
Surprisingly enough there is actually a lot going on at the top of this mountain including a temple, post office, a spot of get some ramen, pork bowls, or udon, and buy souvenirs…they even sell beer. Who would have thought? That’s right, Japan would have. Obviously after an 8 hour hike to the top a beer is clearly needed…kidding I didn’t drink a beer on the top of Fuji. After filling our bellies with some warm ramen (although, I couldn’t eat much of mine the altitude was a little too much and I was feeling sick), we wandered around the top, got a look at the crater, and decided to make our decent to the bottom.
The trek to the bottom was hands down the WORST part of the entire hike. It was literally a lava rock path straight down. With bent knees shaking the whole damn way. I was so tired and frustrated at this point, I couldn’t wait to get of the mountain. It was awful, it was boring, and it was hot. There was nothing exciting to see, I had to wear a mask to help keep the dust out, there were limited stations to stop and rest and use the bathroom and lets face it at this point I was totally over this mountain. It took about 4.5 hours to get down and I was so happy and relieved to see the 5th station that John and I celebrated with ice cream…never did ice cream taste so good!
Well there you have it friends, the play by play of our epic Mt. Fuji adventure. For those considering to hike, do it! It’s so worth it and Gonbate がんばって to you!
Here are a few more photos of our hike for those interested: