Wednesday 16 August 2017

Climbing Mount Fuji: Heaven and Hell above the Clouds

Around this time last year, I climbed Mount Fuji (Fuji-san=富士山), probably top of Japan's bucket-list of "things to do before you die" (死ぬまでにしたいこと). And die I nearly did, what with the tough climb coupled with the mountain sickness near the top of the 3776m peak. Needless to say, I won't be doing it again (ever), but I'm glad I did it once - if only for the sense of achievement. Even in Tokyo, 100km away, Mount Fuji is visible on good days so every time I catch a glimpse of it from my apartment I remember the pain and the pleasure!
Clouds in the foreground with the orange rays of the sun spilling out
The sun rising majestically above the clouds as seen from the summit of Mount Fuji, August 18th 2016
It's possible to climb by yourself, but I opted for a tour which provided all the necessary gear plus a professional guide. This was a bus tour leaving from Shinjuku which saw us arrive at the 2,300m 5th Station for a quick lunch before taking the Yoshida trail (there are multiple trails from different sides of the mountain) to the 3,460m 8th Station for supper and an attempt at sleep in a (jam-packed) mountain hut before waking up in the middle of the night for the final climb to the summit in time for the sunset (pictured). Standing above the clouds with over a thousand others waiting in silence for the sun to rise and the feeling of awe as it slowly emerged and crept above the horizon was truly an unforgettable experience.

Talking of the crowds, since Mount Fuji became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013, climbers have increased creating bottlenecks, congestion, and numerous problems such as litter and lack of toilets (bring some small change for these!). This year saw the first ever tally of climbers in response to a request by UNESCO to address the over-crowding problem. Early to mid-August is the peak time for climbing, so try and avoid this time, especially weekends. Or maybe just avoid it altogether: to quote my eldest daughter afterwards, "that was hell."