Wednesday: Travel and Adventure: Mount Fuji

Today, I want to do a bit of a review of the climb of Mt Fuji.
First of all, if you plan on climbing the mountain with a baby on your back, my best advice is, don’t.
My second best advice is to use a heavy duty backpack carrier that has capacity for other supplies, bring a blanket to wrap the baby in, and make sure they are completely sheltered from any wind. They won’t be exerting themselves and their legs and feet WILL get cold.

A few facts you can find anywhere, but I will throw them in here anyway. Mount Fuji is about 3776 meters (12,388 feet) high, and most commonly ascended from Kawaguchiko 5th Station, which is at 2300 meters (7545 feet). So it’s roughly a 5000ft elevation gain over the course of a 6.5 kilometer (4 mile) hike. So that means lots of times where you are literally scrambling over rocks and pulling yourself over things. Someone with a great balance could probably climb most of the way without touching the ground with their hands, but not in the dark.

We did a night climb, so like many foreigners who have heard it’s a good idea, we showed up at the 5th station around 9pm and started our climb around 9:30pm. Our intention was actually to start earlier, but we missed the first bus from Shinjuku station and had to wait for the next one. The easiest way, by far, to get to the 5th Station is by the highway bus from Shinjuku, but it will cost you about 5,200 yen each way. The ride is about 2.5 hours and it’s easy enough to nap on the bus. There are also lockers both at the 5th Station and at Shinjuku, so you can stash your gear and get it after the climb. The 5th station stores are only open from 9-9, though, so be aware. If you climb in the dark make sure you check the signs and take the right trail, too!

The most important thing is to take a lot of water. I recommend hidration packs, at least 2L per person. We ran out right before the top and had to buy water–for 500 yen per 16oz bottle! Needless to say, we were hurting on the way down. Also pack in at least a lunch, but some high energy snacks are recommended. Food is very expensive on the mountain, and generally terrible. A 6oz cup of hot coffee will run you 400 yen. At the time of our trip, the exchange rate was 79jpy per dollar, so a 400 yen cup of coffee was $5.

Since we climbed in the dark we took flashlights. However, the night was clear and the moon was half full, so we soon turned off the flashlights and did much better using our dark-adjusted eyes. Getting flashed by random headlamps sucked, though. As the night progressed, we saw more and more people on the trail.

Our traveling group consisted of my sister–a 19-year-old who is slightly overweight and not very active, who had pneumonia and had just finished the antibiotics. My wife, Jamie–a 25-year-old who is in pretty good shape but also not very active. And me, a 26-year-old who is in the best shape of the group but doesn’t typically run up the side of a mountain in the dark.

Getting Ready at the Station

The climb was very difficult. However, it was a perfectly clear night, so we were never cold until we stopped moving. I took off my long sleeves and hiked in just my tshirt for most of the climb. With the backpack, the baby and all the food/extra layers I was carrying, I had about 40lb of extra weight on my back. That’s 33% of my body weight.

Normally the climb from our station takes about 5-7 hours. We did not stay in a mountain hut. We climbed from 9:30PM until about 3:45AM, when Adriel and Jamie called for a rest. We stopped at the 8.5 station (which is just above the 8th station and about 75% of the way up) to watch the sun rise. We left about 4:45, after taking lots of pictures like this one:
The real reason it's called "The Land of the Rising Sun"

The rest of the climb from the 8.5 station, past the old 8th station and up to the very summit took us about 2.5 more hours. We made it to the tori gate that marks “basically the top” a little before 8. Adriel had a hard time because she didn’t eat her breakfast at 4am and was starting to feel sick. All told, not including the brief rests for food etc, we probably took about 9 hours on the climb up.

The descent was the worst. The trail is slick and steep, there’s mud and lava rock everywhere, and the clouds rolled in early and made it cold and misty the whole way down. Since I had the baby there was no way I was going to run down the mountain. The descent took us about 5 hours, leaving just after 9, but we stopped frequently for breaks. No one was able to take the baby from me, so my back was starting to ache from the extra weight. Aubri was asleep almost all the way up and much of the way down. In the end, though, we made it down–and it was totally worth the trip! There’s no way to explain the sense of accomplishment of making it up to the top. You just have to experience it for yourself.

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