Day 9 & 10: The Climb

The central part of this whole trip to Japan was the climb of Mt. Fuji.  Mt. Fuji is Japan’s highest and most sacred mountain, those who have studied Japan’s culture and history know that the mountain has played a vital role in many of the cultural happenings in Japan.  My goal was to climb it, 12,389ft.  Initially, I had wanted to do this without a guide or help, I figured, I could do it.  However, the girls who I had asked to come (Megumi, Mami, and Mari) insisted on a guide to make sure nothing bad happened.  So, with that in mind, I asked them to set something up.

Following my return to Tokyo, I stayed in the Prince Sakura Hotel in Shinagawa.  This location was chosen because Shinagawa and Shinjuku (where the trip began from) are both stops on the Yamanote line.  I awoke early in the morning in Shinagawa, got into some of my hiking gear, and heading for Shinjuku.  I was a bit tardy getting there b/c of rush hour in Japan but we made it and caught the bus.

The bus ride was crazy since we got caught in a HUGE traffic jam and ended up arriving at Station 5 about an hour late.

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Once we arrived at the station though, we were given about an hour and a half to repack our things and finish getting ready.  The fifth station (Kawaguchiko) is the merge point for several other trails which start lower.  It probably the best equipped of all the stations and the highest one accessible by road, hence why it is the most common starting point.

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Around 2:00pm our hike began and immediately, despite the cloud cover, you would see just beautiful landscape shots visible from the current elevation (7,546ft) as the clouds opened up.

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The ground here is very gray and you can tell affected by the elements.  I say this because as you get further up and above the clouds you no longer see the effects of rain on the stones so they are a different color.

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We made it to the 6th station after about an hour of climbing so, 3:15pm Japan time. I didn’t realize it yet, but this would be one of the greatest sights for me when I made my way down.  In fact, if you look in the picture above you see people heading the opposite direction, if we only knew Smile

As you can see from the pictures, as we hit the 6th station (~8,000ft) we were starting to encounter the clouds, pretty neat stuff.  The air wasn’t too bad at this point.

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We took a slight break here as everyone was pretty tired going from a bus ride to climbing so quickly, and not being used to it.

Throughout the course of the hike you can see areas where the administrators have attempted to make the trail easier by blocking off rocks or gravel to make the trail more passable, often times they are made into stairs.  Personally, I would prefer a ramp cause some of these “stairs” are not that even in height and made carrying my gear harder and killed my knees on the way down.

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Here is a view up from the sixth station, very daunting, and you cant even see the peak in these shots yet.

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As we got higher the terrain became much more dangerous and difficult.  The trail would effectively turn into craggy rocks where footing became everything.  This is where if you don’t have good shoes for climbing you are going to be in a world of hurt.

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I mean, it was literally one slip and you would probably end up badly hurt.  And as we got closer to the top, these rocks were loose and we were climbing in the dark, I am amazed that no one around us got hurt.  Key here was to take your time, bend over and use your hand, and really rely on your climbing sticks.

The 8th station along the trail is not centrally located at one particular elevation, but rather spread out across many elevations.  This is likely done to reduce crowding.  These stations normally features small mountain huts with food, supplies (oxygen), and beds for wearing travelers.  We hit ours (second highest) at about 8:00pm.

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They provided us with a small meal before we laid down for about 5hrs of (much needed) sleep.  Wasn’t much in the way of space, but given the journey to that point, we were thankful for anything we could get.

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It was at this point, as expected, the air thinness started to really set in.  I had a headache and stomachache, both signs of Altitude Sickness, which is why I was happy I reached here.  I wasn’t really that tired, very sore though.  For this reason, I used the time here not so much for sleep but to force my body to adapt to the air.  I knew that rely on an oxygen can as I went up was going to make the climb more difficult.  I took some Advil and the headache subsided, ate and the stomachache subsided, and got a few hours of sleep, but mostly worked on my breathing.

At 12:30am we embarked for the final ascent.  It being pitch black everyone took out their lights. The reason I mention this is I didn’t take any night shots.  At this point, my camera had a hard time with all of the light that was near me versus the light far away I wanted to take.  I am sure a more experienced camera person could have accomplished the shots, but I simply couldn’t get it to work.  In addition, having an expensive camera hanging from your neck while climbing up a mountain didn’t seem like a smart idea.  We reached the top at about 3:30am and began waiting for the sun to show itself.  Even at this hour, with our altitude (12,389ft) we could begin to see the horizon.  So we waited.

Slowly it began, very slowly with some hints of light on the horizon with beautiful colors all around.

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Did I mention it was cold, cold as balls and the wind was howling.  I would estimate it about 25F degrees at the top.  Not bad after a normal Michigan winter, but I don’t think its been under 90F since I have been in Japan.

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Slowly it began to show itself.  So higher clouds in the distance blocked its initially appearance, but the scattering of the light, wow was amazing to see.

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Everyone was on their feet now, we knew it would be very soon.  And it did, finally, happen.  The single thing I wanted to see more then everything on this trip I saw, it sheer prominence and glory, the sun casting brilliance on a new day.

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The spectacle was UNREAL!!! The scope and scale and the enormity of everything leave you gasping and totally forgetting how hold you are.  We had done, we had climbed Mt. Fuji and seen the sun rise over Japan.  Unforgettable.

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And yes, the guys cellphone really did work up there.  Both Mari and Mami called their mothers when the sun came up.  Only in Japan.

Now came the truly hard part: the descent.

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See we didn’t go up the way we came, probably a good thing since going down some of that terrain in our present physical condition would’ve been suicide.  Still the way the descent was organized, a seemingly endless series of switch backs and steep descent trails, I was amazed I made it through without twisting my ankle or something more serious.

So the sun came up at about 430am and we departed probably around 515am.  We arrived back at the bottom, exhausted beyond belief, at 1050am.

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This got annoying actually since our bus didn’t leave until 1215pm.  Most of us were sore, I could barely stand cause of my feet, and there really wasn’t any comfy places to relax.  But, fear not, our next stop was an Onsen, or a Japanese hot spring.  This hit the spot perfectly and helped relax us enough for the trip back to Shinjuku.

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The bus ride back was uneventful.  Once we arrived at Shinjuku, we parted ways with Meg, Tony, and Jason E.  The later two were heading back to Air Force and Naval bases in Japan.

Mami and Mari were a HUGE part of this trip from organization to making sure I didn’t get lost to just being there for conversation.  They helped me out so immensely I wanted to treat them with something nice.  Ahead of time I had arranged the Marriott in Ginza to prepare two rooms, one for me until Monday (my departure) and one for the girls till Sunday.  This way they could both rest in comfort and not have to face long train rides back home immediately.P8130009_resize

As an added bonus, I asked them where they would like to have dinner (bangohan).  They chose the Hard Rock Café in Roppongi.

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Following dinner, we all were starting to get very sleepy.  Cant be helped, given the Fuji climbed taxed everyone well beyond their limits.  I almost fell asleep, while standing, on the subway back, drawing some giggles from a few of the Japanese girls on the train with us.

In the end, we made it back, and said our goodnights.  This trip has been epic in EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD.  I don’t know when I will come back again, I hope soon, but I had the trip of a lifetime and much of that is thanks to Mami and Mari, thanks girls.

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