Last month, I had the opportunity to climb the majestic and challenging Fuji-San! I actually made the decision to climb it about 30 hours prior to climbing because sometimes I like to live life on the edge. 😉 However, because I had planned to climb Fuji sometime during our Japan stay AND because my husband had climbed it previously – I did feel SOMEWHAT prepared and also had most of the gear already. So here is my story of how I survived Mt. Fuji! *Beware: it’s long. 😉
- The decision – I decided the day before that I would go with a couple of friends to climb Fuji overnight. Climbing season is only open from early-July to mid-September, so there is a small window to knock this off any bucket list. Since it was already September 5th, I realized that my window was closing quickly for this year so I should probably take the leap and tag along with my friends.
- Kids – Then I had to figure out what to do with my kiddos from Friday evening until Saturday afternoon. Luckily, my husband was able to get off work on time to stay with the kids.
- Packing – Now I had to decide what I should actually bring on this trip. I read a few blog posts from others who had done the overnight trip to get an idea of the necessities. I made a trip to the grocery store for some snacks and water. And then stopped by Mega-Don Quijote (it’s like a Japanese Wal-Mart) for cans of air (and score! They were only 500 yen and Buy 2-Get 1 free!).
- What to wear – Everything I read and learned from others was to dress in layers. The biggest challenge of Mount Fuji is that the weather is unpredictable and can change drastically during the climb. Thankfully the weather said it would be clear with no rain and little wind. So I wore a moisture-wicking tank, long sleeved shirt, hoodie, moisture-wicking leggings, and beanie to start the hike. I also already had a hiking stick my husband had gotten on his last Fuji hike, but didn’t get stamped. This piece of information will be important later on in the story.
Okay, here where things start getting real. So I’m giving you a raw account of my experience!
- The arrival – We arrived to the parking lot a little before 8pm – just in time to catch the last bus to the 5th station. We got to the 5th station for the Subashiri Trail around 8:30ish and ate some snacks and adjusted to the altitude. It was important for us to hang out there for about an hour so we could adjust slowly and not get altitude sickness. We packed our bags, checked our headlamps, and off we went! This brings me to Mistake #1 – My bag was way too heavy! I was worried about not being prepared, so I definitely overpacked – and paid for it later on in the hike.
This is where the story turns. From my research I learned that going down was much harder than going up. But I figured, ‘How hard can it be? It can’t really be THAT hard!’ Well, I was wrong. Wrong, wrong. Just a reminder that we are climbing down loose volcanic rock here, which means it’s VERY slippery. So combine steep with slippery and it’s a very challenging combination. This is also where I made the majority of my mistakes.Mistake #2 – Not wearing gaiters. I probably should have worn some gaiters over my boots or at the very least – put my hiking pants on to cover my boots. My boots kept getting filled with rocks and sand which made the trek much more uncomfortable. Things started out zig-zag, but then it was just one long, steep descent. I also didn’t realize that the route down is different than the route up so there aren’t as many stations or places to rest/recharge.
- It’s so dusty – Something else I didn’t take into account was how dusty it would be. While I did bring a Buff® to cover my face and wore sunglasses, there was much more dust than expected. More experienced hikers would run down, yes run – which would kick up tons of dust (and feelings of anger) as they passed me. Also, my legs were shaky from the hike up and I was exhausted. So my goal at this point was to avoid injury since I have a patella that likes to go its own way sometimes. Mistake #3 – Not wearing goggles or bringing my glasses! Okay, this wouldn’t apply to everyone – but more for those who wear contacts. My eyes were dry from not sleeping and the dust. My vision was blurry and I was getting a headache. I wish I had brought my glasses or wore some goggles. Because not being able to see definitely slowed me down!
- Mental Fatigue – About halfway down the descent I contemplated whether or not I was going to make it. In addition to there not being as many stations on the way down, there also aren’t very many trail markers. So we had no idea how many meters we had back to the 5th station. It really was a motivation killer and tested my will power. I just wanted to know how much longer to the end. But nope, just more steep hills and rocks. And my contacts were now giving me a headache. I remembered to bring Tylenol so I could at least fix that.
- Homestretch – We finally made it back to the forest which meant we were close to the 5th station. We also started seeing more happy hikers ascending which meant they had just begun their journey. They were friendly with their “Hi’s, Hello’s, Konichiwa’s” – however, I was not up for small talk and just wanted to not die on this volcano. I must have looked stressed because a couple of people asked if I was okay and threw some encouraging words my way. I wasn’t having it though.
- The last stamp – We made it back to the 5th station around 4pm, but had to wait an hour for the bus to arrive to take us back to the car. So we rested, hydrated, and ate some food at the small diner that was there. The station was closing when we had arrived the night before so we didn’t get our stamps then. They happily fired up the pit so we could get our final stamp of the journey. After they started laughing and my friend translated for me, I realized my last mistake. Mistake #5 – My stick was upside down the WHOLE time. Remember in the beginning, my husband gave me his stick? Yeah, he had the flag at the end that I thought was the top so I didn’t even check. Also, in hindsight hiking poles would have been the better option for this trip anyways. My sweet friend let me borrow hers for most of the descent and took my stick (and she didn’t realized the stick was upside down either so I don’t feel AS bad, but still – rookie mistake).
Okay, so what did I do right? Here are a few tips in case you’re thinking of taking the journey yourself!
- Tissues – Mt. Fuji messes with your sinuses plus the temps fluctuate – pack tissues.
- Yen – I brought plenty of yen. Bring extra in case you have an emergency!
- Dressed in layers – I felt like I was dressed appropriately and comfortably. I also brought a beanie for the cold and a hat for the warmth. Sunglasses are a must too. Also bring sunscreen if you burn easily.
- Water – I brought about 5 liters of water which probably would have been enough if I had paced my hydration better. I could have used another 16 ounces towards the end.
- Station timing – The stations DO close for a few hours late at night. I was happy we were at the top to get our stamps. However, it’s possible that your timing is off and you don’t make it to the top in time for your stamp.
- September – I think going at the end of the climbing season is a better choice. July is still rainy, cold, and windy on the mountain – it’s possible that the top could even close due to bad weather. August is blazing hot. September is starting to cool off again and while a typhoon did come through a couple of days later, it didn’t impact our climb.
- Air – I brought a can of air, but ended up not needing it. I’m glad I brought it though because I’ve heard altitude sickness is not pleasant at all. And yes, I returned the air for a full refund. Thank you, Mega.
- Expectations – Before climbing, we all agreed that it was okay if we didn’t summit. We would just listen to our bodies and be thankful that we could even attempt to climb. I read in a brochure for a Mt. Fuji group tour that “The mountain doesn’t care – about your goals, your feelings, your health.” And that stuck with me. Make sure you go with willpower, but leave your pride on the bus. Mount Fuji is beautiful and brutal.
Climbing Fuji-San is an enlightening experience, but also a very humble one. People ask me what kind of shape you need to be in to climb. And while I recommend you have some type of endurance, stamina, and leg strength, you also need the mental strength and courage to carry on. We saw elderly folks & kids climbing and people wearing Crocs and jeans. Could you climb it solo? Absolutely. Logically, if something went wrong there are enough other hikers that would help you. I don’t think you would have to 127 hours- yourself or anything (ya know, cut off your arm with an old knife to survive). But would you have the emotional and mental strength to get through without the support? That’s the bigger question.
Overall, even though we hiked all night without sleeping, I’m glad I did it. Would I do it again? There is a Japanese proverb that says, “A wise man climbs Fuji once, a fool does it twice. And if you don’t climb it you are destined to return to Japan.” So I think once is good enough for me.
Oh one more thing – we went to an Onsen immediately after and it was the best decision. The hot soak helped my muscles recover much faster. I highly recommend going to one near Fuji!
What about you? Is this on your bucket list?!