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5 Things I Did Wrong While Climbing Mount Fuji (and a few things I did right)

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. 😉

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My daily view – so of course I HAD to go meet her in person! 🙂

Pre-Fuji Prep 

  • 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.
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What I wore to start the hike.

The Climb

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.

Into the forest – From the 5th to about the 7th station, it’s all forest.  And since we were on a less populated trail (Yoshida is the most popular) and it was nighttime, we only saw a handful of hikers in the beginning.  The forest is very thick and SUPER quiet.  There are no leaves rustling or branches swaying to make any white noise.  So needless to say, the first couple of hours were a bit creepy – it felt like the Blair Witch Project out there. Once we cleared the trees near the 7th station, you could see every star in the sky and lights shining in the city.  It was peaceful and beautiful!

Stations – While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the Station system.  Stations are little rest areas that begin at the 5th station and go up to the summit – 10th station.  They sell food, water, and overpriced hiking supplies. What I didn’t know was that there are duplicate numbered stations. So I would get excited and see the 6th station only to find out that there are two 6th stations – an “old” and a “new” – and this happened at each station. 😦  Also, you have to pay to use the bathrooms at each station – the average was 200 yen.  You’ll also have to pay around 200 yen or so to get your hiking stick stamped – and yes, after all that hiking you will want some type of reward for your work.

Sunrise – Most people who do the overnight hike will stop at a hut and sleep for a few hours before finishing the journey to the summit.  We didn’t do this and it was probably for the best because it would be hard to get going again after resting for too long.  We decided to rest longer at each station, but not long enough for our bodies to get too cold.  We didn’t quite make it to the summit for the sunrise, but we were close and had a great view nonetheless.  As beautiful as the night sky was, hiking in the dark was starting to get depressing so I was looking forward to seeing some light.  There were a lot of people at this point surrounding us and set up with camera equipment ready to catch the first signs of morning. I couldn’t imagine carrying camera equipment around so more power to those people.

Almost to the top – Joy comes in the morning, y’all!  And viewing an amazing sunrise helped motivate me to keep going to the top.  Now we could lose the headlamps and actually see where we were going.  Our trail also combined with the Yoshida Trail somewhere around the 8.5 station so we saw a significant increase in traffic. I could see several “Caution: Falling Rock” signs along the way which made me uneasy but I tried to focus on the goal and pray – I prayed a lot.

We made it! – Woo hoo!  We made it safely to the summit and it was a joyous occasion.  It’s quite an emotional and exhausting experience to finally reach the summit.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather.  I did put on a jacket over my hoodie, but never needed by rain jacket or hiking pants (although there were some points where I could have worn them I was just too tired to put them on). We also all wore gloves – which were not just for warmth, but for the areas where you have to pull yourself up on to the rocks.  We spent at least an hour at the top just enjoying the views, eating, and resting.  Some hikers behind us pulled out a grill with bacon and eggs and I wished I had done that too. Although I wouldn’t have wanted to carry it up.  Then we headed over to grab some souvenirs – flags for our hiking sticks and of course the stamp.  The stamp at the top is red (the other ones are black) so everyone knows you made it to the top.

And we got a present! (aka SWAG!) The wooden keychain thing means that all five of the senses have been refreshed and renewed.  Which makes sense since the locals regard the Mt. Fuji climbing experience as something spiritual and sacred.

Above the clouds and the crater –  Mt. Fuji is 3,776 meters (12,390 feet) high so it is quite a feeling to be actually standing above the clouds!  We also took a look at the crater because this is an active volcano after all.

The Descent

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.

Here we go – At first I thought, “This isn’t so bad.” But things starting picking up.  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.

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There are these cool, unique yellow plants that only grow on Mt. Fuji!

  • 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!

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  • 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.

Finish Line – “Is that a Torii gate?” We asked that question a lot on the way down.  Because we knew if we saw the Torii gate, the 5th station was only a few feet away. Then I realized my next mistake – Mistake #4 – I underestimated the importance of the correct socks.  I figured my regular ole socks would work, but it was a costly mistake.  My toes were in pain and I could feel painful blisters.  I definitely should have invested in some hiking socks. Combined with the lack of gaiters, this almost broke me. But alas, after what felt like wandering in the desert for 40 years, we made it to the Promised Land.  Hallelujah!

 

  • 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).

 

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My last stamp! #stampmystick

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 meMake 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?!

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On top of the world!

~SM

How I Fell in Love with Running Again

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It’s been six months since I traded in beaches and burritos for high-rises and ramen.  And during that time, my relationship with running has a been a bit rocky.  I really loved running in San Diego – the scenery is beautiful, the weather is always perfect, and there are races every weekend – it’s a runner’s dream! And of course,  I can’t forget my running club and BRF (Best Running Friend) – @TheHungryRunner_

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So leaving all that behind and moving to a new country with narrow sidewalks (or zero sidewalks at times) and actual unfavorable weather sort of derailed my running momentum.  It was also a bit depressing not having my running friends and weekly races to look forward to.  Because of the move and the transition, my running became inconsistent and I sort of felt “lost” with my running.  What am I training for?  Why I am I running? What am I even doing?! I definitely began falling into a running rut. 😦

Another challenge was finding quality places to run close to my house.  Basically I have three choices: a track, a treadmill at the family gym, or a running path with a decent view of Mt. Fuji on clear days. Kind of an adjustment from the assortment of beaches and trails I had to choose from in SoCal.

After a few weeks, I basically lost my running motivation and began just running minimal miles each week. I stopped focusing on running so much and started embracing the Japan life.

Then I missed the idea of having running goals and began running a little bit more.  I started taking advantage of the track (speed work anyone?) and started aiming to run a little more (or a little faster) each week. In December, I did the WeavRun streak challenge and successfully ran for 30 days straight.  The streak really helped motivate me to challenge myself and work on cadence. I even started to incorporate more strength work and found out that I love kettlebell swings, box jumping, and ball slamming!

Then after New Years I took two whole weeks off!  No running, no gym, no counting miles, reps, or calories.  I just took time to relax without worrying about not getting in a run or workout session each day.  I literally stopped to smell the roses! 😉

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I took the time to not only reset physically, but also mentally and spiritually.  I decided to write out some goals for the month, the year, and next few years.

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After my little running sabbatical, something magical happened… IT SNOWED! And I HAD to run in this winter wonderland since I knew it would only last a day.  I ran slow so I wouldn’t fall, but it was super refreshing and peaceful!

Then I started building up my weekly mileage again and found out that the track isn’t so bad. You can zone out and not worry about traffic, work on your speed, and its super soft and much better on your joints than road running. 🙂

I’ve even discovered some beautiful running paths in the nearby parks.  The forests in Japan are green and super dense, which makes for some peaceful and reflective running.

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What I discovered through this transition was that I don’t NEED super lofty race goals or shiny medals (although those are nice) to enjoy running.  The break reminded me why I started running in the first place.  Because I LOVE it!  Sometimes preparing for races can get stressful, so I realized that I actually needed a break from all the bling chasing.  It finally dawned on me that I don’t HAVE to run…I GET to run!!  Last week, I went out on a run with no pace/distance goal at all.  I just slowed down, took in my surroundings, and enjoyed the run! I fell back in love with running by letting the run lead me instead me leading the run.

So what’s next??  Well the SWAG is not lost, y’all!  I’m still an ambassador for Bibrave and this year I will be an ambassador for Sweat Pink too!

Okay, back to the races.  Races aren’t really that prevalent in my area, but I’ve kind of enjoyed having my weekend mornings open to new possibilities.  However, I do have my eye on a couple of local races coming up…so stay tuned!  Also, I’m excited to announce that I will be participating in some Virtual Races this year too! So I will be reviewing those as well!

I’m also working on possibly starting up a mom’s running group in my community because I’ve had a few new moms ask me about where to start with running. And I would love to share the running LOVE!

I’m really glad that I have found my love for running again and I can’t wait to share my excitement and motivation with everyone else this year!

IMG_8332“Run often. Run long. But never outrun your joy of running.” ~Julie Isphording

And P.S. – I still miss my BRF! 😉

I’m off to chase some goals! 🙂

~SM

From Japan with Love

You may have noticed that the scenery has changed a bit in my pictures and that’s because it HAS! That’s because a few months ago I relocated from sunny Southern California to The Land of the Rising Sun (seriously, the sun rises crazy early).

So I thought I would share what I’ve been up to and what I’ve learned over the last few months!

Trains are the way of life.  I’m still trying to navigate the train systems – like figure out if I need to be on a local or express train.  I had never been on a train before living here, so this has been quite the experience.  There is also train etiquette – everyone is pretty quiet and you don’t invade other people’s space.  They are also very clean!  This is kind of surprising since public trash cans aren’t as common as they are in the U.S.

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Noodles are on every corner.  You won’t find many drive thru fast food restaurants here with the exception of a McDonald’s here and there, but you will find sushi and noodles spots everywhere!  And ramen is amazeballs here!

No drink refills.  Unlike dining in the U.S., you will have to pay for each cup of soda in most restaurants.  But you will get unlimited water and many places have pitchers of ice water right on the table!  Also, there is no tipping and the servers rarely check on you because they want you to enjoy your meal without being interrupted.

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Treats are everywhere!  While we are on the topic of food, you will also find donut shops, ice cream, pastries, crepes, etc. on almost every block.  Sweets are a big deal here and it’s all delicious!  You will also find KitKat bars in all types of flavors like wasabi and wine flavor!

Starbucks isn’t the same.  You will find Starbucks all over Japan, but their drink options aren’t quite the same as they are in the U.S. (no pumpkin spice lattes here) 😦 And the drinks are also a little sweeter than they are back home, but I’ve tried some interesting flavors as well like the Almond Milk and Granola Frappuccino!

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Vending machines.  Speaking of coffee, you can find it in any vending machine.  Cold or HOT!  That’s right, you can get hot coffee, tea, or hot chocolate right out of the vending machine!  And you literally can’t walk more than 10 steps without passing a vending machine in Japan.

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Toilets.  Toilets are either really fancy or really primitive.  😉

Playgrounds.  The parks in Japan are unlike anything you’ve ever seen!  So much larger and complete with streams, bouncy areas, zip lines, roller coaster slides, etc.  Even the adults have a great time!

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Manhole covers. You can find art everywhere you look, including the street!  Even the manhole covers are beautifully painted!

Nature.  You really don’t have to go far to appreciate the nature in Japan!  There are gardens everywhere, beautiful forests, and the trees are so unique and gorgeous!

Temples.  Temples are everywhere and they are quite sacred so do as the locals do as respect the grounds.  Also visit the Big Buddha! It looks just the way it does in the history books!

Narrow Roads.  The roads are pretty narrow here which takes some getting used to…as well as the whole driving on the left side of the road deal.  There’s also tons of pedestrians so you gotta watch out for people riding bikes and crossing the street.

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Tokyo.  Tokyo is enormous.  There are so many different districts and things to look at…you could easily get lost for days in this city.  Harajuku has some pretty amazing shopping spots and the architecture is unique and beautiful!  Shibuya Crossing (Pedestrian Scramble) is insanely busy and a great place to sit and watch all the traffic!

The people.  The people here are so friendly and many will try to speak as much English as they can when speaking to you. They are so polite and will help you if you are lost!

I’m still adjusting to this new life, but trying to enjoy the ride. 🙂  Stay tuned for more updates on Japan and I will continue to share the SWAG as much as I can!

And continue to enjoy the view! 🙂

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Have you been to Japan?  What was your favorite part?

I’m off to explore!

~SM

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