Ganbatte!

How do you describe sunrise from the highest mountain in Japan?  Stunning.

Ian with the sun behind him, on Mt Fuji

I had the opportunity to go up Mount Fuji this weekend with a co-worker and a friend of hers.  This is an overnight hike, starting around 10p with the goal to summit (12,355 ft) by sunrise which occurs around 4 to 4:30 in the morning – assuming you start at the most popular point, the 5th station (8,120 ft), which we did.  (We went up 4200ft) You start on a dirt path in the trees, but quickly break above the treeline and start walking on volcanic rock.  Eventually you start scrambling up rough rock paths, occasionally using your hands to pull yourself up because of the height difference between steps.

It’s kind of surreal to think that I walked throughout the entire night, the light of my headlamp mixing with hundreds of others to get up this beautiful mountain.  We rested relatively often, but never slept.  Think about that for a bit: we pushed our bodies to climb up a mountain through the entire time that we’d normally be sleeping.  For me, I didn’t do anything special on Friday night or Saturday morning.  I slept a little bit more on Saturday, but nothing amazingly different.

Along the path from the 5th station (Go-go-me) to the 10th (summit) station, you can find huts with food, drink, and if desired, lodging.  You find a number of people that started earlier in the day and took rest in the huts with the goal of going to the summit a little better rested.  It’s amazing the number of people over the age of 60.  It was also amazing the number of people that were extremely well outfitted with brand new gear… and seemed likely to be on their very first trip outdoors!

The hike was good, thanks to good weather and good company.  Because it’s all in the dark, there isn’t much to share of the ascent.  Their are plenty of photos, however, once the sun began to rise.  I’ve also got some video that I’ll share at a later time.

We took in the sunrise from the 9th station within sight of the summit, but not quite.  Based on Fri’s experience, however, getting the sunrise from here is a bit better than the summit because we had a lot less of a crowd to deal with in an effort to see the event.  Standing there, starting to get quite cold, but high above the clouds, provide such a wonderful sense of accomplishment.  We’d struggled along the way – I carried our companion’s backpack for a couple of stations – but we’d done it.

The final ascent was pretty miserable – the trail quickly became clogged – but it was worth the wait.  First we got our pictures at the top to commemorate the event.  Next we sought out food!  I got ramen on the top of Fuji-san… that was pretty awesome and tasted delicious.  I can’t say that it’s a fair evaluation to compare it to ramen at sea-level, but I know that at that moment there was hardly anything that could have been better.  We also had the opportunity to stretch out on our backs without the cold hard ground leaking all the heat from our bodies… that was a nice comfort.

The area at the summit gives you plenty of opportunity for souvenir purchases, but I figured my memories and photos were enough to last longer than any trinket that I’d promptly lose.

The descent was tough – it was very loose volcanic rock for the vast majority.  We took a switchback trail, winding down the side of the mountain and it never seemed to end.  In the first part you had to cover your face very well so as to keep the dust from evading your lungs, plus sunglasses to keep it from your eyes.  The sunglasses also protected you from the completely un-shielded sun that was bearing down on you.  In time, though, the dust creation settled down and we slid into the cloud bank.  We took a few opportunities to rest – generally at my prompting due to my concerns about my ankle.

A few things that were amusing / eventful, but don’t fit into the prose above:

  • We took a bus from Tokyo and had to swap to another near Fuji to get us to the 5th station.  I left my Blackberry in that first bus at 9p on Saturday night.  It was found and returned to me by Monday morning.  I love Japan.
  • That final bus to Fuji 5th station was packed with high school kids.  They were chugging energy / glucose packets and generally acting like really excited high schoolers.
  • On that same bus, they announced that they couldn’t drive up to the station with the A/C on.  Listening to the engine, I could understand why.
  • I encountered my first squat toilets at the 5th station.  They stunk.  I didn’t need to use them luckily.
  • All toilets on the mountain stunk – you either smelled those or the diesel generators as you approached a station.
  • Looking at 100s of headlamps plodding through the dark is really strange.
So, while the Japanese have the saying “everyone should climb Mount Fuji once; only a fool would climb it twice,” I’m rather likely to go twice.  The feeling (not the sore muscle bit) I have after getting down and rested is that it was an amazing experience.  I’ll be back – if only to take Olivia up when she’s old enough to drag herself up and appreciate it.  That doesn’t mean I won’t whine about the climb, though.
Sunrise from Fuji-san
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