A well-known Japanese saying suggests that anybody would be a fool not to climb Mount Fuji once—but a fool to do so twice. I completely agree with this saying, as I am so very glad that I did it, but will probably never do it again!
I learned several things on what I will call our “Fuji adventure.” First of all, I have to admit that climbing up Mt. Fuji was at the top of Nick and my list of things to do while in Japan. Well, now we can honestly say we have in fact climbed Mt. Fuji. And yes, we did make it all the way to the top! In fact, we even did what most people would consider crazy, and climbed at night, just so we could watch the sun rise from the highest point in Japan! What we didn’t anticipate is that it would take as long as it did, or that it would rain on us for most of the way up the mountain/volcano!
On the drive to Mt Fuji (or what the Japanese consider the honorable Fuji-san) we missed our exit, which resulted in us taking an hour detour! This is when I discovered that highways in Japan do not have exits…like ever! I don’t know if they think it is ok to drive an hour on a road and not get off of it, but in the States we have exits almost every half mile….in Japan it is like every 90 kilometers! (In Japan they don’t do things in miles, it’s in kilometers. So instead of driving 50 mph, here we drive 80 kilometers!!! Very confusing!) You will be driving and see your house go past you, but not be able to get off of the highway to get to it for another 30 minutes, where you will then have to backtrack on side roads…annoying! Bottom line, don’t miss your exit!
Well in our case, missing the exit was an accident, for obvious reasons the signs were confusing! Nonetheless, we finally made it to Fuji…when we got there, we wanted to make a pit stop before we made our ascend up the mountain. This is where I discovered that for the remainder of our adventure we would be paying to use the restrooms!!!
Our entire trip up and then down the mountain was exactly 14½ hours, so it was next to impossible to not use the restroom at least a couple times…especially since we were drinking as much as possible, so as to stay hydrated! Not only did you have to pay to use the facilities, but in most of the restrooms, the toilets were in the ground (old school Japanese toilets) and you had to throw the toilet paper in the trashcans – instead of the toilet!!! Absolutely DISGUSTING!!!
Before we started our journey up Fuji-san we purchased these walking sticks (BEST idea ever…they saved our lives more than once!!!) that would not only be our souvenirs but also help us climb the mountain. The sticks are legendary; they have a Japanese flag at the top and 2 bells attached. Supposedly, the bells were traditionally put on the walking sticks to wake up the Gods so they could hear the Japanese coming up the mountain…they are very superstitious like that! What we all liked the most about the walking sticks was that there were places all the way up the mountain where you could get your stick “stamped” indicating that you had surpassed a certain point. The “stamps” were actually burned into the wood of the stick; it was very old school and interesting to watch. Each stamp is different and unique…we were kind of obsessive about theses stamps, we had to get one at every stop, even though they were 200 Yen each! Nonetheless they make for excellent keepsakes, and as I said before, they helped get us up the mountain safely!
Our sticks were so wet, they had to dry them off before they could engrave them!
Getting up the mountain was not easy, only 1% of Japanese ever climb Fuji in their lifetime and those who haven’t, think you’re brave if you do so! In fact it is very steep in some areas and freezing at the top, which makes for some difficulty. Considering Nick and I are active people, we weren’t that worried about climbing it, but we did not anticipate the rain, or the lack of oxygen. Because we went up the mountain at night, it was dark in addition to the rain, thus making the rocks slippery and hard to see! Scary! Fortunately the only battle wound any of us got, was when Nick tripped on a rock and it came tumbling down the mountain and stopped on my shin! Nick caught himself and didn’t fall, I caught the rock and therefore got an ugly goose egg on my leg! Other than that we all safely made the trip!
The worst part about the rain was that it left us soaking wet, and because it got colder the higher up we went, we were popsicles before we reached the summit! The top ¼ of the volcano is covered in snow, so even after it stopped raining, it was too cold for us to dry. The last hour of our climb, we had to push our way up the last leg against the wind, which was incredibly hard! At times it would approach faster, the strong wind would come rushing at us. We would have to duck our heads to not get the ice in our faces, and brace our legs so we didn’t fall over, which we all nearly did! At one point, the wind knocked off Chris’s hat and head light, but because it was so dark and windy, we couldn’t see to retrieve it!
For the most part, we refused to pay money to go inside the facilities on the mountain. Instead, we would just huddle outside of the buildings where we were partially blocked from the rain to get a little warmer. At the last stop before the top however, we finally broke down and paid to go inside one of the places and eat...we got hot chocolate and Japanese noodles.
Around 4AM, we finally reached the summit of the honorable Fuji! Because we were up so high (12,388 ft above sea level) there were clouds and fog hiding the sun, but it did come out and shine on us for moments at a time. The view from the top was breathtaking! Though it was a long night up the mountain and it was not an easy ascend, the scenery and pictures we took were worth it!