of Death Mountain
"Hey...you want to go climb Mt. Fuji next week?"
"Yah, why not."
And with that, I along with my friend Drew embarked on a journey
to the most heavily climbed mountain in the world (well, a
few days after we did...).
Now, because it is the most 'popular' mountain in the world,
I didn't think anything of climbing it. I had already climbed
the number three tallest mountain in Japan (in the Northern
Alps, Nagano), and was a frequent mountain climber. But for
this trip, I left a large chunk of my brain behind as far
as preparations go ('lack of'). Besides, we were only going
for a 5 hour or so hike in the middle of August, I wouldn't
need gloves, a hat, too much water or food...nope, none of
When we started planning the trip out a bit before leaving,
we knew this would be a 'speed-climb'. Living about eight
hours from Mt. Fuji (by train), we would have to wake up early
on Saturday, spend the day getting there, climb during the
night in order to see the sunrise at 4:30am, then run down
the mountain, grab the first bus to the train station (two
hours away), get on the train and be back in Otsu city by
6pm to attend a mandatory dinner meeting with the president
of the college we were both attending at the time. No problem.
So we grab the food, drinks and bento (box-lunch) on Friday,
wake up around 10am (that's early to me!) on Saturday, catch
the 11:22am train and we're off. Of course we had been out
late partying the night before, (as I usually seem to do before
I go mountain-climbing) and of course we can't sleep on the
train, seeing as we have 5 train changes along our route.
And we don't know where those changes occur. Along with some
phone calls to people who had navigated the route before us
and some questioning of the train conductors, we were able
to make it to Fuji city at around 6:00pm.
From there we take the two-hour 'jam-packed, knees smashed
against the seat in front of you' bus ride to the fifth station
of the mountain--the one most people start their climb from
(we were debating on whether we might be able to start from
the very bottom 1st station, trek through the supposedly 'haunted'
woods and REALLY climb Mt. Fuji, as some friends before us
had done--but we didn't have the time). Upon arriving there
we bought the 'mandatory' (everyone had 'em) walking sticks
(which you can get marked as you climb the mountain at the
different way points, cool souvenir), had some dinner and
rested ourselves until about 10:00pm.
We finally started walking up the mountain around 10:00pm.
The surroundings were like you were on the moon; no trees,
mostly volcanic rock, and for the most part not too steep.
We were climbing beside families, SDF forces in training,
kids, old people; everyone wants to climb Mt. Fuji it seems
(although to my surprise upon returning I found that hardly
any of my Japanese friends [male & female, all ages] had
ever climbed it). Very quickly we found that there were quite
a lot of people climbing with us, but we just figure that
was normal for the summer climbing season.
At each 'Station' we would rest a bit then continue of our
way, since we didn't have very much time to spare if we wanted
to catch the sunrise and then return home. After about four
hours of climbing, we started to get very cold and tired.
We hadn't slept much in the past 36 hours, and I hadn't brought
much more than a jacket, snacks and a flashlight. We tried
to get some sleep at Station 9, but to no avail. It was just
too freezing and uncomfortable trying to sleep on lava rocks.
Past Station 9, there was one more checkpoint and then the
peak. From Station 9.5 you could see the top...and the line
of people waiting to summit it. Yes, little did we know that
we picked the busiest day of the year to climb: Fuji Matsuri
time. "From this point to the top: 30 minutes" read
a sign at Station 9.5. It took ninety. From that point on,
we had the absolutely wonderful experience of waiting in line
for an hour to get to crest the top of the mountain. And while
waiting on the side of the mountain, freezing and tired, we
were treated to the site of the sun rising, which we could
almost see part of. Being that the whole reason for climbing
Mt. Fuji is to see the awesome sunrise (asahi) from the top,
we were not amused. By 4:15 with the first rays of the sun
visible in the clouds (below you), I was about ready to leave
the marked trail and scramble the rest of the way to the top
through the volcanic rock (not a good idea, very easy to loose
We finally reached the top at around 4:50am or so, well after
the sun had risen. We were very happy to just be there, but
also so cold that my face was literally turning purple. So
navigating through the crowds of people on the top, we took
some very nice pictures, dropped my $1000 digital camera on
lava rocks, and headed back down in the span of about fifteen
minutes. We could see that there was still a considerable
line of people waiting to get to the top, and there is no
up/down partition on the trail, so we had to do our best to
make it down in three hours to catch the 8:10am bus. We did
that by literally running down the face of the mountain most
of the way, which was pretty fun. We caught the bus (were
actually about 1/2 hour early), and made it home in time for
a shower and dinner (5:40pm), after which we slept for a very,
very long time.
My advice, bring plenty of water (it's expensive if you wish
to buy it on the mountain, 500yen minimum), some food and
snacks, get plenty of rest the night before, plan out your
route on how to get to the mountain in advance and dress in
layers, with a jacket, gloves and hat, no matter when you're
Official climbing season is early July-Late August; you can
climb at other times, but checkpoints and stores will be closed
and you do so at your own risk (there is snow on the mountain
through most of the year).
Pictures of the Climb