Japan: Mount Fuji

*** 2007/08/24

Jet lagged, I awoke in my hotel room at 4 AM. I took one taxi, and two busses on my way to to Kawaguchi 5th Station (the most popular of the Mount Fuji trail heads).

The trailhead was a crazy place with shops, vending machines, hundreds of people, and a steady stream of busses. I followed a line of purposeful-looking hikers to a 20-foot wide dirt path, if it hadn't been for all the people with backpacks and hiking sticks I would have assumed it was a road instead of a hiking trail.

I hiked up through a steady stream of people, mostly Japanese, a lot of young people, and a sprinkling of foreigners. Soon I could see the huts of the 7th stage above me, a series of small huts lining the steep switchbacking trail, the upper huts fading into the fog. Until now the trail was wide, level, and full of ankle-rolling rocks. But shortly before the 7th stage the trail narrowed and became more steep and rocky, often it was convenient to use hands while ascending this section. Here traffic slowed considerably.

Sometimes the trail ascended stairs, at one of these places an old woman stumbled and fell backwards into my arms. After this she gathered her strength and motored up the rest of the stairs, which was an amazing recovery for a 60 year at 9,000 feet elevation who has a long hike behind her.

Eventually I was above me an 8th station hut flying the American flag. This was Hotel Fuji, the hut I had reservations at. It was exactly what I had hoped for. They greeted me with a hot cup of green tea and showed me my bed upstairs (socks only here). The beds were blankets and one long mattress with numbers on the wall to differentiate the "beds", since the hut wasn't too full I got #16 and #17. Men and women shared the same room, a girl from LA was bunked next to me.

I took a nap until dinner. Everyone at dinner was Japanese. Half an hour later I was asleep again. Wake up call was at 1 AM for those of us who wanted to reach the summit before sunrise. With a schedule like this, jet lag worked in my favor.

*** 2007/08/25

At 1:25 AM I joined a constant stream of people hiking upwards bearing headlamps, glow sticks, flashlights, and Fuji guides with flashing light sticks. People lined the side of the trail taking a break, some sprawled out on the ground sleeping.

After an hour of hiking I reached the hut at the east side of the summit, it was swarming with people. I hiked through the crowd and found a quiet spot further north. I sat in the cold watching lightening in the clouds below and shooting stars above for a couple hours before the horizon started brightening. By this time I had on five layers for my torso, three hats, two layers on my legs, and cold feet (later in the morning I noticed icicles and icy puddles). As the morning light increased people started swirling around my previously quiet spot taking pictures and hanging bells on a shrine gate. When the sun rose over the horizon a cry went up and a group of people near the hut started doing a cheer and raising their hands in a way similar to the wave. I had as much fun watching the people as the sunrise.

After sunrise I walked the loop around the crater, stopping to eat breakfast on the true summit before heading down the descent trail. The descent route was uniformly wide, mostly well-graded, and the footing was a mixture of ankle-rollers and soft, loose dirt. There were signs in English and Japanese pointing the way. Soon I was back in the crowds at the trailhead, five hours before my bus was supposed to arrive.

While I waited for my bus a mohawked photographer and his assistant approached me and asked if they could take my picture for Lightening Magazine. After getting some info about me, they took two pictures of me and one picture of my left shoe.

Now, one bus, two trains, and one shower later, I am happy to be in my hotel room and about to go to sleep.

*** Transportation

I took a taxi from Narita to Narita Terminal 2, that was 3,300 yen, the same ride on the train is 250 yen. At the airport I bought tickets for an Airport Limousine Bus to Shinjiku Station. At Shinjiku Station I went to the Odakyu Sightseeing Center and picked up the round-trip bus tickets I had reserved over the phone. The bus from Shinjiku Station took me to Fujisan gogomen.

On my return I arrived at Fujisan 5th Station five hours before my reserved bus, the first two busses of the day were sold out, but I was able to get switched onto a bus that left an hour earlier than my reservation. That bus took me back to Shinjiku Station. At Shinjiku Station I caught the Narita Express JR train to Narita Terminal One. From Terminal One I took a Kisei Limited Express train to Narita Station.

Copyright © 2004 Gabriel Deal.