The following guide for climbing mount Fuji can be served as an bad example in almost every possible way. I do not recommend anyone following this, even though both me and Ulf had a great time and have no physical permanent injuries. And yes mom, I know I’m irresponsible and reckless but remember that since you read this I survived 😉
Let’s roll back. We had read that the route we were to undertake was the toughest one, ranging from seven till ten hours according to some web pages. The sun was to rise around 0500 and since we would like to be at the top at that time we would then have to start climbing around 19. Since we would take the bus which would take approximately 45 minutes we would have to leave Gotemba at somewhere round 18 in order to have some margins. We stowed away our luggage at the fancy hotel for 500 Yen each, bought us some candy/food and about 1.5 liters each to drink.
Ulf had two thin hoodies, I had an extra pair of boxers and one hoodie, plus a tank top I could use over my t-shirt if that wasn’t enough. It would be around 0-5° on the top and we experience that weather all the time in Sweden so this was more than enough. At the bus station we had our first lesser setback, the last bus left at 1605. We could of course checked this earlier but every person as well as every web page we had consulted said that you climb Fuji during the night. Some went up during the day and slept at some overpriced and overcrowded cabin a few stations from the top but this was no part of our plans. So why this strangely early stopping of the buses? Well, today was the day so we asked a taxi how much he would take and he said 4500 which was less than we expected so we jumped in and felt that things were going to be just fine even though we missed the last bus.
During the ride he talked about some typhoon, but this was later in the week so it was good that we left now. He said that we must have water with us and we felt well prepared since we could truthfully answer that we had plenty of water. We get to the 5th station, at 1400m above water and we clearly see Mount Fuji stretching towards the sky. A nice sight. The fact that the last bus had been here already could explain why the shop at this station were closed. Well we had all that we needed so this wasn’t a problem for us. We headed off along the trail.
We had quite a nice pace but wise we halted every half hour for a short break including drinking and eating. We had read about altitude sickness and symptoms of this in synergy with dehydration and this was described as not pleasant at all. We speculated if one of us or both might feel sick from altitude sickness, apparently 50% do it at the height of 3500m and Fuji is 3776m. We saw clouds beneath us, not that far away actually and it was getting a bit darker. Strange that the path weren’t more clearly marked than it was. It was ‘climbable at night’ and it was ‘clearly marked’ we had learned from wikipedia and other sites.
We kept on our walk and it was getting darker. And didn’t those clouds follow us? Or did we walk slower than we thought? After a while we realized that the fog, actually rose up over the mountain. We were now having slight problems to see the path, but you could see partly in the shine from the stars. Then the fog caught up with us. It effectively the distance we could see down to 5 meters, and it was still getting darker. The fog was also quite wet, this wasn’t part of our plans, we didn’t have any protection for rain, but then again a little rain couldn’t be that bad.
We kept on, now in a slower pace since we couldn’t see actually were we were going but could feel if the path was compact or not. If it was compact we were outside the path. We also saw that there were two lights below us on the mountain. Apparently two walkers who had brought flashlights, we thought of this but didn’t get around to buy any. We lost our way a couple of times, but we could still see the other two lamps now and then so we weren’t that wrong. I guess it was good that we started out in time, so we wouln’t miss dawn. It was getting a bit chilly now as well, the fog was not our friend in any way.
We could not find where or if we where on the right path. We could no longer see the lights from stations above as when we started out to the fog, now and then more or less dripping and it was really dark without all neon signs. This was perhaps not such a good idea, well I guess we could always wait for people to walk by us. Hmm, but we started out after the last bus left. We saw the two lights and decided we would ask if we could walk with them and see if their lights helped us.
We said hello to Aki and I can’t recall the name of the other guy, he was playing soccer in Argentina as a pro though. They laughed at us for not bringing any lights but since Aki were wearing shorts we felt that we hadn’t prepared much more than we had. The difference between using a flashlight and using my cameras lcd-screen was literally day and night. I felt in my heart that we would be able to climb mount Fuji now, we might be a bit cold and wet but we would definitely survive without having to walk down and await dawn and help.
As we all know, happiness is but a short illusion, the wet fog transformed into a fully developed rain in Gothenburg-style, that is raining from the side. Add to this strong winds and the fact that we had been walking for a couple of hours now and the temperature was dropping. We kept up the pace in order to get warm, I was wearing everything I had and was soaked and more or less freezing. We got to a station which proclaimed we were at the height of 3100m above water. Nice.
Aki had climbed Fuji before and explained that the huts could serve food and one could buy water as well, to very high prices though. This was good since we were almost out of water. Ulf drinks way more than I do during a regular day so we might have thought this would be the case when walking 45° up as well. We walked on to another station and decided that we should get something warm to eat here. It was really warm inside I thought at first but then I realized it was compared to the outside. I had some Udon (thick noodles) while the others went for curry on rice for the price of 1300 yen.
My clothes were dripping and I thought I could try to dry them a bit while the others were waiting for their food. After eating the guide asked us if we weren’t going to stay here. It was only 1.5-2 hours walk (it was around 22 now, we had walked way faster than the average climber). The guide cautioned us that it was too windy and rainy now to climb in a safe manner and we would probably just go to the top and climb down since it wasn’t possible to stay up there in this weather. The two others were going to stay but said we could get one of the flashlights if we really wanted to go right now. They would check the weather at 03 and if it was not climbable they would wait till 05.
The price for staying until 03 and then walk was 6000 Yen for Ulf and 5500 Yen for me, and then we would get the food ‘for free’. This was highway robbery but realizing that we didn’t have much of a choice, so we slept under three thick blankets. It still took some time to dry, and I was only wearing boxers.
Four hours later we woke up, the weather wasn’t as bad as before but it was still pretty ugly and my clothes weren’t dry by any means. It was really cold to put them on. The extra pair of boxers was of course really wet since Ulf’s rucksack was more or less completely wet as well. I had luckily placed my camera in a plastic bag within my bag, together with our iPods, passport and money. The guide recommend us to sleep further, he said we would probably not be able to see dawn in this weather anyways. The two other guys now changed to their dry set of clothes including waterproof or at least water resistant clothing.
I guess the guide felt a bit sorry for us, he asked me and Ulf why we had decided to walk the toughest route, at night without flashlights, in rain without suitable clothing and in addition to that too little food and water. When he realized he couldn’t convince us to stay he gave us two bottles of water (usually sold for the timid price of 500 Yen at this height) and said we could leave stuff here to pick up on the way down so we wouldn’t have to carry anything necessary. We took our two bottles of water, the bottle of Shochu we had bought earlier and two chocolate bars. It took about 2 minutes to start freezing when we got outside.
The rain wasn’t that bad now, actually it sometimes transformed into the foul, but less humid, mist now and then. We kept on walking and passed a few people that had slept and now where going for the top. After little more than 1.5 hours we saw the gate that was the sign that we had done it. This was victory. We took some photos, and you can’t really tell but I am freezing like hell here. It’s raining and the wind is making those 5° feel like -5° or less. But my whole body told me that we had done it, we had beaten the weather gods and Mount Fuji with a little help from Lady Fortune who sent us a flashlight in the shape of two Fuji climbers also starting out after the last bus had left the station.There was a cabin a little higher up where you could buy cup noodles for 800 yen and so on. I was shaking quite bad now and after drinking some Shochu to salubrate our victory me and Ulf decided we could start the descent. We said good bye and thanks to our friends and realized that we were not by any means able to see dawn at the top of Fuji in this weather. Perhaps next time.
It was another way down and it was long straight lines of ash after a while. At this point Aki and the other guy ran pass us saying hello. To run downhill here was madness. So of course we had to try it just a little bit. It was way to easy to get to a speed which was difficult to slow down and it would be a long way tumbling down if you fell so we decide to slow down the pace. We stopped now and then to take pictures of some of the really awesome views. Gradually we could also breathe easier, the air at the top was quite thin which also made physical labor more tiring.
After a couple of hours running/walking down our shoes were more or less black from the black sand/ash combined with the rain. When we finally got down to the gate we had begun or ascent from we started to undress. Not one dry inch of our bodies, now it was quite warm though. We would try to get to a spa in Gotemba as soon as we would get there. While waiting for the bus we checked what the 5th station sold now when it was open. Some candy and drinks and also, be surprised flashlights and ponchos for the rain. I guess if we we had managed to get on that last bus we would have been dry and more prepared.
But then again, where would the challenge be if you didn’t have to navigate by feeling in the middle of the night engulfed in a foul mist at a dropping temperature? Challenge or no challenge, we had climbed Fuji despite all setbacks and we didn’t vomit or had other symptoms from altitude sickness. Next stop Gotemba in search for a spa, then head to back to Tokyo.