T’was the season for masochism, my dear gents, ladies, and other such creatures. T’was the season for atonement. The credit of all my youthful transgressions finally reached its limit and demanded payment. Carelessly leaving the seat down, blissfully j-walking, not offering my seat to the pregnant, one-legged, old lady on the train. Alas, my sins caught up with me. And lo, the gods decided it was time to get their pound of flesh.
And so Zeus said onto Hypnos, “Make his dreams swirl around the distant peaks of Fuji. May he perilously yearn for its cloudy heights.”
And so Hypnos said onto Zeus, “How binding should I weave these dreams.”
And so Zeus said onto Hypnos, “I ‘unno, enough?”
And so the spiteful Hera added her 2 cents, for she was bored “Oh, make him do it in one day. Like make him think it’s actually a good idea. And have him go down on the same day, too,” she added thoughtfully, twirling her hair.
It was then that Boreas and Zephyr, Zeus’ sons, stopped playing Xbox and joined in, “We could throw some harsh wind his way,” Said Zephyr.
“Real harsh shit,” added Boreas.
“And rain,” concluded Zeus, “shit is always more dope with rain.”
And so with the divine tides against us, my two friends and I made our way to Mount Fuji.
We spent the first night at a hostel in the city of Fuji. I will drop its name here, for it’s well worth a recommendation. This cozy little nook goes by the name of NASUBI, Mt. Fuji Backpackers. It is conveniently close to Fuji station, a mere 9 minutes, and 15 minutes from Shin-Fuji station. You can get a shuttle bus that will take you to the base of Fuji from either of those stations. The hostel itself is clean and cozy, and as spacious as you can get in Japan. The host was absolutely the best part of it. He seemed to have either discovered the secret to happiness, or he was permanently stoned. Then again, maybe those two intersect. But seeing him roll the perfect cigarette on the porch one evening, I am inclined to place my faith in the latter. He spoke good enough english to answer just about any questions we had about acquiring gear and the how-to’s of climbing Fuji. Also, he just gave us some free rain jackets right before we left, because peace and love, why not?
Also, to further esteem this hostel in my views, there was an N64 set up in the common room with just about every Mario World classic you can hope for. Nothing bonds world-wary travelers like breaking language barriers through competition in the age-old past time of gaming. Until of course, every language boils down to its most essential word, in our case being “fuck,” in the case of our two newly found French friends “putain,” and our one Israeli friend “ha-matzav-khara.” Ahh, Mario World, destroyer of friendships.
So the next day we headed towards Kawaguchiko station, roughly an hour and a half away from Fuji city. On our way, we made a slight detour at Shiraito falls, which we were told were quite beautiful, which toats were.
After that pleasant detour, we were filled with the beauty of the Shiraito falls and we eagerly awaited grander beauty and sights on the distant Fuji. How naive, how very young we were.
We took the bus from Kawaguchiko station to the 5th station on Mount Fuji, which is where most people will start their hike. If you have need of equipment, worry not, there is an equipment renting shop right across Kawaguchiko station (which opens at 1PM). For the most part, you need warm clothes, a head-light, and a rain & wind jacket. During the summer season, you can have a 30°C temperature at the base, and 5°C at the summit. So make sure you bring warm clothes. Also, I strongly, STRONGLY suggest that you stock up on snacks and food at a convi store before you head towards Fuji. Everything is exceedingly expensive along the Yoshida trail. A bottle of water will cost you 600 Yen, when it’s a mere 100 Yen at a convenience store (around $7 dollars and a $1.50 respectively, to the non-Yen savvy). Even cup noodles are sold for 600 Yen a piece along the resting huts, demonic amusement dancing in the eyes of the vendors. Then again it could have been the lack of oxygen and exhaustion, who knows?
As a person who is in average shape, or maybe just slightly above, I found the climb towards the summit to be one of considerable difficulty. The trek to the Seventh station wasn’t bad. It’s a bit steep, but you start getting used to the elevation bit by bit, and frankly, the surroundings are quite beautiful. There’s still plants and lush greenery along the path, and with the mist that was clinging to the mountain that day, it was quite the sight.
So, first things first. Most people want to climb the summit in time for the sunrise. In order to do that, you have start your climb at around 10 PM (from the 7th station). If you have more money to spend, you can start at the 8th, 9th, or 10th station, each becoming more expensive respectively. We paid around 8000 Yen (~$90) each for our stay at the 7th station, and our accommodations made dodgy hostels look like palaces. Imagine a large living room, lined with 2 levels of beds along the walls. They fit about 200 people, so you are crammed like sardines to the point where you can barely turn in your own little space. You can’t really get any sleep as people are constantly coming and going, so it’s more of a resting spot before the big hike. I understand that this is a big tourist attraction, a world wonder and such, but paying 8000 Yen for that kind of experience definitely left a sour taste in my mouth. All the more because Mount Fuji is a world heritage site, and therefore, supposedly has international sponsorship.
So after our fretful rest, we packed our bags and started on our merry way. Past the 7th station, the scenery became more rocky and volcanic. The elevation was steep, and it definitely pays to stop and catch your breath every 15 minutes or so. There’s always people in front of you and behind you, which normally I’d dislike in any other situation, but having people there with you really helps. I could easily have seen myself giving up if it had only been me and my mates, but when there’s this constant stream of people going through the exact same thing as you are, it really drives you to keep going. There’s definitely a group effort/mentality aspect to the climb. You see that they too get tired, they too stop for a break, and they too choose to persevere. You exchange smiles along the way, in on a joke that you’re all sharing, and you trek ahead as comrades.
I hope you’ll forgive my lack of photographs here. Since it was pitch dark, full with mist, and I had no tripod. So, I was unable to take any good photographs during the evening part of the climb. So words will have to serve where pictures fail. By midnight, we were above the clouds. You can’t really see anything in the distance because it’s too dark. However, the stars are all AROUND you. Not above, but around. You feel like you’re in the center of a great dome of stars. They are really clear in the night sky, with no light pollution, and you feel like you are right next to them. The sight renders the meaning from the word “beauty”. And always behind you and in front of you, you can see little dots bobbing up and down, the other climbers tracing serpentine patterns in the mountain with their head-lights. And they grow more numerous and frequent as the climb goes on, until they reach the edges of your vision.
A little bit before the top we reached a pair of Tori gates. From a distance I thought they were covered in frost, but up close it turned out that people had wedged coins inside the pillars themselves for good fortune, as far as I can guess.
The last one hour of the climb was probably the hardest and steepest. At parts you have to use your hands to navigate and balance yourself across difficult paths in the rock. Also, a pinkish glow had started to set on the horizon, a timer reminding us that the sun was hot on our tail and we needed to pick up the pace if we were to greet it at the top. Goverment employees were stationed every 100 meters or so to make sure everyone was OK and to give encouragement to the climbers, egging them on to try just a little bit more.
At around 4:45 AM we reached the top. We were greeted by a fierce wind and fierce cold to boot. Zephyr and Boreas probably taking the piss. However, even their godly douchery couldn’t subtract too much from the beauty that eventually greeted us.
And they lived happily ever after? “Hahhahahaha, NO!” said Zeus as he chuckled like a child burning ants, which resembled humans on top of an anthill which strongly resembled a mountain. As the sun rose, the temperatures started climbing again. And as the clouds are now below you as opposed above, you get cooked something fierce. To add insult to injury, Hephaestus seemed to have joined in on the mortals roast, because the path back from the summit could only have been carved by a sadistic Greek deity. A serpentine path is carved into the volcanic rock all the way back down to the 5th station, at a very aggressive dissenting slope, made up of nothing but medium-sized rocks and sand. That’s IT. There is no reprieve, no flat paths for your aching joints to recover, just 5-6 hours of a constant decline over the most uncomfortable, and eventually painful, terrain you can imagine. It no longer becomes an issue of stamina or muscle strength, but just a sheer, relentless battering of your joints and feet. Again, I feel very fortunate to have experienced Fuji’s beauty, but for a site that is so famous and so well-funded, that was simply unacceptable. I can only imagine that the person responsible for planning the dissenting path strongly hated all things with feet, and was in a hurry to get to the sake bar before it closes. So he carved the most senseless and uncomfortable path in the rock and then ran away laughing maniacally, knowing he contributed to the maiming of millions of feet for the centuries to come.
We drove back on the same day, half awake in our car, hopefully eyeing the desolate roads for a welcoming “Ramen” sign where we could hopefully recovery some of our sapped strength. All in all, it was a great experience, if not an altogether pleasant one. I have read my fair share of Fuji articles by now, and I felt compelled to give my account as a great many of the other ones out there are definitely written with rose-tinted glasses. But you have the good, the bad, and the ugly, and in the end, it’s all one big experience.
Hope this was helpful!
And so, Zeus having tortured the poor mortals to the full extent of his amusement returned to his daily life, which mostly consisted of stroking his epic beard, hurling the odd lightning bolt, and trying to impregnate mortals under every which guise in existence. And all was well.