It was almost a year ago when I first visited Mt. Fuji 5th Station just to look around. I was immediately fascinated with the number of hikers ready to conquer the 3,776m inactive volcano.
I vowed to myself that I shall return on the next hiking season and be on of those that can proudly say “I climbed Mt. Fuji”. This self-commitment was achieved last weekend when I reach the top of Mt.Fuji at around 3:30 am.
Though I usually hike alone, I know that Mt. Fuji hiking was more of an experience to be shared with friends or colleagues. With a group of 7 people (6 men + me), we took the 9:40 am Keio Highway bus from Shinjuku to the start of the hiking trail, the 5th Station.
Arriving at around 12:45 pm at the 5th station (2,305m), the climate was a mixture of fog and light rain but not as bad as what we have anticipated, the mountain was still visible enough for day trip visitors to photograph. We knew that we still have plenty of time to waste before we start our journey, so we had lunch, roamed around, and bought hiking sticks and last minute replenishing of our power drinks and water supply.
The plan is to take the Kawaguchiko/Yoshida Trail which takes about 5 to 6 hours to reach the top and to see the coveted sunrise. We don’t have any mountain hut booked and we have to endure 0 deg. temperature sitting outside at an elevation of almost 3,776m, that is if we arrive early for the 5am sunrise. With this in mind, we need to be wise and time our ascend in order to survive the change in altitude and the cold weather.
On our way up, we saw several people completing their descend. Not so happy face, as if all they wanted to do is collapse into an endless sleep. I wonder if I will look exactly the same after we completed the hike? Maybe, I will be incline to rent a horse ride to whisked me away towards the bus terminal.
Blessed with what I consider as the perfect climbing weather (not too hot, no rain and just enough sunshine) and clear skyline, the view of Lake Kawaguchiko and the town below was a much needed doze of encouragement that we should complete the climb for a more spectacular view. Within 30 minutes or so we reached the 6th station (2,309m).
The trail to the 7th station is easy. Knowing that we have plenty of time, we made a mandatory stop on any locations along the way for photo opportunity. Almost everyone bought their cameras and it keeps on rotating to take pictures of one another.
With very few steep slopes and the mirage of the clouds within arm reach, we arrived at the 7th station (2,700m) where Kamaiwakan mountain hut is located. We made our first rest, change to warmer clothes and had our wooden Mt.Fuji souvenir hiking stick stamped our initial achievement.
After 30 minutes and consuming a bar of chocolates and gulping Pocari Sweat, I suggested to the group that we should head out by 4:30pm, continue our ascend towards the 8th station in order to lessen the time where we have to hike in the dark, spend the remaining hours there, have dinner, rest if possible and once again time our ascend towards the summit.
Continuing our journey and almost at the entrance of 8th Step is the red-torii gate, where Torii-so mountain hut is located. Still our confident level is quite high, with some of us even confidently saying that we should go back and hike Mt. Fuji during early winter season and concluding that Mt. Oyama is more challenging than this. But obviously, these are just words spoken way to early.
The hiking trail was not very crowded as I have anticipated. Either we are early to ascend or the Summer Sonic concert has diverted the Japanese crowd, so we were able pass with ease and with minimal waiting time.
The distance between the 7th station and the 8th station is quite longer comparing to 6th and 7th. Instead of a pebbles, red soil trail, it was replaced by giant rocks where you need to use some arm works ala rock climbing but still manageable.
The 8th station is divided into two parts, the 8th step and the Original 8th/Main 8th. Along this trail is where most of the mountain huts/hotels are available. I have been trying to book most of them for the past weeks and my unsuccessful numerous attempts led to us having to endure the cold temperature outside.
There are benches outside most mountain huts where you can rest for a while. Some huts has several shops which sells double the price chocolates, drinks, portable oxygen, gloves- basically, everything you need but at an expensive rate. A Nissin Seafood Cup noodle for 500 yen (~6 USD) tasted unexplainably good at an elevation of 3,000m while down below at a convenience store for a price of 140 yen (~ 2 USD) I cannot even finish one cup.
Toilets are available for 200 yen entrance fee, though I can see some people were using it without paying. They are clean enough, with tissue papers available but the smell of urine are too strong and might prevent you to make the necessary toilet break.
Again with plenty of stop, we reached 8th step (3100m) where the Taishikan mountain hut is located and had our hiking sticks stamped again for a fee of 200 yen. Continuing our journey, we made a mutual decision to stop on each mountain hut along the way to kill time, collect more hiking stamps and had our body adjust to the altitude.
At this point onwards is where the challenge of hiking started to break our spirit- the elements of altitude resulting to lack of oxygen, splitting headache, the weight of the backpack has started to takes it toll.
The greatest rewards on hiking in the dark were seeing three wishing stars, seeing the town below as they celebrate Hanabi (fireworks celebration) and the light emitting from the hikers head lamps along the zigzag trail. The number of people climbing in the dark can be exaggeratedly compare to a mass exodus, where everyone needed to reach the peak immediately to be saved from whatever is about to happen down below.
To reach the Original 8th /Main 8th has been the longest part of the hike for me. How I envy those group inside the mountain hut we passed by who had a chance to lie down for a while, freshen up, remove their hiking boots and had a decent meal. My boss (if you remember him from Mt. Nabewari) and the others were feeling the same, so he asked one of the Hakuun-so hut staff if they will allow us just to sit inside for an hour or two, we are willing to pay a small fee. The price that they quoted was 7000 yen (~ 100 USD) per person, so my boss started to negotiate the fact that we only need at least 1 hour rest, no need to serve any food or give us any blankets, just allow us to stay inside and get warmed. The staff response is very simple- even if we wanted to stay for 10 minutes only, we needed to pay the same fee. Frustrated and yet understanding on the commercial side of the climbing season of Mt. Fuji, we decided just to wait outside.
Continuing ascends at around 10pm; we reached the Original 8th (3,450 m) where Goraiko-kan hut is located. We only needed two hours to reach the peak and based on our original plan, we decided to spend the remaining 3 hours sitting outside and impossibly trying to rest. An hour of people watching- climbers inhaling from their portable oxygen tank, friends sharing their bento meals and exchanges of the words “Daijoubu desuka? (Are you alright?)”, I can no longer endure the cold so when I had my hiking stick stamped, I asked the Goraiko-kan staff if we can stay inside and maybe had a cup of coffee. Sensing that I am planning to drink a cup of coffee for an hour, he told me that I can stay inside only for 15 minutes, order a 400 yen cup of instant coffee and return outside. If I wanted to stay longer, I need to order something again and consume it for another 15 minutes. I told my colleagues as about this and we decided that 15 minutes warmth and a cup of coffee is an irresistible offer we cannot refuse.
At around 1pm, we continue to hike towards the summit. By the way, the summit is actually the 10th station, where a shrine is located. Of course, to reach the peak, we need to pass by the 9th station first.
The climbers who had a good rest at the mountain huts had woken up and started to ascend as well, the crowd has combined and the hike is similar to taking a stair on very crowded subway station- one step at a time. I am not a night person, I can feel my eyes are closing as if I was awake and dreaming at the same time but still I can utter comprehensible words to consider it as an altitude sickness and so far, not in any immediate need of oxygen supply. The power of EVE medicine tablets was working its magic to cure my headache. Though, my stomach was acting up, I guess I consumed a fatal combination of headache pills, energy drink, snickers, water, coffee, cup noodles and a energy booster jelly, I don’t want to puke but I can sense that it was only a matter of time.
The 9th station is marked by a white stoned Torii and the trail is not easy as well. I put my hiking stick at my backpack ala ninja style, used my hands to hold to the huge stones along the way, I feel more comfortable doing it this way.
Along the trail are Mt. Fuji climbing volunteers who are shouting encouraging words like Ganbatte! (Do your Best!) and saying that you only need few minutes to reach the peak.
At around 3:30 am, I reached the peak. The torri gate of the Fuji-san Shrine is like a yellow marker of a finish line on a track race. Never minding the people behind me, I embrace the gate with so much passion. I don’t know where the rest of my group are, maybe some are behind me or some were already at the summit.
The sunrise was scheduled to make an appearance at about 5:05 am (if I remember correctly). Everyone in search for the perfect spot and with few trying to fight their way.
Everyone clapped, cheered, shouted, with some even crying and few started to raise their hands, vow down and started to became a sun worshiper while shouting the words “Banzai! Banzai! Banzai” (Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!). It was an emotional achievement for me and many others, A personal dream I set out a year ago and now able to fulfill.
How nice to see the other climbers on colorful hiking gears hugging each other and just taking a moment to document their achievement. While others who are very smart to bring a thermal blanket took the opportunity to sleep.
With no sleep yet renewed energy, probably courtesy of solar power, we started to descend at around pass 7am by taking the very steep and quite long Yoshida trail. I can honestly say that I find going down harder than going up. With several people sliding down, I was so careful not to be one of them, so I did not rush and just took my time. I felt that my knees is about to break into two and the joints are grinding at each other. Luckily my hi-cut Columbia shoe was able to keep the rocks from entering inside.
At around 11am, I reached the 5th station once again. With few muscle aches, partial sun-burn face, I cannot wait to go home- eat a huge beef bowl of Yoshinoya, brush my teeth for one hour, take the longest bath ever and just sleep.
Let me re-introduce to you one aspect of hiking which I enjoy the most- meeting and making friends along the way.
Here is a group of hikers from Vietnam, carrying their nation’s flag. They bought with them plenty of Vietnamese snacks. I befriended them because I wanted a cup of Vietnamese coffee, best in the region.
Here is Bryan of Ireland, who flown half way across the world just to spend a weekend climbing Mt. Fuji instead of getting drunk in a bar. He smokes on every stop, on each mountain hut, on every station. He was climbing alone so he has no picture of himself to prove to his friends that he indeed climbed Mt. Fuji, so he was thankful that he met us to take his photo.
Here is Ojisan (Grandfather) who I met along the trail while I was resting for a while. Upon seeing me standing in front of him, he uttered the words “I give up!” and in return I replied with “Ganbatte!”
Before concluding this post (I hope you are still reading), allow me to answer some of the common Mt. Fuji hiking question based on my personal experience. I searched for the same thing during my preparation phase and if you came across this blog, hope this will help you and you can always use the comment box, I will try my best to answer your questions..
Q: Is it difficult to climb Mt. Fuji?
The hiking trail is easy but the other factors such as altitude, cold temperature, rain, lack of sleep, is what makes it difficult.Obviously it also depends on how experienced you are. Some people will say it was relatively easy and they are able to do it in 4 hours or so, if that’s the case then good for them. But I still believe that no one has the right to underestimate Mt. Fuji.
At some point I find it difficult but never once thought of giving up. A combination of will power and good pacing should erase the word “difficult” on the question. Just put it in your mind, it is doable.
Q: Can I climb Mt. Fuji using my favorite Chuck Taylor and a pair of t-shirts and shorts?
There is a reason why hiking shoes, rain gear, wind breaker and warm clothes are invented but if you are comfortable with your usual shoes, who I am to argue. Like what I have said before, the other factors like drastic temperature change are the one you should be prepared for, so make sure you are properly suit up.
Q: How many liters of water do I need to bring?
I bought 4 x 550ml bottled water and 2 x 550ml of Pocari Sweat drink. I consumed only the 2 bottled water and 2 Pocari sweat drink. I think most of the time I forgot to drink water or so, but I can sense that I was dehydrated. In general a 2 Liters of water maybe enough, if you run out just buy at the mountain huts for a price of 400 yen.
Q: If there is no available mountain hut, can I stay outside?
Yes. You can experience the same thing as what we have done, though it will be a challenge and will surely tests your determination.
Q: How long does it take to reach the peak?
The official Mt. Fuji site suggests that it takes 5 to 6 hours to reach the peak along the Yoshida trail. This is actually true but again depends on your capability, how crowded it is and what you want to see. To be safe plan at least 8 hours regardless if you have a mountain hut reserved or not. Pacing and perfect timing is quite important; at this point I can proudly say that we achieve both on our hike.
Q: Why Yoshida trail and how to reach the 5th station?
Aside from being the most popular, most crowded and the line up of mountain huts available along the way, Yoshida trail is good for those who are using public transportation. Most highway bus from Tokyo can bring you to 5th Station like the Keio highway bus which you can reserve online (English website, 5600 yen for return trip).