Saturday, November 29, 2014

3,776 Meters Above the Sea Level

Having lived my life at sea level, what would compel me to climb Japan's highest and most revered mountain? 

I'm "delightfully delusional"

As a sacred site, a source of inspiration, and the symbol of Japan, Mount Fuji has welcomed over 300,000 visitors per year and was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although it's common to hear of JETs attempting to climb this "active" volcano, I planned to climb unassisted, unescorted, unaccompanied, companionless and, in other words, alone. All my coworkers thought I was crazy. The look on their faces, as they spat their tea after they heard my plans, made me wonder if I was crazy. The one person who I thought would worry to death, my mother, said I could climb Mount Fuji alone because she knew I was crazy.

Do you even squat?

The plan was to climb Mount Fuji during the morning, and stay most of the evening and part of the night at a mountain hut and then continue to the summit and watch the sunrise. Due to limited availability, I reserved the mountain hut before I purchased the flight. Then, I reserved a hostel near Shinjuku and a round-trip bus ticket to Mount Fuji's 5th Station. After the logistics, I devised a strict workout regiment, which consisted of daily 5ks with a squat challenge in order to build up my endurance. 


In late July, I flew to Tokyo a day before my expected climb and toured the city. The next day, I awoke at the ungodly hours of the morning and made my way to the bus terminal, stopping briefly at a combini. The bus terminal was packed with Mount Fuji climbers who were 'turnt' in their professional hiking gear, while I stood there in my Uniqlo cargo pants and shirt from Forever 21 - fashionable, but probably not efficient. As I took my seat on the bus, I was in disbelief that I was on my way to Mount Fuji. My excitement eventually waned, and I napped for the remainder of the trip. When I arrived at the 5th station and exited the bus, I almost collided with another Westerner who carried several wooden walking/stamping sticks. He asked if I needed one but when I inquired about the price, he told me it was free and to "have a nice day."

Mount Fuji 5th Station was Disney-esque with its crowded stores that sold souvenirs and hiking gear. I quickly purchased a kawaii Mount Fuji towel and a can of oxygen, just in case, and made my way to the Yoshida Trail. I started to climb around 9:30am and watched the exhausted faces of the people who passed me in order to descend. I wondered if I too would look like that during my descent, but I pushed the thoughts away as I began the first portion of the climb. I slowly ascended and silently thanked the 5k/squat gods for the strength in my legs.

No love for that bug

The Yoshida Trail was recommended for first-time climbers due to its abundance in huts and first-aid stations. The Yoshida Trail zigzagged up the mountain and, although the trail was mostly gravel, there were parts of the trail that resembled rock climbing. Since I was climbing on a Thursday, the hordes of climbers I was forewarned about were absent; so I enjoyed the perfect weather and peace while I climbed at my own pace. For the majority of the trip, I put away my iPod and just listened to the lava rocks crunch underneath my feet. My serendipity was cut short around the 6th station because I was harassed by a bug. I couldn't tell if it was a fly or a bee, but it was attracted to my pink iPhone case (most likely a bee). It annoyingly buzzed around me for four frickin' hours! It didn't end well for the bee though, because I stomped it to death around the 8th station.

From 1 to Mordor, how hot was it?

After seven hours of climbing, I reached the mountain hut where I felt the dull pain of an oncoming headache. After check-in, a staff member showed me to the sleeping quarters. Actually, the "bedroom" was one large room full of bunk beds. The room was divided by gender, and I was expected to sleep, shoulder to shoulder, in between two elderly Japanese women. Although I was unhappy about the sleeping arrangements, I quickly slathered Vicks Vapor Rub on my forehead and laid down to rest.

A couple hours later I was called to dinner, but my headache had worsened. Shortly after dinner, the staff announced that they would shut off the lights until 2am. I settled into the genie-lamp-sized bed once more, but this time I was accompanied by the two Japanese women. The combined body heat due to the close proximity felt like Mordor, and I felt nauseous (nauseated; for you grammar nazis). I grabbed my can of oxygen and moved into the cool air of the main room. As I inhaled pure oxygen, I noticed that there were a few empty futons. I sneaked into bed and continued to inhale oxygen until a staff member approached and quietly asked me if I was ok. The futons were reserved for late comers, but I explained that I felt ill. He asked me to wait while he set up a separate futon inside the main room where I could sleep in peace. I slept until 2am and awoke without a migraine.

Land of the Rising Sun, indeed

The night portion of the climb meant that I needed to don warm clothes and a headlamp. I continued up the mountain until I saw what looked like two large lion-dog statues in front of a torii gate. Was this the end? I couldn't tell, but I kept walking until I saw another hut that served ramen. I continued past the gate and up the hill to look around. I scared myself half to death when I looked down into Mount Fuji's crater. I frickin' made it!

I had about 45 minutes until sunrise, so I doubled back to the hut in order to keep warm and eat breakfast. The summit was packed with climbers facing the east and at around 4:30am I set up my camera and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. It felt like forever. In my mind, I saw perfect image of the sun peaking from behind the horizon - like a backwards sunset - but what I didn't expect was a tiny red ball emerging from a sea of clouds.

The trek down the mountain was the worst part. My boots had no traction and I slid the entire way down. My thighs were overworked from trying to keep balance but luckily I never fell. Once I reached the 5th station, I waited for the bus to my hotel, where I showered, dressed and left to the Ghibli Museum. Yep, after climbing up and down Mt. Fuji, I visited the Ghibli Museum. #NoRagrets ;)

If you're wondering, the next day I had the hardest time walking down stairs. My thighs were so sore. Overall, it was a great experience. Would I do it again? With the weather I had before, sure!

TL;DR? Check out the video!

Be sure to turn on the subtitles, because I was uncharacteristically soft spoken!

1 comment:

  1. People have been surprised to hear that I never climbed Fuji when I was in J-Land, and part of me wishes I had. But almost all the stories I've read/heard talk about how hot/cold/hard to breathe it was, and just doesn't sound like a very fun trip. Nice to be able to say you've done it, though, haha.