Every year over 300,000 people of all ages attempt the trek to the top of Mt. Fuji. At 3,776 meters (12,388 feet) above sea level, it is also Japan’s highest peak. We have had reaching the summit of Fujisan on our bucket list, since arriving in Japan. The climbing season is very short, only July and August, so we planned a day in July to hike. I had heard that weather can be volatile in July, due to being the tail end of rainy season, but August is very crowded due to the Japanese school holiday, so, we opted for July. We stayed at the Marine base, Camp Fuji, the night before to be a bit closer for an early morning start. This was our view on the drive to Camp Fuji, you can see the lights of the mountain huts on the side of the mountain.
First things first, I just had to get my souvenir hiking stick. Each station you reach on the mountain, you can get your stick branded for reaching that level.
There are 4 different trailheads to the summit, we hiked the Yoshida trail, which is also the most popular. You can start at the 1st station at the very bottom, but most people start at the 5th station (2,300 meters), which was our starting point. We did have a lovely view from there!
This is looking up the mountain to the 7th station and the beginning of the mountain huts. Many people hike to this level, spend the night, and continue very early in the morning to watch the sunrise. The huts also sell food and have restroom facilities.
Now the terrain got interesting. From the 7th station on, the trail was more like rock climbing. Sometimes you had to actually crawl, using your hands for support. The girls were amazing, much better than we were.
Finally, the torii gate at the top of the 7th station! This took some work and serious climbing to reach. Cue the rain. At this point the rain started and was relentless at times. We got our warm clothes on and hoped it would pass soon. The elevation was also noticeably colder.
Not many more pictures, because at this point we had been in a downpour for several hours. Rain, sleet blowing sideways, some snow, low visibility and 40 MPH wind gusts! We needed better rain gear, not that it would’ve helped much at that point. Our boots literally sloshed with each step, like we had jumped in a pool and got out to hike for the day. The storm was getting worse and the temperature was getting colder with every step. We were just about half way between the 8th and 9th stations when we had to reevaluate our goals. Sadly, we decided to turn back, without reaching the summit, and felt defeated and deflated. It would’ve just been too dangerous to go on at that point. Reaching the top would’ve meant at least 5 more hours, roundtrip, in those conditions.
The problem with being that high up the mountain is, there’s only one way down! Tears were shed. Matt finally told Eva, “You can cry if you need to, just keep walking!” We made it back down to the 8th station. The girls had purple lips, but kept walking. The descent was much more difficult than the ascent, and the slippery, wet rock didn’t help.
There is absolutely no shelter on the mountain unless you are staying the night in a hut (they are about $90 per person for one night and you get a sleeping bag on the floor), they do serve food, but you have to eat it outside. After being wet for about 5 hours, the girls were so cold. We stopped at this hut to get hot chocolate and they actually had tables inside, which was a first, and an answer to a prayer! They allowed us to sit down for a few minutes and try to warm the girls up. These were their $4 Dixie-cup-sized hot chocolates. But it did help them warm up some.
We kept walking and eventually got back below the 7th station and could feel the air warm up a bit, though we still had the wind gusts and rain. I had mentioned on the way up that the scenery reminded me of the opening scene of the Sound of Music, where Maria twirls in the beautiful green countryside. On the way down, some bright-eyed, bushy-tailed hikers, just beginning their ascent, must’ve thought the same thing because they began singing Do-Re-Mi. I burst in to song with them and we had an impromptu Sound of Music sing-along right there on Mt. Fuji. This may have been the highlight of my whole day!
Eventually, we made it back to the 5th station, which by now was also in a complete white out condition. After taking the shuttle back to our car, the weather was perfect, warm and barely overcast. You would never know that we just went through a 9+ hour hike in freezing conditions! Fujisan, definitely has a mystique of her own! You never know what to expect. Here is my hiking stick as a reminder of one of the most miserable, unforgettable days of my life!
Well, we didn’t make it to the top, but still learned some great lessons. We are glad that the girls experienced some serious adversity and learned that they CAN push through it when the going gets tough. Also, things don’t always work out, even when you really want them to, you won’t always win and sometimes you need to reevaluate your goals when thrown a curve-ball. I also think that you need really bad experiences to appreciate when you’ve got it good in life. So, all in all, we think it was a positive experience, though not fun in any way, shape or form!
Mt. Fuji, the calm before the storm- literally! I silently cursed to myself through chattering teeth almost the entire descent, “NEVER AGAIN”, I said. But, now, we ALL (even the girls) still feel like we have unfinished business with this mountain……To be continued?????
( Spoiler alert! Hiking Mt. Fuji take two. )