Mt. Fuji

My Climb to the Top of Japan
-Akahige


Getting to Fuji.

     If you spend a long period of time in Japan, you just have to climb Mt. Fuji.  There is some law somewhere where this is explicitly pointed out.  Foreigner or Japanese, you have to do it at least once.  I took my climb my first summer in Japan and I'll never forget it.  I set out early with a heavy backpack, hopped from train to train, a final bus ride as far as you can go up the mountain, a short stop for supplies, and then up, one step after another.

Here is Mt. Fuji as you get a little closer from Tokyo.  Still beautiful, but lifeless and grey.
Here is Mt. Fuji as you get a little closer from Tokyo. Still beautiful, but lifeless and grey. Full size

This is as far as cars and busses make it up Mt. Fuji.
This is as far as cars and busses make it up Mt. Fuji. Full size


     Nobody forgets how pretty Mt. Fuji is.  It is the mountain.  I met a guy on the climb who described Mt. Fuji's beauty perfectly.  He claimed "If you ask a kid to draw a picture of a mountain, they are going to draw a picture of Mt. Fuji most of the time."  He was right.  When you think of a mountain, odds are you picture something that looks a lot like Mt. Fuji.  The snow cap is at the perfect level.  It isn't too steep, but steep enough.  It isn't just another peak in a huge mountain range, it is the mountain, standing high and proud over beautiful country.
     That beautiful country is what people forget about when they think of Mt. Fuji.  It's green and hilly.  Spotted with peaceful houses and rice fields.  Not far from Tokyo at all, it feels like a whole other world.  Take a nap on the train and you'll fall asleep to neon and concrete, then wake up to rolling hills and small villages.  When you close your eyes, it'll be grey.  Open them, to a million shades of green just a few minutes later.  When you climb Fuji you are doing a lot of things, escaping is the one of them that most people overlook.

Things are allowed to age once you get outside of the city, and they do it well.  Here is an old train station in the shadow of a beautiful mountain.
Things are allowed to age once you get outside of the city, and they do it well. Here is an old train station in the shadow of a beautiful mountain. Full size

This train featured a special three hundred and sixty degree window for viewing the countryside.
This train featured a special three hundred and sixty degree window for viewing the countryside. Full size


The Climb

     I'm not a mountain climber by any means, but neither are most of the people who make the trek up Fuji.  It is a doable climb for most people, but only easy if you know what you are doing.  I think we took eight hours total of climbing, with a break for sleep in a very communal lodge.  The terrain changes nicely.  Sometimes it is gravel, sometimes dirt.  There are spans where crude steps have been carved out, and a few times when climbers have to scale up modestly steep rocks.  The changes in pace are nice, and help mentally.  The length of the climb is what makes it difficult for some people, but with a little motivation, I made it up Fuji without any significant incident. 


As you go further up Fuji, it really does start to feel like a moonscape.  These rocks don't help to give it a warm and cozy feeling.
As you go further up Fuji, it really does start to feel like a moonscape. These rocks don't help to give it a warm and cozy feeling. Full size

It isn't pretty, but this is what a lot of the climb up Mt. Fuji looks like under your feet.
It isn't pretty, but this is what a lot of the climb up Mt. Fuji looks like under your feet. Full size

It doesn't happen often, but you will come across some significant ledges while climbing Mt. Fuji.
It doesn't happen often, but you will come across some significant ledges while climbing Mt. Fuji. Full size


The Wonderful Views of Mt. Fuji

     If there is one thing I remember most, it is the amazing view.  It was a pleasure the entire time I was making my way up.  From the clouds lazily rolling in the valleys below, to the beautiful sunset, there was always something to look at when you stopped to take a breath.  The land below, green and full of life, contrasts sharply with the volcanic rocks beneath you.  The mountain itself is spectacular as well, in a different way.  It seems alive.  I kept looking at it, but I could never get a sense of scale.  Towards the start of the hike, there were bushes and a few trees.  A few hours in, without you even realizing it, there just a few shrubs and weeds, and finally, just rock and the occasional bit of melting ice that had managed to make it so far into summer.  Finally, there were the clouds beneath you.  I'm not used to looking out and seeing clouds beneath me.  It was an amazing sight and if I do make it back to the top of Fuji, it will be to take in the amazing views again.


A climber stops to take a look at the view.  This isn't far up Mt. Fuji, but you are already above the clouds.
A climber stops to take a look at the view. This isn't far up Mt. Fuji, but you are already above the clouds. Full size

Before the tree line, Mt. Fuji is full of life.  The clouds hugging the surface are amazing.
Before the tree line, Mt. Fuji is full of life. The clouds hugging the surface are amazing. Full size

Fuji is in a beautiful part of Japan, making the view even more spectacular.
Fuji is in a beautiful part of Japan, making the view even more spectacular. Full size

The sun setting below the clouds on Mt. Fuji was amazing.
The sun setting below the clouds on Mt. Fuji was amazing. Full size


The Company

     Like so many other famous attractions throughout Japan, Mt. Fuji is crowded, at least in the regular climbing season.  You are likely to come across tour groups, big families, and plenty of foreigners.  Everyone keeps up a pretty good pace, and if you need to pass someone, it usually isn't a problem.  My climbing mate and I ran into a couple groups of English speaking foreigners on our way up, and ended up making about half of the climb with another group of two gaijin.  You won't get the mountain to yourself, but the crowds aren't bad at all by Japanese standards, and they never got in the way.


This is just part of a long line of people on a group climb up Mt. Fuji.
This is just part of a long line of people on a group climb up Mt. Fuji. Full size

You are likely to come across plenty of friendly people if you decide to give Mt. Fuji a climb.
You are likely to come across plenty of friendly people if you decide to give Mt. Fuji a climb. Full size


The Trip Back Home

     When it was all said and done, I had a great time on Fuji.  My legs ached and I needed a lot of sleep, but I had a great time.  I liked the challenge, the views and the people I climbed with.  My Fuji climb was great.  I came home and indulged in another Japanese tradition, the hot bath, slept for an afternoon, and when my blisters went away, I still had the memories.  They say only a fool neglects to climb Mt. Fuji, and that only a fool climbs it twice, but I don't know, I might be up for another shot at it.


The steel and chains don't help to make Mt. Fuji seem inviting, but even without them, it is clearly no place for people to spend a lot of time at.
The steel and chains don't help to make Mt. Fuji seem inviting, but even without them, it is clearly no place for people to spend a lot of time at. Full size

Rocks, mist and wind is all you seem to have here, but there is actually a post office on the summit of Mt. Fuji as well.
Rocks, mist and wind is all you seem to have here, but there is actually a post office on the summit of Mt. Fuji as well. Full size

This is the roof of one of the lodges on Mt. Fuji.  I never got over the clouds when I looked down.
This is the roof of one of the lodges on Mt. Fuji. I never got over the clouds when I looked down. Full size

The mountain itself is a sight to behold, especially as the clouds run into it and seem to float up like smoke from a volcano.
The mountain itself is a sight to behold, especially as the clouds run into it and seem to float up like smoke from a volcano. Full size

I got lucky and flew right over Mt. Fuji one day in early spring.  You can see the tracks leading up it if you look closely.
I got lucky and flew right over Mt. Fuji one day in early spring. You can see the tracks leading up it if you look closely. Full size

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