One of Japan’s iconic landmarks, Mt. Fuji is visible in the distant horizon from Tokyo. In fact, Tokyo Tower offers a brilliant vantage point for watching the sunset over the mountain. It is easily accessible from the city either by bus or train. The mountain is 12,388 feet and takes on average 6 and a half hours to hike up. The official hiking season is from the beginning of July to mid-September when it closes due to cold weather and snowy conditions, but even during the summer the temperature drops quickly so warming layers are definitely needed. During my time living in Okinawa, this was always on my list of things to do especially after seeing many of my friends’ photos from their climbs. Finally, on my third trip to Tokyo I found a few friends who were also interested in hiking to meet up for the climb. We caught an early morning train out and begin hiking in early afternoon.
Since I went hiking with a group of Marines, it inevitably became rather competitive and we pushed each other to keep passing whoever was in front of us on the trail. After only a few hours we had already ascended to the 8th and final stop on the mountain where we had reserved spaces for the night. The downsides to Fuji is that although pictures from a distance are extremely attractive, up close it looks more like a desolate desert or a picture from the surface of Mars. Also there are on average 5,000 climbers per day due to the limited official climbing season which can cause the trails to become a bit crowded and bottleneck at places. However, thanks to altitude sickness, the crowds begin to dramatically thin near the top of the mountain which made it much easier to finish the climb. Our group did lose two of our five to altitude sickness (one had it and the other was sympathetic and remained behind), but the rest of us had no issues with the altitude.
As we settled into the Fujisan Hotel to enjoy a warm dinner and can of Sapporo beer, the temperature dropped and the winds started picking up. After a very chilly night that we were not entirely prepared for (even though it was summer when we were hiking, it still got very cold on the mountain) and winds that sounded like trains hurling past the lodge, we woke up around 3:00 am to finish the climb. The plan was to finish the final bit of trail to the summit so we could watch the sunrise over the clouds like the many stunning photos that we had seen. Yet when we woke up we found that the howling winds had persisted through the night and the lodge staff were advising climbers that the top was closed until the weather cleared. Since there were no estimates of how long that would take, it came down to a group decision as to whether we push through the bad weather or take the option recommended by the professionals and begin the return trip down. Although I generally detest cold weather and try to avoid it whenever possible, I argued to the others that we would probably never be that close again and there was no way we could justify turning back so close to the summit. Thankfully it was a group of Marines making this decision who were as reckless, or motivated, as me and they agreed that we should finish the climb. With winds still raging, we stepped our packs on and headed out.
Several times on the final ascent we literally had to flatten ourselves on to the rocks to prevent from being blown down, but eventually we spotted the shisha lions guarding the top of the mountain. Even at the summit we found little reprieve from the blustering winds, but at least we had a sense of accomplishment from following through and making it all the way up. After a few minutes of fighting winds at the top though we decided to start the trek back down. It was much quicker on the descent especially with the lack of crowds due to poor weather conditions and we met up with the other two to head back to Tokyo. Although the experience definitely would have been more enjoyable if the weather had cooperated, hiking the mountain was still a very memorable trip. Despite the fact that it was storming and the mountain was technically closed, we had made it to the top!
Gear list: This is not a technical or especially difficult climb. Only those especially prone to altitude sickness will have any difficulties on the mountain. In fact, the number of young children and elderly individuals helped to serve as motivation for pushing ourselves to climb faster. Several useful items for the climb though are a lightweight and waterproof bag, a flashlight, snacks, money for using the bathrooms and getting drink refills at the stops, gloves, and of course proper boots and socks. There are also hiking sticks available for purchase at the bottom for around 1500 yen and each of the brands cost about 100-200 yen. The sticks are not very helpful for climbing but are extremely popular because each station offers branding at the different huts up the mountain for a few hundred yen. It is quite a memorable souvenir of the hike and it made me feel truly like an exotic explorer with an old Japanese man burning my hiking staff to mark my progression as I climbed the legendary mountain.
The only part of the trip that needs to be booked in advance is the overnight accommodation at the lodges. The prices are decent compared to a normal night in a hotel, but the lodge only offers basic accommodations with mattresses lining the floor. Yet for the many travelers that want to witness the sunrise, this alternative prevents from hiking the entire mountain at night. Regardless of the weather, this is a fun and easy hike with some of the most rewarding views of Japan. Reservations for the Fujisan Hotel/hut at the 8th station can be made via the website or over the phone: http://www.fujisanhotel.com or 0555-22-0237