Mt Fuji - as seen by me from halfway up.
Currently my favourite travelling experience; to be topped only by my someday visit to Alaska was the 24 hour period that contained my trek to the top of Mt Fuji.
My friends Mat, Sam and I started our trip well enough, with train travel reasonably well organised. We’d woken early, checked schedules and thought we had organised everything quite well. As most of my travels go though, this adventure was like all the others. Planning is all well and good, but if you ever find yourself travelling with me, expect something to go awry. We headed off from Nagoya station with plenty of time on our schedule. Trains and buses were organised and all we had to do was show up, buy our transfer tickets and we were away! With the precision timing of the Japanese transport system, your first mistake is generally your last when you’re trying to make a connection. After a few of hours screaming along the Japanese rail, we made one wrong turn and arrived just in time to wave goodbye to the bus that was originally intended to carry us from Fujinomiya to the fifth station of Mt Fuji. 😦
After a brief period of cursing, thinking and consulting the local travel staff, it was decided that our best way forward in the evening that had surrounded us was via taxi. Luckily, Sam was fluent in Japanese, so she was able to get us on our way again with minimal effort. She made our trip to the fifth station much more settling and interesting as she struck up a conversation with our cab driver, who entertained us with his own combination of information and humour. All too soon after we began our motorised ascent we arrived at our “base camp”, already almost 2400 metres up the volcano. Stepping out onto the mountain I took in the scene, as excited as I could be at the thought of achieving one of the things I’ve always wanted to do!
If you’ve never been up Mt Fuji, take heart in the knowledge that the mountain has been developed to provide for the numerous visitors it receives every year. While nature is still the master of the area, anyone wishing to make the trip up Mt Fuji will find that there is plenty of opportunity for comfortable respite along the way. As a matter of fact, hikers are known to book a resting place in the stations that have been established along the ascension trails. Sam, Mat and I started our trek after a warm noodle soup and we soon found ourselves amongst many other hikers – old, young and everywhere in between making our way towards the summit of Fuji.
We made a casual go of it. I’d never before climbed a mountain and I was not in the best shape, but my friends and I nodde, smiled and greeted the hikers that passed us. It was always heartwarming for me when we found ourselves being overtaken by an elderly man or woman who nodded respectfully as they made their way forward, turning back and giving us a hearty “Ganbarimasu” or “Ganbatte ne” (both meaning “Persevere”, or “Fight on”)! Chatting amongst ourselves about various things, Mat and Sam getting to know each other a little better (while they were both friends of mine, they were meeting each other for the first time ever) we made our way to each station along the route. After being told to keep the noise down as we talked and laughed outside the huts we gathered our strength and encouragement and prepared ourselves for the final leg from the eighth station to the top of Fuji-san!
With the darkness still around us, we shone our little torches onto the now loose volcanic earth below our feet and soldiered on. Having never climbed that high before I soon succumbed to a brief period of altitude sickness (luckily it was just dizziness!) and after more encouragement from Mat and Sam we were back on our way. We reached the summit with time to relaxe before the sun began to rise and watching the day break from atop the mountain was one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life. We took some time to explore the summit and take photos and then decided that it was time to head back down.
The trek down the mountain was much less demanding than the trek up and for that I was thankful. We hadn’t slept at all since the morning before, so by the time we got back to the fifth station I had been awake for almost 24 hours. I wouldn’t have minded that so much, the comfort of the futon back at my apartment would have been most welcome upon our return to Nagoya, however I had classes to teach that afternoon! With as much gusto as our wearying bodies could muster, we decided to forego the originally planned slow train ride in favour of the bullet train that would get us home so much sooner.
From there I showered and changed, hopped the next train to work and held my English classes until 6:00pm. Luckily for me, my students only wanted to talk about my trip to Mt Fuji when I responded to their enquiries about my tired look, so most of my lessons were based on travelling to and from locations…
If you’re the outdoorsy type I cannot recommend a trip up Mt Fuji highly enough. If you ever have the opportunity to get there, do yourself a favour. It is one of the most amazing hikes you will ever take.