Once a Wise Man, Twice a Fool – Climbing Mt. Fuji

December 10, 2016

Prayer Flags, Clouds, and Trail Map Mt.Fuji Japan

There is a Japanese proverb about climbing Mt. Fuji:
“He who climbs Mt. Fuji is a wise man; he who climbs twice is a fool.”


Growing up I remember playing with my mom’s hiking stick from Mount Fuji. She shared her story of climbing Mount Fuji and told us of how special the hiking stick was to her, I imagine in an effort to get us to stop using it as a fighting stick. We learned that when she hiked Mount Fuji 30 years ago she did not make it to the summit due to a bad case of altitude sickness. While she had climbed to the 8th station before turning back, she always regretted not making it to the summit. Visiting Japan this summer was her second chance to take on Mt. Fuji once and for all.

Excited about the trip we researched guides to book for our hike, but by the time we went to book it, they had all filled up. I nervously researched forums about hiking without a guide with the majority saying it was just as easy and a whole hella lot cheaper.

View from the Subaru 5th Station

Subaru 5th Station

We planned on hiking through the night to arrive at the summit to see the sunrise. We arrived at the Subaru 5th station via bus around 7 pm. Eager to make it to the top in 9 hours we started our hike right away (first mistake).

  Map of Climbing Route 

The hike started with a steep incline through wooded areas and quickly morphed into long steep switchbacks. At the 6th station, I was already starting to feel winded, a combination of the unfamiliar altitude and not being mountain hiking shape. Stopping every 15 minutes or so to catch our breath and to gaze at the mass of city lights below us and the twinkling ones above.

      Starting to get chilly on our hike

Arriving at the 7th station
We were tired, couldn’t breathe, and our entire bodies were riddled with fatigue. Taking time to rest felt fabulous at first, but after sitting there for a few minutes your body starts to sink into the bench and your motivation will soon escape you. The temperature was dropping quickly and thankfully we had prepared for that by packing jackets, gloves, and a hat. After the 7th station, the trail became riddled with gnarly volcanic rocks that jetted out of the path. Looking directly up you could see the faint lights of headlamps trekking up into the distant night sky.
…Around 12 A.M.
We were taking a break on the side of the mountain to catch our breath and regain our composure. I was so dizzy from the altitude, which is the last thing you want to be when your legs are dangling over a dark volcanic abyss, who said it was a good idea to climb during the night?  My mom shook me, asking if I was okay, but I realized I had actually just fallen asleep. We needed to take a rest, stat. So we booked a night’s sleep at the next station for around $50 USD. As we were entering the hut, climbers were leaving, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to hike to the summit in time for the sunrise. I felt awful that we were not going to make it to the top in time for the sunrise and I believe my mom had some doubts we were going to make it to the summit at all.
Waking up we caught the sunrise at the 8th station, undoubtedly beautiful from any spot on the mountain.  We stayed for a few minutes and then continued our ascent. 

   Sunrise from the 8th station

Climbing in the daylight is significantly more rewarding than climbing at night. The main reason and obvious reason is that you can see! You can see where you are going to put your foot next and you are able to bask in all the glory that is Mt.Fuji. I mean c’mon look at these views!

For the past few months, I have been practicing the eight limbs of yoga. My biggest struggle is with being present in the moment. On the plane ride to Japan, I had written down a breathing exercise in my notes to practice being present. The breathing exercise goes like this:

“Breathing in I calm my body. Breathing out I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”

This affirmation in combination with my Ujjayi Pranayama (a yogi breathing technique) breathing allowed me to be present in the struggle and appreciate my body for what it is capable of. Even when the moment does not feel wonderful it is important to be all there, to see what we can learn or how we can grow. I smiled, I thanked my legs for each step, I thanked my eyes for showing me this beautiful mountain, I thanked my legs for each step and thanked my lungs for breathing and sustaining me even with low oxygen. It is so amazing what our  bodies are capable of when your head is in the right place. 

                                                                                         Our new hiking friends

On our journey, we met two Japanese men along the way, who shared our desire for a slower pace. We followed them the rest of the way.

 Almost there!

                                                                                        The volcanic crater

Finally making it to the top, we headed over to the volcanic crater,  it was astounding.  This picture does not give it justice. If you look closely they also had a cautionary rope surrounding the crater. I was careful to not get too close but wanted to get a good look. You can also walk all the way around the crater, but I didn’t see many people embarking on this quest. I imagine not many wanted to trek around the crater when they had a 3-hour descent ahead of them. We didn’t spend much time at the top because we were eager to start our descent down the mountain. 

The descent hike was made entirely of switchbacks riddled with small volcanic rock. Every step you took you would slide a few. This was not good for toenails and blisters, my mom eventually lost both of her big toenails later on the trip due to some shoe issues. It took us about 4 hours to reach the 5th station with only one potty along the way!

              This mystical forest looks like it should be out of something in Grimm’s Fairytales.

We arrived at the 5th station to find out some unfortunate news. We would not be sleeping in our air BnB beds tonight. All of the buses were full for the rest of the night and the ticket agent had already left. As a result, we would be spending another night on the mountain. At least we got to look at all the Mt.Fuji themed gifts and food! Just check out this cake!

Mt. Fuji Themed Everything!

We found a place to stay in a capsule hotel. It was a little pricey but completely necessary to get some well-deserved rest. Also, there was no ATM at the station. ?  Which made it particularly difficult to purchase food. We were able to use our cards to book our stay.

                 My capsule hotel room at the Subaru 5th station

The next morning we headed out on the bus back to Shinjuku bus station where we then took the subway back to our air BnB in Machida. 
Have you ever hiked Mount Fuji? What were your experiences like?

RECOMMENDED Reading and Gear for hiking Mt.Fuji, Japan

Mt. Fuji Hike Guide 
More about Eemma Iseman

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