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There and Back Again: an Intern’s Tale

Emily is busy working on a secret project, so I (Ben) get to do another blog. This last weekend I climbed 富士山 (Mt. Fuji). Last Friday night, my girlfriend and I left Shinjuku on a 7:50pm bus bound for the Kawaguchiko 5th Station. The bus trip took a little over 2 hours, getting us to the trailhead a little after 10:00pm.

We came rather prepared. Alisa (my girlfriend / hiking partner) spent a good part of the day running Fuji preparation errands. She made 14 おにぎり (onigiri) with her grandma, bought Soyjoys and Powerbars, and since we planned on hiking in the dark, she also bought two headlamps. We each were packing rain coats and heavier clothes (since it gets below freezing at the top). I carried our fluid supply of 4 liters of water and 2 liters of Aquarius (a popular Japanese sports drink). We checked our equipment, used the bathrooms (¥50), and started our ascent.

We got out our headlamps, and Alisa put hers on, but I was thinking to myself カッコ悪い, so I just tied mine to my backpack strap. The first half hour of our hike was below the treeline. We got to the 6th Station after not too long, but from then on, the hike was a seemingly endless succession of switchbacks. The trail grew steeper, the wind picked up, the air got colder, and the traffic became denser. On top of that, the toilet price went up: ¥100. I started out in a T-shirt and shorts. I made it to 8th Station before putting on a long-sleeve shirt. It really doesn’t feel that cold as long as you keep moving, but because we stopped for short breaks every once in a while, the cold started to get to me. So, we kept climbing, and we both were feeling the cold and the altitude.

Around the 9th Station we started to see the sky getting lighter. Worried that we wouldn’t make it to the top in time to see the sunrise, we weaved through the traffic as much as we could. I was amazed by how many people were climbing the mountain. From the 8th Station until the top, the trail was as packed as Tokyo’s rush hour trains. The pace was painstakingly slow–a twenty second wait between every two or three steps. What should have been a forty minute portion of the hike, took about three hours. Fortunately we made it to the top in time.

Sunrise obscured by clouds (viewed from the top of Mt. Fuji)

I wasn’t keeping great track of the hour, but I believe the sun rose around 4:30am (just a half hour after we made it to the top). The view was amazing! The clouds obscured the sun coming above the horizon, but the color effect looked really cool. I’m sure I damaged my retinas. Despite the view, I could still feel the cold, so I finally put on some jeans. We then huddled together in one of the 頂上 (mountain peak) huts and ate some おにぎり. We both felt a little too sick and a little too cold to stay at the peak any longer than we had to, so after using the higher priced ¥200 toilets we headed back down.

The journey down the mountain
We began hiking down the Subashiri trail and within minutes we were much warmer and less queazy. As we got lower, we came to this one point where the clouds were really thick, and they came close enough to the mountain to be felt from the trail. Aside from the sunrise view, the walk in the clouds was the second best part of the trip. Past the 8th Station on down, most of the descending trail was a combination of ash and dirt. Some people run down, some people take it slower, and some people get their shoes full of pebbles, ash, and dirt. Alisa was the second type, while I was the poor loser to be wearing low-top Walmart velcro shoes–shoes that seemed to enjoy having more of the trail inside them than underneath them. Sigh. After an hour bus ride to Gotenba station, we took the “Romance Car” (an express train) back to Shinjuku. Having both pulled all-nighters, we went our separate ways and promptly fell asleep at around 1:00pm.

Will I hike Fuji again? Probably, but next time I think I’ll hike the lower half (longer hiking season, fewer people, lots of trees)–from the base to the 5th Station. If you want to climb Fuji, make sure to do your research, prepare properly, and stay safe! The season will be over within the next two months, so hurry!