That's right, I climbed Mt. Fuji!
The season for climbing is July through August and it is one of those experiences that is part of Japanese culture, although not every Japanese person does it or even desires to climb. They have a respect for the mountain and refer to it as Fiji-san. It may not be the tallest mountain in the whole world, but it is the highest point in all of Japan, and is a national symbol.
I was not going to pass on this experience and now that is it done I can happily exclaim that I climbed Mt. Fuji. It is not a difficult climb, and does not require special equipment, but it does get steep, you do need to climb, and you need to be dressed properly. The reason why many people don't complete the climb is because they rush (and experience altitude sickness as a result) or aren't dressed appropriately. Even in the summer it can be cold at the summit, especially if it is dark out.
The most common way to climb is starting from the 5th level station and climb through the night to get to the summit at sunrise. We started from the 5th level station and did just this.
To get there we took a bus from Tokyo to the 5th level station along the most well maintained path. There are actually 4 paths up the mountain, but this one was the best maintained, and the closest to Tokyo. Thousands of people go on this path up to the top daily throughout the summer.
Here are some shots I attempted to take of Mt. Fuji along the way.
Yes, there is an amusement park here, right by Mt. Fuji.
We arrived at the 5th level station around 8 pm. This station is located at 2300 meters and the summit of Fuji is 3776 meters. There are some stores and restaurants in this area, but at this hour not too much was open. We bought ourselves some walking sticks and then got ready to go. You may be wondering why we bought walking sticks. These are actually souvenirs from the climb. You buy a wooden stick at the start and along the way at each of the mountain huts along the way you can purchase a stamp to have branded into your walking stick. I am a sucker for a good souvenir, so we definitely got this one.
Alright, here we go! Since we were climbing at night we made sure to have a good headlamp to help light our way. There were a lot of people out climbing too, but the headlamp was definitely necessary. If you look closely here you can see the estimated time left to reaching the summit. These were very helpful along the way.
For a good portion of the early part of the hike we were in darkness and not much was going on. Once we reached the 7th station we found many mountain huts along the way, with people resting, bathrooms, food to purchase, and stamps to get for our walking sticks. It is really important to rest a little as you go to acclimate to the altitude.
Here comes Ryan, about to join me at one of the mountain huts.
Here you can see my stick being branded. The stamps were cool because they listed the year and the height where you were when they did the stamp.
By the time I reached 3250 meters it was a bit on the cold side, so you can see that I am bundled up and no longer in just a t shirt and yoga pants.
Here we have reached, no joke, the 8.5 level station. My first thought was "seriously????". It is dark so you can't see where the summit is and you can't judge how high up you are. We got here and we thought it was the 9th level, finally. Nope, surprise, seems they added some more buildings along the way and called them .5. So here is the 8.5 level station, which is at 3450 meters high.
Around this time we started to see single file trails of lights, looking like a a line of ants, and we wondered if they were nearing the top. Mostly I wondered because they looked so far away and we were hoping to reach the top for the sunrise. Trust me, this is a crazy sight to see. Sadly, I did not take a picture. However, if you are curious what this crazy sight looks like, check out this picture.
But we pressed on. Then we started to see the light peaking out from behind the clouds. We knew sunrise was fast approaching.
Before we knew it the summit was in sight and the light was out (but the sun itself was not up yet). Here's the part where extreme panic set in. Panic, you ask? Yes, extreme panic. With the light out I could finally see for the first time just how high up I was and how narrow the ledges were and how straight up I seemed to be climbing. It had a serious "oh s**t" moment and nearly wanted to turn around, although at that point I was too far in to turn around and head down. Even if I wanted to or needed to, I would not really be able to go that way. Mt. Fuji is climbed on one path, and the descending path is not the same.
In my freak out moment, I happened to realize there were some good pictures to be taken, so thankfully Ryan was able to get my camera and take some pictures of the people below us.
Here is Ryan down below, making his way up.
Can you believe that people just set themselves up with sleeping bags and snacks, laying on the side of the mountain, just to see the sunrise? It was way too steep for me to even think about laying down there and watching. Thankfully we were really close to the top and were able to catch this view just as we reached the summit. You can see off to the bottom corner that there is the top of the tori gate that marks the top of the mountain trail. A tori gate is a traditional Japanese gate typically found at Shinto shrines. Mt. Fuji is a religious pilgrimage experience (we saw plenty on this journey) and there are shinto shrines at the top.
Hello sunrise from the summit of Mt. Fuji! This was a truly amazing experience. I am glad my freak out lasted only so long and I was able to get it together long enough to reach the top just in time for the sunrise.
Here is the Japanese flag at the summit.
Me, floating in the clouds.
Here I am with Ryan, with the glowing sun behind us, just before 5am.
Here is a shot of the summit area near where we came up. There is a 1 hour long hike you can take around the crater and visit some of the shrines that are on the summit. Honestly, we were exhausted and freezing, so while we started to head around the crater, we realized this was not necessary and we wanted to get something warm to drink instead and then head back down (another 4 hours of hiking).
Alright, here goes nothing. Right back down the mountain. Going up was about 8 hours, and going back down was about 5 (we took some stops and thought we took a wrong turn).
Here is Ryan on the way down.
It was actually really dusty and with people running down the mountain, it became difficult at times to breath. If I had known in advance then I probably would have brought something to cover over my mouth.
We made sure not to take the wrong path down. Each of the 4 are colored coded. We were on the yellow path.
More shots from the trip back down.
Hooray! I get to head in this direction, towards the 5th level station.
Wow, what an amazing experience. I am so proud of myself for making it. We did see some people get sick from altitude sickness. Neither of us felt sick, thankfully. This was definitely a memorable experience and I am happy to say that I have climbed Mt. Fuji and was there for the sunrise. Unreal!
We even got down a little earlier than we planned for and took the bus back that left an hour before our reserved time. Score!
Guess what? I slept for most of the 2 hour bus ride back to Shinjuku station in Tokyo. Once we got back we decided not to go to sleep, but instead go grab some food.
We had a nice craving for Italian, so we checked out this place near the hotel. I saw this place written up in one of our tour books, so we decided to check it out, even if it was a different location than the one in the book. This place is called La Verde and we went to the Ginza location.
Green olives, which was awesome and had to be ordered because olives are hard to come by in Japan.
We ordered the cheese sampler too.
Then we ordered a margarita pizza to share.
Nope, we didn't stop there, we also ordered pasta arrabiata to share.
Did it end there? Nope! I am not kidding, shortly after dinner we did the unthinkable but we were just too darn curious about this place.
Asahi is a brand of beer (and non-alcoholic beverages too) in Japan. This was a bar to allow sampling (paid for of course) of their new extra cold service of beer. The beer, it seems, is served at a colder temperature than usual and this is supposed to enhance the flavor, so the bar is appropriately called Extra Cold Bar. This place had lines out the door every night and we were so curious about what was going on inside. Basically they were letting people see how this beer is served and try it, along with small appetizer dishes, if you wanted to get a small snack. Basically it was like beer and tapas. This place was only here serving beer for about 2 months and is closing up in September. What a crazy idea! This is certainly one way to get the word out and advertise. I am not kidding, the out the door line made this place THE place to be. Seriously, it even worked on us!
Here is my beer and the "free" appetizer, which was actually meat, so Ryan ate it all.
Probably not the smartest thing ever, but we were so curious to try this place that we thought it was a good idea to not just get beers and stand there, but to order some food too, despite not being hungry at all.
These are the spicy fries, which are similar to patatas bravas in concept.
I ordered the shrimp trio. These are tempura shrimp with 3 types of sauces. So yummy, but I couldn't even finish it.
Then we called it a night on the early side.
Now that I have climbed Mt. Fuji, I have this fun walking stick to serve as a reminder of the journey. I just wanted to show what those stamps (or brands) look like on the walking stick. Here are a few pictures. The bottom stamp was there when we bought them at the 5th level station. The very, very top stamp is from the summit.
Love it! What a fun souvenir!
QUESTIONS: Have you ever climbed a mountain (if so, which one)? What mountain would you like to climb? What is the most beautiful sunrise you have ever experienced?