Sunday, July 10, 2005

Climbing Fuji-san

We had planned on visiting Fuji and possibly climbing it since we came to Japan nearly three years ago, but it wasn't until this July that we actually got around to getting up to Tokyo to do so. We decided to start our hike on July 1st when the official climbing season opened and the bus service would be more frequent. We were lucky enough to get a bus right to Kawaguchi-ko-guchi Go-gome (5th station) 河口湖、口五合目 from the Shinjuku bus terminal. This site, gives a pretty good description of the hike and what to prepare for if you're interested. One thing to note is that the English phone number was no longer valid and you would need to call 0555-72-5111 to make a reservation (in Japanese). In early July there were two buses a day leaving from the Shinjuku west gate, one at 10:55-->13:20, and the other at 16:50-->19:15. However, there are more frequent buses after July 16th.

Arriving at 7:15PM we decided to kill some time before the hike because even in July, Fuji is cold (we each wore a longsleeve t-shirt, wool sweater, polar-fleece, and rain jacket and were very, very cold) and we wouldn't want to be waiting at the top for the sunrise. So after eating "dinner" and snacks we hit the trail at 10PM with our flashlights. Unfortunately, just as we left the 5th station it started to pour but we decided to carry on; after all, we had come this far. Eden's little Petzel head lamp was barely adequate and my big 4, D-cell flashlight was really necessary to stay on the path. Otherwise we would've had to go at half the speed. After reaching the 7th station it became obvious that we were climbing too fast, we would freeze at the summit for around two hours waiting for the sunrise. We decided to slow our pace and make frequent stops at the many shelters between the 7th and 9th stations. About an eight minute break was enough to rest before we got to cold and had to carry on. Many hikers climbing Fuji overnight also fall ill to altitude sickness, so we made sure to breathe oxygen (from our can) at these frequent stops. Not really sure if it helped, but I was feeling ill on the way up. At around 2AM we were a mere 50 minutes from the summit and decided to rest in a hut and buy some hot cocoa. We dragged it out and then made it back to the path to reach the summit at our planned time of 4:30AM. We arrived slightly early and sat freezing at the summit watching the sunrise. Due to the rain the previous night the clouds and smog cleared and we were given an amazing sunrise. Although we were cold and wet, it made up for it.

Fuji sunrise

After visiting a hut at the summit for some more hot cocoa we began our decent down the Gotemba-guchi-tozando 御殿場口登山道. This route is the longest back, but Lonely Planet's Hiking in Japan gave it a stellar recommendation, so we decided to take it. The path down was quite easy, and for about half the way down the trail is soft volcanic sand. This allows you to run as fast as you dare and at times almost felt like downhill skiing; just pick up your feet and fall. In the last year a number of the huts along the Gotemba route have collapsed and we were a little frustrated to learn at the 5th station that the hourly buses had since been replaced with a twice daily bus service! At 12pm and 3pm. (Shouldn't this be marked at the start of the path at the summit??) We reached the 5th station at around 9am, and were exhausted. We didn't feel like waiting for three hours for a bus. Luckily, we met another hiker who shared our fate and with his help the three of us were able to hitch-hike to the train station for the ride back to Shinjuku.

Descending down the Sunabashiri (sand-run) on Fuji


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