Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain at 3,776 metres, and is considered sacred by many who climb her. There‘s a limited climbing season, with routes only officially open between July and August, meaning that the trails can be very busy during this period.
The preparation and planning for the climb up Fuji is almost as important as the day itself.
I had read many blogs and information about how people climb Mount Fuji, and there are two options. The first is to complete the whole climb in one day, starting off early and arriving at the summit by midday, followed by the descent, hopefully arriving back at the 5th station before dark. However, after our failure with Mount Kinabulu, I was less than enthusiastic with this approach. The alternative is to start at lunch time on day 1, climb to the 7th or 8th stations, stay in a mountain hut, and then complete the ascent the following morning in time for the sunrise. This seemed much more relaxing to me.
I booked our transport with Highway Buses, costing 2,700 YEN each way, departing at 9.40am from Shinjuku. For the return bus, my advice is to book a later ticket than expected because you can always change to an earlier bus is required but you cannot get on a later bus if you miss your reservation. Also, I booked a nights’ accommodation with Fujisan Hotel, who have English-speaking staff answering the telephones. The hotel is definitely not a hotel (more on that later) and is very expensive at 8,700 YEN per person per night, including dinner and breakfast.
Being long-term travellers, mainly based in the hot South East Asian countries, we had minimal in the way of appropriate kit, travelling with only basic running trainers and limited warm clothing. However, our plan was to layer-up as much as possible, taking multiple t-shirts and our one fleece jacket. Also, we bought poncho-style rain coats from Don Quixote, and I ended up completing my look with a black bin bag! Taking enough clothing is really important, not for the hike itself, but it gets seriously cold whilst waiting for the sunrise. Additional bits of equipment that we decided to buy were a head torch, for the 2am hike, and a walking stick, to help with the terrain. I have to admit that the Japanese know how to dress in style for outdoor events, but you really don’t need the latest equipment, as long as you can stay dry and warm.
We arrived at 5th station of the Yoshida Trail at about 12.30pm, stopping for lunch for 30 minutes to try and acclimatise to the altitude, before setting off for the hike. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side, and it decided to rain heavily for the first hour of our climb. Fully kitted out in all our waterproof gear and only a thick film of mist for a view, we started the climb with our heads down, wondering what we’d let ourselves in for.
However, before long our bodies had heated up nicely, the rain had lessened and we were slowly starting to see our surroundings. The slopes of Mount Fuji aren’t the prettiest, being mostly grey/black gravel, with the occasional patch of greenery. Our aim was not to rush, hoping this would minimise any problems from altitude sickness. We made good progress though, passing through the 6th station, which is relatively close to the 5th, and then reaching the 7th. From here, mountain huts are present, starting at the 7th and continuing through to the original 8th station. My advice would be to pick the highest mountain hut possible to stay in because it’s not the climb the first day that’s difficult, it’s the climb in the following morning that’ll seem hard.
The path on the way up is well made, being either graduated with steps or with big stones. This makes the climb comfortable, as the ground surface is easy to grip. We reached our mountain hut, the Fujisan Hotel, at about 4.30pm, with the sky clearing to reveal a beautiful blue above the cloud layer. It was an amazing sight to be above the clouds, with them stretching out for miles around. We were pleased to have made it to our accommodation, but equally pleased with the view.
The accommodation is basic, and the food is edible and filling. I knew beforehand that the sleeping would be communal, in sleeping bags lined up next to each other. However, I don’t think anyone can quite prepare for the close quarters that you are expected to sleep in. I honestly slept half the night with my right shoulder over my neighbour’s, and he regularly rolled over very closely into my side. Unfortunately, the snug sleeping position means that very little sleep is had. Another slightly irksome thing about the mountain hut is that even though you are paying a lot of money to stay the night, you still have to pay 200 YEN each time you want to use the toilet, which didn’t even have anywhere to wash your hands. Oh well, I guess you are nearly on top of a mountain after all.
After very little sleep, we were woken at 2am to complete the climb to the summit and see the sunrise. The final climb is slow, not due to the steepness, but due to the sheer number of people on the trail. You have to patiently wait for people to move forward, and you can get a little cold whilst waiting. The real difficulty with the climb is the problem with altitude sickness. Lee was definitely feeling the worse for wear, with a throbbing headache and finding the climb difficult.
However, we slowly passed through the remaining Torii gates and summated at about 4am, relieved to have made it. We layered up with all our remaining clothing and tucked into the breakfast provided. We were lucky with the weather on the second day, with no rain and a relatively clear sky. This meant that we could watch the sun slowly light up the sky, scattering oranges and reds throughout the clouds. It was very pretty to see, and with the tiredness and cold, we were very glad to see the warming razes of light break through the cloud.
Before the descent, we walked to the crater edge and peered over and had a quick hot coffee to warm us through (you won't get long to sitdown inside though, with "buy something or get out!" being the mantra of the cafe staff). The descent follows an alternative path to the ascent, with the path surface being very different. For the majority of the way down, the path is loose gravel that is difficult to walk over quickly without slipping. This made the descent slower than expected, and going from station 8 to 7 seemed especially tedious. However, the view all the way down to the 7th was lovely, with the sun slowly rising higher in the sky above the clouds, and breaks in the cloud layer allowing us to see the ground below. I really appreciated these views, it was so special to be that high up, looking down for once.
When we arrived at the 7th, most of the hard work was over. The 6th station quickly arrives, and the path to the 5th station is flatter and easier to walk on. All that was left was to have a well deserved ice-cream when we got back.
For us, there was minimal recovery time needed from climbing Mount Fuji. We had nice hot baths when we got back to Tokyo, unfortunately no onsen was available in our hotel. I had slightly stiff calves for the following few days, I think mainly from the downhill section, but nothing in comparison to how we felt after climbing Mount Kinabulu. For us, the hardest part of climbing Mount Fuji was the rapid change in altitude that made us slightly dizzy at times and caused headaches.
After our climb, Lee and I had different opinions about how Fuji should be climbed. Lee would have definitely preferred to have stayed in the hotel located at the 5th station the night before the climb, allowing the ascent and descent to be done in the same day. This would have meant that the 2am wake-up call would not have been required, and we hopefully would have acclimatised better to the altitude change making the experience more pleasurable. However, I would still do the climb as we did it this time, with the overnight on the mountain, as splitting the climb into two makes it more manageable for someone who isn’t super fit. I agree that 2am is too early to get up, but the sunrise is also something memorable to see.
How did you climb Fuji? What did you think? Let us know.