Of all the traveling I’ve done in Japan, Mt. Fuji probably had the most room for error. It’s a long climb, where resources and time are limited, and it can be quite dangerous in the wrong conditions. Having said that, from my previous entry, it’s safe to conclude that I was ultimately successful. That doesn’t mean, though, that I (we) didn’t make a few whoopsies along the way…
-Assuming I wasn’t going to buy anything. Let me explain. After talking to friends about their climbing experience, I already knew that I was in for some high prices on the mountainside. A cup of instant ramen noodles is a hefty $9 and hot chocolate will run you about $4. Of course, we brought our own supplies, but the desire to drink hot chocolate at 2am in freezing temperatures outweighed the desire to preserve the integrity of my bank account.
-Not enough warm clothes. I’d like to start this bullet by reminding you that I am from sunny Florida. That said, I once lived in Vermont and Colorado, so the fact that I didn’t layer enough is somewhat embarrassing. What likely tripped me up the most was that at the base of Fuji, it was about 90 degrees (as it was July). At the top, it was 32 degrees. It’s really hard to prepare for both conditions in a 24 hour span. When we reached the top, we had about a 3 hour wait, which is when it started to get really bad. Our group practically laid on top of each other in an effort to stay warm. When we started our descent, it was more out of concern for that fact that I had started turning blue.
-Assuming that altitude sickness wouldn’t be a problem. I didn’t get altitude sickness, but two of the four experienced it (to some degree). Of course, initially, it didn’t occur to me that if someone else go it I would be effected. But, once the morale went down as we went up, it started to get mentally challenging as well as physically challenging. Climbing Fuji was definitely a group effort, and you need every member giving it their best. My group gave it their all, despite health conditions and temperatures. Be sure to climb with a similar lot.
-Beating the crowd. This might be one of the best decisions I’ve made in my 23 years of life on earth. We arrived to begin the ascent 3 hours ahead of the typical start time. This was brilliant of us. The mountainside was eerily deserted, we had free roam of all the rest stations as we went, and there was always time to stop and take a break. As a photographer, this also meant that we arrived early enough to take lots of pictures of other climbers and the slow rise of the sun. Oh, and we had front row seats at the top. If you climb, I highly recommend the early start. Just heed the warm clothes warning.
-Bringing snacks and 2 liters of water. My group packed their bags full of energy-boosting snacks (nuts, dried fruits, etc). We also brought our own two-liter bottles. A small bottle from one of the vending machines at the stations is about $6. I recommend you lug a big water with you as well. Mine lasted the entire ascent and descent.
-The run-ski decent method. When climbing, there are a few routes you can take. We took the most common route on our ascent, which is narrow, windy and rocky. Another route is very broad and resembles a sloping gravel driveway. We took this on the way down. I’d heard prior to climbing that descending Fuji takes about half the time as ascending. I couldn’t really figure out why, until I started. Essentially, it’s like skiing with your feet. The gravel is deep and slippery. Many people will run down the mountain, taking large leaps, and letting the gravel carry their foot along for a second or two, then leaping again. Not only was this method super fast, but it was really entertaining too.
Climbing Fuji is one of the greatest things I’ve done to date. Granted, it didn’t go as perfectly as I would’ve liked. Although, as you can see, mistakes and successes evened themselves out.
For any prospective climber, take my experience into account, but remember that there is a lot that can go wrong. One big common mistake I’ve heard from other Fuji climbers is not checking the weather. Countless friends tell me of typhoons that crop up out of nowhere, resulting in a rescue mission for mountain climbers. If and when you climb Fuji, check the weather reports very carefully. Not to mention, as the point of climbing is to see the sunrise, if you climb on a day with high clouds, you won’t see that a sunrise.
Before climbing, I didn’t realize what a challenge this mountain actually is. It was grueling at some points, and remarkably easy at others. It’s possible to climb it without being someone who gets regular exercise, but it will make it harder, I promise. On a similar note, don’t let the daunting task put you off. Anyone with the right attitude and preparation can do it!