3776 – Mt. Fuji: From Suruga Bay to Kengamine Peak.
August 16, 2013 1 Comment
Mt. Fuji is a well-known symbol of Japan and frequently seen in photographs and on television whenever Japanese tourism is promoted. It is located in the middle of Japan on the main island and is only a couple hours south-west of Tokyo. It is an active volcano that stands 3776 meters above sea level and although it’s last eruption was around 1707, scientist assume that an eruption might be imminent due to the Tohoku earthquake of 2011. This is speculative at best, but scientists are keeping a steady eye on Mt. Fuji. Recently, Mt. Fuji was added to the World Heritage List as a Cultural site on June 22nd, 2013. This has caused a surge of tourists from around the world to visit the mountain and participate in this historic event. … And I managed to climb up and over it!
Like all adventures, you have to start somewhere. For me, this was all the way from the ocean itself. As I mentioned in my previous post, my motivation for starting from the ocean was inspired by the Sea to Summit group. Wanting to make my climb memorable, I printed out one of the maps that they followed and arrived at Fuji City late into the evening of Sunday the 11th of August. I checked into my hotel and headed out to get some supplies from the local convenience store. First on the agenda was to get some water from the ocean to take to the top of Mt. Fuji. In order to cut off a few hours from my trip, I decided to knock that out immediately, then get back to the hotel, eat dinner, and get some rest before departing at 2am on Monday.
1:30AM – I woke up and hopped into the shower and made my final checks. In the end, my backpack weighed in at about 15kg. I was starting to wonder if I had over-packed, but I figured it was better to over-pack than be caught unprepared. I checked out of the hotel promptly at 2AM and started to walk through the city in the dark towards Mt. Fuji. At this point, I was relying on GPS as I would not be following the guide I printed out until I reached the 1st checkpoint; a 7-11 convenience store before hiking along the 24 highway. Luckily for me, the Perseid meteor showers were at their peak this night and I was able to see a ton of shooting stars along the way.
3:41AM – Two hours later, I arrived at my first checkpoint. I went inside to pick up several onigiri, a sandwich, and picked up a few 500ml bottled waters and stuffed them into my backpack. I sat down in the parking lot and ate the sandwich for breakfast, taking my time as the backpack was already starting to feel very heavy. After my break, I took a few minutes to repack my backpack and re-adjust the straps to make sure the weight was evenly distributed. Once that was done with, I pulled out the map and headed on my way once again.
4:40AM – Route 24 road. This winded back and forth through the southern forest of Mt. Fuji for what seemed to be forever. I was glad that the sun decided to come out as it was getting rather creepy walking around in complete darkness. The road itself seemed well maintained, but there was hardly any room on the shoulder of the road to walk on. I spent most of the time moving from the left to the right side of the road to make sure that oncoming drivers would clearly be able to see me. It was a little after this point when I began to wonder if I had bitten more than I could chew with this long hike, but at this moment a car drove past me and people from inside opened their windows and yelled out “がんばれ！” (“You can do it!”) to me and it rekindled my motivation.
5:11AM – I made it to the next checkpoint from the map. A sole drink vending machine and an egg… vending machine. I took a closer look but it looked like the egg machine was either out of season, or stopped altogether. I took this time to chug a drink from the machine and toss my other empty bottles in the recycling bin. One of my worries was that I would have to carry a lot of trash with me, so I took every opportunity to lighten my load whenever possible.
6:12AM – The 3rd checkpoint of the journey. I was pretty tired at this point and just wanted to lay down for a good while. Luckily this place has a bench and a table, so I unpacked a few snacks and had my 2nd breakfast for the day. This place is right before the Children’s Kingdom/Land amusement park. Not hard to miss, but one of the few places you can sit down and relax while taking this path up.
7:20AM – I looked up as the trees parted for a bit and saw this awesome view of Mt. Fuji in the background. I was surprised to see a speck of snow/ice still on the mountain, even in the dead of August. Though, to be honest, after 5 or so hours of hiking, it was very demotivating to see how much more further I needed to go. In my mind, I just reminded myself that I just needed to focus on getting to the next checkpoint and keep going from there.
7:45AM – Reached the next checkpoint. There are bathrooms here along with a map letting you know where you are, as well as displaying the many trails and roads that run through the area. I didn’t stay here for long as I wanted to maintain my pace and arrive at the Fujinomiya 5th station by the afternoon.
7:58AM – Not shortly after leaving the previous checkpoint, I noticed that I could cut through some small trails and roads and cut off a good 30 minutes off my trip. I started off at this trail and winded between the many bed and breakfast hotels in the area. There were a LOT. Seems like this is a place where fancy people come out to unwind, or retired people come to live out the remainder of their lives. I was a little worried though, as at this point, I was not following the guide and my GPS connection was beginning to drop off here and there. Luckily, after making a few turns or so, I was back on the normal route.
8:46AM – On the final road that I have to follow on the way to the 5th station. The Mt. Fuji Skyline. My pace had started to slow down a bit and I started to get worried at the big “￥” in the middle of the road on my map. I began to panic at the thought of running across a toll area and being forced by the staff to turn around and go 7 hours out of my way to get to the 5th station. Turns out, there is a toll road… and the attendant just smiled at me and pointed me to the correct road to take in order to continue my hike. The sigh of relief was incredible like you wouldn’t believe. Soon after, I passed by all the visitor’s parked cars as people got out to go to the Grinpa amusement park, looking in wonder at the foreigner with a heavy backpack hiking alongside the road. Once the amusement park was out of view I stopped at a place on the side of the road and had something to eat. By this time, I had already developed blisters on both feet and my shoulders began to ache pretty badly. I took about a half an hour break feeling pretty defeated and decided that in order to complete this, I needed to focus on only the hike, so I put away my camera and packed everything in my back. Next stop, 5th station.
1:45PM – There wasn’t much but more and more winding roads along the way. I was exhausted, but relieved to have reached another checkpoint. I spent my time catch my breath and checking out the shop here, as well as restock on some water and snacks. In hindsight, I should have had something to eat as well, but aside from the exhaustion, I felt fine. At this point, things were starting to reach theater prices. Drinks from vending machines were at 300yen a pop. Also at the 5th station was a souvenir shop with lots of breads, chocolates, trinkets, keychains, and more. Not in the mood to carry more with me up the mountain, I declined on buying any souvenirs until I reached either the top or the Subaru Line 5th Station on the other side. I spent about 30 minutes resting up and relaxing before starting back up the mountain.
2:19PM – That look of confidence I had… did not last very long. After getting my hiking stick branded, I headed out to the real trail up the mountain and asked one of the police officers if they could snap a picture for me. This is where the REAL climb starts. 2400meters above sea level and 12 hours after my initial departure. I was still making decent time, as my plan was to arrive at the 8th station by sunset, in order to sleep at one of the rest areas, then restart my hike at 1am in order to make it to the summit before sunrise.
2:40PM – Station 6, 2493m up. The trail so far was fairly easy and uneventful. As soon as I approached the shop, one of the attendants asked if I wanted a brand for my hiking stick. Forgetting about grabbing a brand from the 5th station, I obliged and added the 6th station brand to my stick. My only brand prior to the 6th station was taken while I passed by Mizugatsuka Park, where I bought my stick in the first place. I spent some time here conversing with the attendant and noticed quite a few people resting before heading up to the 7th station. Looking back at the trail between the 5th and 6th station, I was stumped as to why they would be tired…
3:33PM – Ok, this trail was no joke. It was steep. It was riddled with rocks and small boulders. I kept a decent pace but the lack of a real meal was really catching up to me. I stopped every now and then to take a break, taking the opportunity to snap a few pictures as people passed by me on the way down. The thing about climbing Mt. Fuji is how much it messes with your perception of distance. As you can see in the upper-left of this picture, the New 7th station looms in the distance. It “looks” close, but it sure as hell isn’t.
4:10PM – 7th Station, 2780meters up. It took longer than expected to make it here, but I knew if I kept going, I could at least make it to the 8th station before the sun fully went down. Since the 7th station had a few vending machines and possibly one of the cleaner of the toilets I’ve seen (OK, I judged them by the rank-smell that came out of them) thus far, I took this opportunity to take a long break. I started off by heading into the bathroom and changing my clothes. At this elevation, the temperature was noticeably colder than previously experienced. Adding to the cold, the sweat-drenched clothes I was wearing were only turning me into a walking popsicle. While in the privacy of the restroom, I also decided to do some ghetto first-aid to the blisters that had burst earlier on the hike and to address the new ones that were starting to form. I bit the side of my cheek as I wiped my feet clean with an alcohol wipe and bandaged them up the best I could. Tossed on my last fresh pair of socks and slowly put my boots back on. Once I was done changing and repacking my backpack, I headed into the hut and grabbed a bite to eat, then headed back up the trail.
6:00PM – Old 7th Station, 3000meters up. I was going painfully slow at this point. The easy trail from the 6th to 7th station was now replaced by the crag of Nickelodeon’s Guts. Everywhere you looked was a sharp rock waiting to eat away at your shins the second you missed a step. Instead of steps, it got to the point where you were almost literally rock climbing half the time, mixed with loose gravel that would make your knees say “Hello!” to the ground. I took quite a few breaks on the way and wondered if it was the lack of oxygen was starting to affect me, but I think I was just physically tired after 14 hours of non-stop hiking/walking. Either way, I made it to the old 7th station. One more checkpoint down. This place had a rest area, bathroom, and sold a few snacks and drinks. Wanting to get rid of more weight in my bag, I ate some more snacks and finished up one of my bottles of water. I rested here for a good long time. I plopped onto one of the benches and just people-watched while chit chatting with the local attendants about various things. After a while though, I knew I had to keep going as the sun was already setting and I needed to push onward to the 8th station.
7:22PM – 8th Station, 3250meters above sea level. The sun has gone down and the moon has come up and now, I was sipping some water from my cup. Originally, I planned to make it to the 8th station by 5PM in order to get a good 8 hours of sleep before having to depart at 1AM to the peak. Nope! My body was having none of that. I was truly exhausted at this point. I had just missed dinner at the rest area, so I set everything down and quietly ate my dinner of Soy Joy bars, a Calorie Mate, Ritz Crackers, and water. After finishing up, I repacked everything up again and asked for a “mat” to sleep on. I paid my 5,000yen fee and was guided to a sleeping bag sized area in the middle of the room. I slid my camera tripod to the corner as much as I could, hung up my backpack, and laid down, hoping I would wake up refreshed at 1AM for the hike to the summit.
Tuesday 4:45AM – Alas, it was for nothing. I barely got any rest at all. There are signs outside each of the stations requesting that people try to keep quiet on the way up. Now I know why. Between the talking and laughter of the hikers outside passing through and the people inside the hut sneezing, sniffling, coughing, and kids whining, I couldn’t sleep a wink. Soon enough, 1AM rolled around. I made the painful decision to stay in “bed”. I would miss the summit sunrise, but at least I could recoup enough strength to be able to finish the climb itself. For the remainder of the night, I tried my best to get some sleep, but I couldn’t. The pulsating pain from my feet and people exiting the rest area kept me from sleeping. Time passed quickly, before I knew it the attendant turned on all the lights and walked around, announcing that 4AM had come. Defeated, I packed up and headed outside to wait with the others as the sun peaked over the horizon of the 8th station. I felt rather sad watching it crest over the low clouds in the far off distance. I was cold, my body ached, and I had no one with me to share the moment with. No time for self pity though, I haven’t finished climbing and I needed to at least accomplish that.
6:03AM – 9th Station, 3460meters up. I didn’t depart the 8th station until around 5AM and I took my time heading up. The wind was blowing at a decent rate at this point, not enough to knock you over, but enough to make you watch your step. As for the temperature, it got rather cold throughout the night. I would venture to say that it was at about 9celsius or so at this time.
6:03AM – You can’t deny that view. Even though I was still tired, I couldn’t help but admire the scenery. Standing above the sea of clouds. I couldn’t even begin to guess where I started all of this from. Turning around, you could see the peak of Mt. Fuji in the distance. It “looks” close, yeah, but it’s never the case. Knowing that it would be quite a few more hours before I reached the top at my pace, I decided to go inside the restaurant here and order some 1,000yen Curry rice. Best. Curry Rice. Ever. (Well at that point in the climb). It was expensive, it was a rather um… small portion, but I was so thankful breakfast wasn’t going to be another Soyjoy bar or Calorie Mate. It made for a good breakfast, along with the coffee I bought at the store. Renewed with actual food and energy, I started the ascent again.
7:36AM – 9.5 Station. 3590meters above sea level. This is it, the last station before the top. Just a little bit to go now. According to the sign, it takes 30 minutes to get to the top from here. Knowing my pace, that means I might reach the top by 9AM. Depending on how crowded the mountain is, it can get a little congested here as there are a lot of areas that only allow 1 person to ascend/descend safely. Either way, let’s wrap this up!
8:36AM – The Summit. MADE IT! Well, not really. You see that peak in the distance there? That is Kengamine Peak. 3776 meters above sea level. I made the summit, but not the peak. I took this opportunity to rest up, get a stamp at the shrine in the center of the picture and head to the crater. At the crater, I took out the bottle of ocean water I collected so long ago and not-so-ceremoniously poured it out, returning it from where it once came. So anti-climatic, huh? As much as I wanted to document more, by the time I hit the 7th station yesterday, all I wanted to focus on was climbing. I was too tired to film/take more pictures. I frankly didn’t care at this point much. Either way, one of my goals was achieved. After resting up a little more, I started the final ascent.
10:19AM – The Peak. 3776meters above sea level. Above the sea of clouds and at the highest point in Japan. After waiting in line with everyone else wanting to take pictures, I asked another hiker to take mine as I posed next to the marker. 32 hours, 50km or so later, I made it to the top. By this time, I couldn’t even feel the weight of my backpack anymore, I was psyched. After this, I began heading to the Yoshida side of the trail. I picked up a few souvenirs and had a beef bowl for lunch. I took some more pictures and in the afternoon, began my journey off the mountain to meet up with a bus at the Subaru Line 5th station. I had conquered the tallest mountain in Japan, now it was time to go home.
Overall, it was an amazing experience. I got to realize one of my childhood dreams as well as knocking out a trip to Mt. Fuji that normal people would be hesitant to ever try. I got to talk to a lot of interesting and kind people along the way and have all these pictures and more to share with family, friends, and the Kanto Kitsune readers. There is more to the story however. I have included a gallery of all the pictures I took with my Canon 5D mkIII, which includes the trip down to the 5th station on the other side. I documented the trip with my cell phone as well… … but unfortunately, it was stolen from under my nose at my home station as I drowsily took one last break before heading home. You live and learn I guess. Either way, physical items can be replaced easily, but these memories will stay with me forever.
Overall Distance Traveled: About 70km by foot.
Time Taken: 38 hours from ascent to descent.
Backpack: 15kgs. – Goretex Raincoat and pants – 3 Pairs of socks – 3 dry undershirts – 2 hiking shirts – Dead Canon Camcorder – Canon 5DmkIII – Extra batteries – Manfrotto Tripod – 4 500ml bottles of water – bag of snacks: Soy Joy, Calorie Mates, Ritz Crackers – Down Jacket – Portable Charger for Phone – First Aid Kit – Tissues and Wipes.
Trips to the restroom: 1. In order to change. Either I was super dehydrated, or I managed my water intake perfectly.
Meals: ￥1,000 Curry Rice at the 9th station and ￥1,000 Beef Bowl at the summit
Room and board: 8th station ￥5,000 for rest with no dinner/breakfast
Here is a link to my exact footsteps and the trails that I took to reach the top and to the other side:
If you have any questions about the trip or advice, feel free to leave a comment or contact me on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/KantoKitsune