Posted by: leospurr | July 13, 2009

My Head in the Clouds

Yep, with just a few more days left in the Land of the Rising Sun, I finally got to watch a sunrise from Mt. Fuji!  As with most of my adventures in Japan, this climb has only left me with a burning desire to do it again.  I must give a shout out to my fabulous colleagues who have treated me like a princess this year.  Most every whim and desire of mine has become a personal challenge for someone in the class.  This time, we had a group of 12 people (including 4 kids!) meet up to with me to share in this adventure. 

The mountain is divided up into several altitude “stations”.  There are tens of tour groups that take visitors to the 5th station of Mt. Fuji.  Just do an internet search, and you’ll be innundated with the choices.  Our tour started at Shinjuku train station with a 3hr  bus ride to Mt. Fuji’s 5th station (2300m) where we bought our walking sticks, had lunch, and prepped for a noon climb start time.  About 5 hours later, we reached the 8th station (3200m).  Several people fell victim to altitude sickness, and fortunately they sell aerosol-like cans of oxygen at most every rest station.  I’m not sure if its really altitude sickness, or dehydration.  I didn’t really see people drinking very much water, but the sound of people sucking on those oxygen cans was deafening!  Think of hundreds of asthmatics gasping for their inhalers and you get the idea.  Strangely or psychologically, I did feel a bit light- headed around 2500m, but took several deep breaths, drank a ton of water and didn’t feel a thing the rest of the trip.  The first five hours was fairly easy going.  The pace was slow enough (due to hundreds of people being on the trail) that if you are in decent shape it is quite enjoyable.  The particular trail that we took (Yoshida trail – there are four others around the mountain) is cut in a zigzag pattern so that you are not climbing straight up.  Along the way, there are mountain huts that sell food, water, and sleeping nooks.  Make that, sleeping crannies.  At our mountain hut, four grown people were assigned to the space of a double bed.  It was quite hilarious, cramped, a bit stinky, but all part of the experience.  After a five-hour hike, our dinner of curry rice with hamburger patty was the best meal I’ve had in ages.   Just a note of caution, the huts are all very spartan.  There is no running water, the potties are co-ed (takes a bit of practice to not sheepishly stare at men in their full glory at the urinals) and cost about a dollar per use – make sure to bring lots of yen coins.

Our guide for the first part of the hike recommended we leave at 2am in order to reach the summit for the 4:30am sunrise – the ultimate goal.  Yeah, right.  The guide neglected to factor in that we’d be going for the ultimate goal along with several thousand other goal setters.  Imagine trying to get through a turnstyle at Harajuku station on a Sunday afternoon.  Yes, it was that bad.   So, what really should have taken maybe 1.5 hours, took nearly 4 hours!  Add to that it was COLD!  There was still snow on the ground, a biting wind, and barely any body movement.  Fortunately I borrowed a friend’s fluffy coat who had climbed Fuji last year and knew the deal.  Although we missed the sunrise at the summit, we were on the east side of the mountain, so still had a fabulous view of the new day dawning.  Sunrise be damned, we trucked it up to the summit, climbing more aggressively – i.e. started passing people outside of the prescribed marked trail.  Probably a bit rude, but we had a bus to catch back down at the 5th station! 

Due to time contraints, we only spent about 30mins at the summit, then began our 4-hr descent.  The trail going down is separate from the trail going up, and much more slippery.  Suspend your beliefs one more time and imagine skiing down a huge mountain, but without skiis, and no snow – just glass-like shards of volcanic rock and pumice.   I fell several times coming down, and my surgery-scarred knees took a beating.  Thank God for “glucosamine chondroitin”.  I don’t feel a thing today (day after the climb).

I have read and heard stories of people doing this hike with flip-flops, old tennis shoes, and wearing nothing but shorts and a windbreaker.  FOOLS-all of them!!  I didn’t see any flip-flops, but saw several climbers in tennis shoes.   They were the ones sitting alongside the trail dumping volcanic rock out of their shoes every 10meters.  I also saw RUNNERS!  Daggone miracles of nature were running up (and down) the trail.  Granted I didn’t actually see any of them at the summit, but they were pretty impressive at the lower altitudes, regardless.

We had a couple of hours at a nearby onsen after finishing the hike, and all enjoyed refreshing beers and great camaraderie.  This has been an amazing year for the boys and I.  As I type this, the movers are here packing up my worldly belongings.  The end of our adventures in Japan is near, but the memories will never die away.  Particularly, the memory of my first hike up Mt. Fuji will always stay with me – even after I do it again.  There is a saying in Japan, “He who climbs Mt. Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool.”   Call me a fool, then.  Someday I hope to bring David and Chris back when they get older to let them have a shot at this fabulous experience!



  1. Congratulations – look forward to seeing you in person one of these days! Welcome home.

  2. I’ve so enjoyed your time there. Ending upon a true “high” is exactly the way you ought to leave a nation you’vve enjoyed so much! Thanks for bringing us all along!

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