So, I wanted to write my first post about my Mount Fuji experience. From the perspective of the general public, I would say that there is a common misconception regarding what it is actually like to hike Mount Fuji. The glorified sunrise from the top is usually what’s posted on Instagram and is the only thing people see, but there is so much more to this adventure than just the highlights. So.. Here we go!
Wow. Fuji was quite the experience, and definitely not what I had anticipated. Before I moved to Japan, Allister and I were already talking about hiking Fuji together (aka 7 months ago). It was a MUST-DO bucket list item that we never actually imagined we’d end up doing… but we did.
Before the Hike
Allister came to visit me for two weeks in the beginning of August, and we had SO much planned. Because we ended up going to Shanghai and Hong Kong, we almost didn’t think we’d have enough time to do the Fuji hike. By the time we got back from our international adventures, all the weather sites said that there were supposed to be thunderstorms every day. At first, this was pretty alarming and I thought hiking in bad conditions would be risky, but then I thought, “whatever, let's go anyway because the weather app lies to me everyday.”
The day after we left Hong Kong, we woke up in the morning and made the decision to start the trek up the mountain. Coming from the Tokyo area, the easiest (and cheapest) way to get to Fuji 5th Station is to take a direct bus from Shinjuku. I was getting so excited and about to buy tickets online when I saw that they were SOLD OUT. I guess I should’ve anticipated that because it was a Saturday, but it still broke my heart a little when I saw that. We could still get there, we just had to take the train to Kawaguchiko station, and then take another bus up to the 5th station after that.
We started to head to the station at about 2:30pm. We had stopped at the international store to get some non-perishable snacks like Nature Valley bars, Superfood Mix, Nuts, and maybe some Andes Chocolates. We were also blessed enough to have bought Cliff bars and Quest bars from Camp Zama (an American Military Base) the week before, so we were READY. We had our bags packed up with snacks, layers, and head lamps, and were eager to get to Fuji so we could escape the blistering heat and suffocating humidity (SOS). At this point we had all our necessities and were ready to get our booties whipped.
When we finally got to Fuji 5th Station (which is 2,400m high), we were bright eyed and bushy tailed. We got there, ate some udon noodles and curry rice, and purchased our fuji sticks with the hope of filling them with branded stamps. We were told that we could probably wait till 9pm to start the hike, but we decided to be overachievers and start at 8:30.
The first 10 minutes started off great. The sky had cleared and we could see an abundance of stars that lit up the sky so magically. Because I live near Tokyo, this was the clearest I’ve seen stars since I’ve been in Japan. It was one of those moments when you just look up and feel grateful to be alive. On top of this, we also witnessed a partial lunar eclipse and the biggest meteor shower in our lifetime. Because it has been so hazy, this would have been impossible to see from underneath the summer clouds.
As time went on, the ground became shiftier and the trail became steeper. It wasn’t as easy as before, but we weren’t necessarily discouraged yet. We were constantly motivating each other to keep going. There were a few times when it was evident that the air was getting thin and it became difficult for us to continue. That was usually when we would take a second to pull over from the trail and get ourselves together again. A few times, we would just hold each others hands and take slow, simultaneous breaths together. This was good for both our lungs, and overall morale as a hiking team (team Alleyster). When things got hard, we’d simply look up to see how far the next station was. Every station we saw in the distance was a goal for us. From the previous station, the next one was just a speck of light in the distance with even smaller specks migrating through. It is strange to think that we were just one of those specks to someone else looking up. I would compare it to a bioluminescent ant hill.
It wasn’t until about 2:00am when we started to struggle a bit more. We had been climbing boulders and dodging annoying tourists all night, but when we got to the 8th station, progress was going at turtle speed. I haven’t been in a car in so long, so I’ve forgotten what traffic was like. I felt like I was stuck on the 5 freeway during rush hour again. Yes, it was that bad. Everyone had the common goal of getting to the top of Fuji, but everyone had their own pace and the congestion of people made it worse. There were older people shifting around with their hiking sticks, and little kids having trouble climbing on the rocks. Allister and I tried our best to bypass everyone we could by taking riskier directions around the mountain, but sometimes it was just impossible.
Note to self (and anyone else): Never hike Fuji on a weekend if it can be avoided.
What could have possibly taken us 30 minutes, took us 2 hours. This part was the hardest for reasons that were mental rather than physical. The mountain is shaped in a way where you can never truly see the top. There were MULTIPLE times when we thought we were almost there, and ended up heartbroken when the anthill continued above us. We eventually had to convince ourselves it would never end so we would be happy when it did.
When we could ACTUALLY see the top, a flame was lit under our booties to just finish this sucker. At this point we had been going uphill for 7 HOURS, and 2 of those hours we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. Walking through the final tori gate at the top was the most accomplishing thing I have ever done. At that point, we had finally made it!
The next step was to weasel our way in to find a spot for sunrise viewing. We found a little ledge that was perfect. It was a bit cramped, but at least we had front row seats because there was a restricted area in front of us… WHICH APPARENTLY MEANS NOTHING. This one guy waltzes over with his giant tripod, giant camera, and giant backpack and decides to set up in the spot that is clearly a restricted access zone (aka right in front of me). Who does he think he is?! I asked him politely if he could please take off his backpack, and thank goodness he was an angel who complied. He even sat in the dirt so I could see behind him. I mean, he shouldn’t have been there anyway, but that’s beside the point.
4:30am was the time the sun began to rise and the sky became full of pinks, oranges, yellows, purples, and blues. There were some clouds, but not enough to block the beauty of the sunrise we were about to witness. It's difficult to come up with the words to describe what we saw. The beauty of the image seemed to numb my body completely. That could have also been due to the fact that it was freezing cold up there. Maybe. A picture is worth 1,000 words, but even the pictures I have are nothing in comparison to the vision that was in front of our eyes (but I'll include pictures anyway). Enormous crowds were trying to capture the sunrise and it was amazing to see. Aside from the sky itself, it was astounding to see thousands of people all come together and enjoy the same beautiful sight after an exhausting hike up.
Down the Mountain
After the sunrise came to a close, we went to a little place that was selling hot food. We shared miso udon noodles, and I wanted it mainly so I could hold the bowl and thaw my hands. We finished as fast as we could and were hoping to just speed our way down the mountain.
We heard that the way down would take half the amount of time. That means it should be easier, right? If you thought the answer was right, I'm sorry. You are wrong. Although a lot shorter, keep in mind what you’re working with. By this time, we have hiked for 7 hours up a mountain AND have not slept in 22 hours. I was a very fragile being at this point. The tiredness hadn’t really hit me, but I was just craving the moment when we could just sit down and never have to get up again. I had not used a bathroom since we left the 5th station, and I had not brushed my teeth or washed my face since the morning we left. If you’re thinking, “oh there’s bathrooms, so you can brush your teeth and wash up there.” I’m sorry, you’re also wrong. There are “bathrooms” but there is no running water on the top of Mount Fuji and there are literally signs saying you can’t brush your teeth. Yep. And the one time I did use a bathroom, I immediately regretted it out of pure disgust (you also must pay 200 yen to use it and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re about to explode).
I underestimated how tired my legs would be after hiking for so long. By the time we were making our way down, our legs were weak, cold and about to endure a lot of impact with the Earth. At some points, I considered rolling down the mountain instead. Anything was better than using my legs and letting my poor knees wither away to nothing. On top of all of this, it also started raining. We didn’t mind it though, we just wanted to be home (which we did end up getting to by 3pm.
After the Hike
Will I ever do this again? No. Would I suggest that anyone do it if they can? Yes. There were challenges along the way of course, but some of the best adventures have the biggest hurdles. In my opinion, I found it worth it. Even if someone were to have read my future afterthoughts to me, I would have still wanted to do the climb. I was aching and feeling my muscles burn the next day, but that’s just a sign that I completed my goal and HIKED MOUNT FUJI. It was a great time, but the best part truly was having the most amazing man by my side. That would be Allister if you didn’t already know. Through this experience, I gained a lot as a person, but we also gained a lot as a couple. We were there for each other through the whole thing and the best part was sharing the chocolates every time we stopped at a station. I’m so happy I did it, and I’m even happier that we did it together. We made it up and down in one piece no matter how hard it got, and this was the the majority of the adventure. A beautiful sunrise was just the cherry on top.
“It was an adventure that defined both beauty and torture.” Thank you Allister for the inspirational quote.