On the 28th and 29th, Tomo and I climbed Mount Fuji along with 16 others and 2 guides. Well, we climbed with thousands, probably, but our group was 18. The trip was organized by the Japan headquarters of my company, so it was a nice excursion for disparate organizations to mingle.
The climb was not easy but everyone made it, although not at the same pace. The elevation of Mt. Fuji is 3776 meters, and I thought that was the highest I had ever been (other than an airplane), but then I looked up the l’Auguille du Midi near Mont Blanc and realized I actually had been higher. But I had gotten there by cable car, so that’s hardly fair.
We met near Tokyo Station at 8:00 am and boarded a chartered bus just for our group. We got to the 5th station on the Kawaguchiko side of the mountain about 11:30 pm for a 1:00 pm start. Our plan was to hike up to the 8th station, spend the night, and then summit in the morning.
We arrived at the Gogome rest house (5th station rest house) at around Noon, and planned on eating lunch there before our assault.
It was pretty crowded, and inside we saw some very zombie-esque people absolutely passed out around the restaurant. It had much of a ski lodge feel, with people tired after a long day of skiing. Except it was Noon. We had a very nice bowl of udon, and I bought walking sticks for Tomo and me. I have never really been a walking stick guy, but people had recommended it and also you can get a pine walking stick and have it branded at the various stations along the way.
Figuring out the lunch vending ticket machine,
And waiting for the foreigners to figure out the lunch ticket vending machine.
Tomo managed to have an ear of corn as well … getting that last little bit of energy before the climb.
Our group set out with our guides, one in the front, one in the rear. We could not help but notice the people staggering up the path as we got started. The path was actually a little bit downhill, so we were merrily rolling along. Our start was at 2305 m. And now, our rest was over.
Here’s Tomo looking fresh and excited. We got that hat in Vegas.
The path started heading up, and by up I mean up. Our group was pretty fresh and we were setting a blistering pace. Our group ranged from 13 years old to 50+ years old, so we had a variety of speeds. One would think the 13 year old would be the slowest. However, I mistakened the 13 year old in our group to be a youngish looking college student. Yikes! He was at least a foot taller than I was at 13. He was definitely the rabbit that everyone was chasing. I kept wondering about the tortoise and the hare, but he never tired the entire trip.
You will never feel alone.
We made it to the 6th station pretty easily. After all, it wasn’t that steep, the altitude, while high, wasn’t extremely high, and we were all excited to get going.
Things got a little tougher between the 6th and 7th station though. Fortunately, the path was one way, so we couldn’t see the people coming off the mountain. Either between the 6th and 7th or 7th and 8th, one of our group started falling back quite a bit. The guides were afraid she was showing the first sign of altitude sickness. She had not been feeling well in the morning, and that was carrying over. Our group slowed a little bit, but the Americans in the group were racing against themselves, so we kept splintering. One guide said he would stay back and make sure she made it up to our resting station.
The president of our Japan subsidiary and her husband. I enjoy this picture – its nice to see executives relaxed.
Getting above the clouds, part of our group is to the left.
When we started we had some clouds, but they occasionally broke and you could see to the peak. As we were hiking, we quickly rose above the clouds and were directly in the sun. I was soaking wet, and of course a backpack never helps to reduce the sweating. Pretty soon after leaving the base station, there is no natural protection from the elements. It is just you, the path, and rocks. You can see the various stations rising above you, but they seem almost toy-like in their size and they seem almost like mirages, because they seem to teasingly stay the same distance away no matter how long you’ve been hiking.
There wasn’t a lot of scenery on the climb.
Our group of 11 scrambled up the mountain, arriving at the hut at about 6:00 pm. The sun had set behind the mountain by that time and the air was just starting to get a chill to it. We were introduced to our sleeping quarters. If that’s what you want to call it. We had 2 upper bays and 2 lower bays. One set of bays was designed to sleep 8 up and 8 below, and the other set was designed to sleep 3 up and 3 below. Because we were foreigners, I guess we got a break and it was determined that 7 could use the 8 person bay. Tomo was a bit shocked, and suggested that 8 may be enough for Japanese, but certainly inadequate for the large gaijin who would soon be bedding down together. The staff was hearing none of that theory, so we guessed we needed to find a way to make it work.
At the 8th station, feeling pretty good that we had made it.
Because the hut serves many people, we were asked to eat right away. I was pretty hungry, and knew that salted sawdust probably would have tasted good. Instead, we had mystery meat curry. Don’t touch that stuff! I was so hungry, I had no problem eating the curry. Most everyone else did too. A round of beer was bought for everyone, although I worried some about beer at altitude. Still, I wasn’t going to continue until 4:30 am, so what the heck?
He’s going to regret this meal later.
Everyone got the same meal.
The sun sets quickly on the mountain, and early.
While we were eating, the remainder of our group arrived. We finished their meal together and then, because of lack of anything else to do, we went to bed. I’m not sure what time it was when we first laid down, maybe 8:00 pm. I was tired, but sleeping at 8:00 pm is not natural for me. I tossed and turned as best I could. I couldn’t really turn and there definitely was no tossing, since I was surrounded by colleagues I had never met before. I tried to sleep on my side as well, because I didn’t want some position-induced snoring to keep everyone awake. Sleeping on my side didn’t really work well though because the “mattress” was so hard that I started developing bruises on the pressure spots. I tried sleeping on my back, but I had no place to put my arms. I was able to sleep in bits though.
About midnight I woke up and thought, “I don’t feel so hot.” About the same time, Tomo woke up and said, “Drink.” Followed by, “I have a headache,” which quickly became, “Can I have an aspirin.” Uh oh. After looking at him scrunch up his face, we decided to get out of bed and get some fresh air. My stomach was dancing and I was not feeling well. I went outside to use the bathroom and was comforted by the cool, fresh air outside the building (not the bathroom). I went back in the hut and Tomo said, “I think I’m going to be sick” and headed out the door. He made it to the bathroom and indeed, he was sick. He came back, not looking any better. I walked to my bag and got the oxygen canister a colleague had given me. Tomo breathed in a little of that air, hoping it would make him feel better. It didn’t and he was sick again.
By this time, it was pretty clear that Tomo had altitude sickness, and there wasn’t going to be anything we could do to make him better other than descend. We sat outside for a while, trying to get some fresh air. Many people start late at night and do the hike in one day – hoping to arrive at the top of the mountain before sunrise so they can catch the sunrise at the very top. We watched the zombies go by – looking down the mountain revealed a steady stream of headlamped people slowly making their way. It was bumper to bumper on the climb and the view really was strange.
As we were sitting there, three Asian Americans walked by, two looking pretty healthy and one literally staggering. The guy in the UCLA sweatshirt said, “Come on, let’s keep going.” I asked the staggering girl if she had a headache and felt nauseous. She did. I told her friends they needed to be careful. We gave her a huff of oxygen and I think they rested a bit.
We both felt refreshed enough to try to go back to sleep. We crawled back into our sleeping warren and somehow we both dozed off until the staff woke us up at 4:00 am. Thankfully and somewhat mysteriously, both Tomo and I felt good enough that we thought we could continue. I felt fine but still worried about Tomo, but he was convinced he was good enough to continue. The hut had prepared a salmon and rice bento box for us as breakfast the night before. After nearly losing my curry dinner at midnight, salmon and rice just didn’t appeal to me. Somehow I managed to eat most of it. The crowd had thinned out a little bit, because we were leaving too late to see the sunrise from the summit. That was a disappointment to some in our group, but for me just succeeding to reach the top was going to be enough.
As we were waiting to leave, we saw two foreigners that we all remarked about later. One was a man with his small dog. Why was a dog on the hike with him? How do dogs do at 11,000 feet after hours of hiking? I don’t think they have the physiology for that. Maybe they do. We saw another bearded white man in a pair of shorts and a tank top making his way. At this time, I had on a t-shirt, a turtleneck, my fleece jacket, gloves, and a stocking cap. What was this guy thinking? One of my fellow hikers later suggested that he was perhaps a philosophy teacher at a third rate Japanese university. Not trying to knock philosophy professors here – maybe he was a math or English teacher.
Getting ready to head out in the morning. We were generally well equipped.
Our group stayed together for about two switchbacks and then of course, split up. The walk was very narrow and we had to scramble over more rocks than I was expecting. It was difficult to go at your own pace, unless your pace was painstakingly slow. However, I didn’t really mind the pace as it allowed me to catch my breath. I tried to pace Tomo up the mountain, so we’d walk a bit and then have a breather at a switchback. We’d pretty regularly pass folks only to be passed by them the next time we took a break.
Early in the morning on our climb.
And still a long road ahead of us.
Looking back on the single file climbing the mountain as we approached the peak.
Looking forward you could see the long line ahead, and just how far the summit was.
As we were climbing there was absolute carnage everywhere, and I actually was worried about some of the people. They seemed absolutely lost. One guy had a completely ashen face and the first time I saw him he was leaning against the wall, having dry heaves. That is always reassuring to witness. Later I saw him staggering along. Another time I saw that he had stopped, sat down, and was shaking uncontrollably. It wasn’t that cold, so I think it was fatigue, shock, altitude sickness, or a combination of all of them. The last time I saw him he was trying to negotiate a step and his leg was shaking quite severely. I hope a guide saw him and helped him. I saw many others passed out along the side of the walk, no doubt trying to get that last bit of energy to make it to the top.
Each hut served as a goal.
As we were continuing our trek the peak the sun began to rise. We stopped as a group, did three “banzai!” and raised our hands in the air, and continued our climb.
At this point, it was clear that Tomo and I would make it to the top, it was just a question of when. I was a bit ahead of Tomo and unfortunately had the oxygen with me. He wasn’t very happy when he reached me as I was waiting for him just below the summit. He finished off the oxygen and we reached the summit.
Almost to the stop. Just 400 meters, or 30 minutes without stopping.
Since I was ahead I had a few pictures snapped of me.
We are just a few steps away from the summit. Tomo still has the oxygen in hand.
I wish I had taken more pictures at the summit. Sometimes it is hard to remember to be a photographer when you are participating in the adventure. The summit though was a little shocking to us with food stands and a guy hawking drinks in English and Japanese. I did take advantage of one of the shops and had some of the best miso soup I’ve probably ever had!
Here we are truly at the summit. Look how high we are.
We walked over to the crater, looked at the big hole, and took a group picture. When I get the picture, I’ll add it to the blog.
One thing that was interesting, that I also forgot to photograph, was that prices correlated to altitude. The higher you were, the more expensive it was. It makes sense of course, but there were some precious Snickers bars found near the summit.
The descent should have been uneventful, but it is so steep and dusty that all hikers are presented with a new challenge. We were after the initial rush from the top, so it wasn’t quite so bad. However, the trail is so steep and the lava is so fine that dust is quickly kicked up. We were covered, and our noses were caked with black dust. Yeah. Many people fell as well. Once again, we managed our own pace. It was hard and frustrating, but we made it down after about four hours.
Those that did make it to the summit for sunrise can be seen traversing down the mountain as the rest of us aimed for the top. The people on the other path are going down.
The climb down the mountain was very steep.
After the climb, we went to an onsen, cleaned up, and enjoyed a relaxing meal.
We were thrilled that our entire group made it safely to the summit and back. The team, although spread across the mountain, did help each other out. It was a great experience for Tomo and I to do together, and we will always have that shared experience. Tomo declared that he was a city boy, but was quite proud of the accomplishment.
Would I do it again? Ask me a week ago and I would have said, “No way!” But now, well, time heals all wounds.