Without any exaggeration, I can safely say that was one of the best and toughest experiences of my life!
Departing Kawaguchiko station by bus, we arrived at Mt Fuji 5th station around 11.30am on Wednesday, it’s fairly large and feels a lot like a ski village. After a look around the shops(where I purchased my trusty walking stick) it was time to begin at roughly 11.45am.
The route up to the Yoshida trail takes you through some quite dense forest, low cloud set in making the atmosphere very moody. I started to feel tired almost immediately, I can walk on flat ground for miles and miles but I can’t stress how important proper hill walking practice is if you’re going to attempt this too!
Finally arriving at the Yoshida trail, we began our ascent up the zigzagged path. The ground was coarse, and really hard to walk on, loose rocks constantly causing us to slip back. The cloud was very thick still, giving us no hint as to our progress, but as we continued it slowly began to clear, bringing the first 7th station into view.
We had a 15-minute rest here which I really welcomed. I also got my first stamp on my stick – every station along the trail will brand your walking stick for 200 yen, it makes for a great memento of your achievement! Continuing on, things got a lot tougher – the path between the level 7 stations is steep, and dotted with huge rocks.
For the next couple of hours, our ascent was literally a climb. While taking a break from this slog at one of the higher 7th stations, we decided booking a couple of beds near the top was probably a good idea. So using Emma’s Ketai and some broken Japanese, we made a quick phone call and booked in – yes, there’s phone reception some 3000m up on Mt Fuji We chose Hachigome Tomoekan, which is one of the 8.5 level stations, the thought being get as much walking done today as we can and have less to do in the small hours.
The 7th level stations behind us, the path turned back into a steep zigzag, but rockier and less steady than ever. This bit was by far the toughest and took forever, the sheer drops at the edge of the path were really unsettling. Currently the Yoshida trail’s downward path is closed due to typhoon damage, so all the while we had it in the back of our heads we’d have to come back down along this deadly track.
We pressed on, daylight quickly fading and arrived at Hachigome Tomoekan at around 6.30pm. The shack was simple and our bed little more than a shelf, but the staff were friendly, it was out of the wind and we had a delicious curry rice dinner! NHK were staying in this hut overnight too, we’d seen them a couple of times across the day filming a special on the start of climbing season. After our meal, enjoying the sunset and watching the NHK guys do their filming, we headed to bed around 8pm.
My alarm went off at 2am, but I wasn’t asleep anyway, barely got a wink all night. A fair few people were already up, prepping for the final push to the top too. I got my final three stamps on my stick here as the top stations wouldn’t be open when we reached the top. Sunrise was said to be around 4.30am, giving us a good 2 hours to get to the top, so headlamp and coat on, we were on our way again.
There’s no lighting on the mountain, so whatever you bring better be decent as it’ll be your only light source! The clouds had moved back in again and there was a bitter wind blowing, at 3400m the air was noticeably thinner too, causing me a fair bit of grief. We saw more climbers in this final section than we did the rest of the ascent, we tagged onto the NHK teams group for safety and pressed on. As we approached the top it got brighter, we passed through the Torii gate at the summit just before 4.15am. With 15 minutes before sunrise, we found a good spot and celebrated, filling in Daruma-San’s second eye to signify the goal we’d just achieved.
Sunrise did indeed happen at 4.30am, and it was amazing, no other words. Afterwards we had a short walk around to the crater, bumped into some people from Leeds and started our descent at 5.10am. We arrived back at Hachigome Tomoekan in around an hour, and were welcomed back in – turns out your booking is a 24-hour thing, so we could’ve gone back to bed, but decided against it. We did however enjoy a hot chocolate and a rest before saying a final goodbye to our hosts and heading on our way.
The rest of the descent is a blur of slipping, sliding, falling and the like. Very tough on the knees – I’m still feeling the effects a few days later. Arriving back at the 5th station felt great though, and we did so just after 10am, collapsing on the street near our bus stop, happy but also proud that it was over.
Altogether, our ascent took 8 and a half hours, and descent 5 hours. I have no doubt Emma could’ve posted a far more competitive time, but I’m glad she kept wheezy old me company
So there we have it, Mt Fuji… you were a most worthy opponent! A huge thankyou to everyone who sponsored us, Helping Hands for Japan is a great cause and it’s amazing we raised as much as we did. Check back later in August to see how our volunteering in Ishinomaki with their partner, Its Not Just Mud goes.
Interested in doing it yourself?
While I’d never go up there again, I’d highly recommend climbing Fuji-San! I’ve compiled a few details below which might help with your planning.
When and which trail?
As you can see from the photos, early July on a weekday is a good bet. Climbing season had just started a few days beforehand, and the weather wasn’t incredibly hot – August is said to be horrendous, not to mention Obon week falls in that month, where by all accounts Fuji-San turns into a giant uphill queue. Trail-wise, I found the Yoshida trail to be a challenge, and if you’re a beginner like me you’ll welcome the number of stations along the route for rest and refreshments. Not to mention the sun rises on this side of the mountain so wherever you are, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good view(weather permitting).
Do it over 2 days, or one?
I met some people at the summit who had done the whole climb in one 5-hour stint, climbing from 11pm. Climbing at night is not only very dangerous, but you won’t get to enjoy the fantastic view(the paths will be quieter though). Splitting the climb over 2 days worked really well for us, and gives you plenty of time to enjoy the trip up! we saw a number of Japanese guided tours following the same plan. Staying overnight will also help you adjust to the altitude and reduce your chances of sickness.
Doing as much of the climb on your first day is a good idea, the less you have to do in the small hours of the morning the better I’d say! I can highly recommend the Hachigome Tomoekan, good spot with friendly & helpful staff. If you choose to do it this way, your schedule should look something like this:
- Set off from 5th station around 12pm
- Arrive at 8.5th station between 5pm & 7pm
- Eat, and go to bed around 8pm
- Wake up at 2am
- Depart the station at 2.30am
- Arrive at the summit for 4am
Don’t forget sunrise falls at different times throughout the season, best to double check that and modify your plan accordingly Your travel-down time really depends on the quality of your knees! I’ve heard of people doing it in three hours though.
What to bring?
You don’t need tons, warm clothes are a must and plenty of fluids. Bear in mind there are no bins on the mountain, and anything you bring up there, you will be taking home with you!
- Warm clothes, jacket, thermal layers
- Walking stick
- Walking boots
- At least 2l of fluids
- Sugary snacks
- Torch + spare batteries
- First aid kit
- Emergency blanket
Finally, don’t forget to be cordial, greet people you pass! Everyone’s there for the same reason, and the vibe between both foreigners and native Japanese folk is fantastic. A normal greeting or an encouraging “Ganbatte kudasai!” will never go astray.
I wish you the best of luck! If you climb Mt Fuji do let me know!
And now, the gallery…