Travelling in groups, especially in one which I am not too familiar with takes the edge off my senses in travelling. I feel that my travel experience isn’t as sharp as what it should or could be and does not quite satisfy my discovery process.
Nonetheless, the hike started well. It was plain walking in the beginning which led to giant steps (if a metal grill counts as one) which were meant to help lessen the elevation and trudging through volcanic soil. I find it easier not to use the ‘steps’ as there is a lot more stress to the thighs.
The group split up during the climb due to a large difference in climbing speeds. The hike got a little boring after seeing the same paths and reconstructed walls made up recycled materials. It was the same brown against a grey, cloudy backdrop. As the weather changes really quickly on the mountain, that changed by the time we arrived at the first mountain hut.
The hike quickly progressed to a climb. As if the mountain were paying me back for my passing thought on boring the terrain was. I was soon regressed to climbing on all fours at some point. Scrambling past some steep rocks, I came to the first mountain hut. Looking up, I noticed how steep the top looked and how the mountain huts along the way seem to sit perilously at the side of the mountain.
We rested and captured some shots of the scenery while waiting for the others.
Be warned should you be scaling Mt Fuji in future. There are places on the hike which will actually seem more like a climb. You’ll find yourself grabbing rocks or anything you can get a hold on at some point. The trekking pole may help provide a boost but it is still much better to climb like spiderman.
After passing through several other huts along the way, we arrived at our hut somewhere at 2,800m. It was one of the better huts we’ve come across or even those further up. Do bring enough cash as the operators only take cash and we are looking at about 6,100 yen per night with one meal. Also, the huts or sleeping bags have to be pre-booked in advance of the climbing season. You will not be resting or sleeping much. We had dinner at 4:30pm and tried to rest by 7pm. There were about 60 people in the dorm, with men on the bottom bunks and women on the top bunks. Imagine my horror when I realised how much personal space we had to ourselves. For a person who is not used to so much people contact and company, I had my fill for at least a year. The lady next to me almost had her elbow in my face and her back plastered to mine. I probably slept 5 minutes. I can’t be sure.
We got up at 10pm and tip-toed out which shouldn’t even be a bother since it was quite an amplified theatre of snores or what sounded like growls. I was wearing a uniqlo heattech turtleneck under the weatherproof jacket which looked and seemed heavy duty enough. However, since the first layer is under a heavy insulated layer, it doesn’t dry even though it is dryfit. Be prepared to have that damp layer stuck to you all the way. (I brought a change which I was too numb from the brutal winds to change into by the time I arrived at the summit.)
I must be insane to climb in the dark with night blindness. The headlamp was useful as it frees up both hands for climbing. One thing which got to me was the crowd. The path was filled with large groups of climbers, usually led by a guide who just can’t stop talking. It’s a wonder how no one has mentioned to him that it may not be required since they were climbing at a slower than slow pace. I was meandering around them all the way up, while whispering, “sumimasen” for cutting or overtaking. However, I understand that part of the draw for the climb is the spirit of having everyone cheer one another on.
I did almost save a guy from falling off the cliff when he wobbled and did the leaning tower of pisa on one side. Not thinking, I reached out and grabbed his arm almost too forcefully, which probably jolted him out of his daze. I think the lack of oxygen got to me at one point when I felt a little dizzy too. My nose was like a leaky faucet all through the climb and I had nose burns from rubbing my nose too much, by the end of the climb.
There were marshals further up on the mountain nearer to the tori gates which seemed so near yet so far. They look out for climbers who may require rest or first aid. As I drew closer to the summit, I noted that there were also fewer people. I felt like a lone climber and almost dramatically dug my trekking pole into the volcanic sand like a sole survivor. The wind was rather brutal closer to the summit and you could hear and feel it whipping around you, attempting to knock the foolish climber off the mountain. As mild as the mountain appears, do not underestimate it.
I should have waited longer at the last stop instead of proceeding up on the climb. I arrived at the summit at 3:30am which was an hour too early for sunrise. I need to emphasize again how brutal the wind was. I was chilled to my bones and I thought I was going to pass out from hypothermia. It will be funny since I was fine on the climb, only to succumb to damp clothes and possibly a lack of insulation. I should have taken the pain to change out of the first layer. I searched frantically for a cover from the winds, but there was absolutely no refuge. Also, I lost the other guys on the trail since we split. I knew that one had already arrived since he was ahead so I ventured up and down the summit looking for him. I knew I should have devised a way to identify one another, like a flickering light on our headlamps or something. The rest will take some time and looking for him helped kill some time while keeping me warm by walking up and down the summit. I looked suspicious after my fifth lap and trying to peer at people resting or sleeping on the benches.
A sight to behold was brightly lit vending machines. I should have bought something to see if the drinks were warm.
I gave up looking for my team mate and sat down to chill. That was mistake as I took chilling a little too literally. My teeth were chattering on its own accord. I thought I would lose my mind before I lost control of bodily functions. Then I saw two more team mates who just arrived at the summit and I almost shouted at them in relief. Freezing to death together seemed like a better prospect to me at that time. Another mistake was queuing up for the toilet which was 300 yen per use. I was in a daze from the cold and the queue seemed like an eternity. I saw people, I saw their mouths moving, I heard what they were saying but I think I stopped trying to process information. It was like a system hibernation mode.
The sunrise was spectacular. I was seeing the same sun I would see in Singapore. I couldn’t believe I flew 8 hours, travelled on incessant train rides, scaled a 3776m high mountain, survived the brutal winds, to see the sunrise. But I did and I was thankful for the opportunity. The pleasure of seeing it collectively with thousands of others on Fuji. Wherever they are, they stopped. I think the beauty was sharing the experience with thousands others who were overwhelmed and humbled by such an experience. The looks on their faces and their reactions were part of my happiness.
I couldn’t wait for the sun to appear in its full naked glory. I needed to thaw.
The descend was tedious and with a system of jogs and slides, I made it down within 2 hours; but hey, who’s racing?
[Hakone and the rest of the trip in Part III. ]