One step at a time.
Ok, I guess a better title would be more along the lines of How We Climbed Mt. Fuji. I just thought I'd include some practical info in case any of you crazies were considering following in our bootsteps.
A lot of people head straight out from Tokyo the day of their hike, but we decided to go the day before to enjoy some of the scenery at the bottom. So we took the circuitous journey I wrote about in the last post to Kanagawa Station, where a van from our hostel, K's House Mt. Fuji, picked us up. Once there, we enjoyed some ramen (bib-free), walking around the lake, and souvenir shopping.
We both decided against the wooden climbing sticks that are the go-to Fuji souvenir. You can (for around $3 a pop) get them branded at each station along the way to the top. The thing is, it's not terribly functional as a walking stick so you invest around $10-15 plus another $18 in stamps, carry it up and down the mountain, and then when you get it home, you do what with it? If you're me, you likely stick it in a corner and end up tossing it sometime in the next move or two.
Like most people, we started from the 5th (of 10) station, which is as far as you can ride a bus up the mountain. Also like most people, we planned to arrive at the top in time for the sunrise. Not only is the sunrise pretty, the time around sunrise is when the top is least likely to be entirely covered in clouds, so it's your best shot at having a view. Unlike many people, we did not book a mountain hut for sleeping. Most people will hike part or most of the way, stop to sleep in a hut for a few hours, then set off closer to dawn. This costs a lot of money though and consists of a spot on the floor in a sleeping bag, shoulder to shoulder with the next person. We followed Raj's advice to just suck it up and hike overnight, which I do think was the best plan since I can't imagine I'd have gotten any sleep anyway.
We got to the 5th station early since we were a bit concerned that there might not be any lockers for our luggage, in which case we'd have to take a bus back down to leave them at Kanagawa Station. Which we hoped to avoid so we could just take the bus straight from the 5th station to Tokyo upon finishing the climb. We got the last two lockers in one shop and then ate lunch, looked around the shops, and generally killed time until around 6, when we used the free restroom one last time and then set off up the Yoshida Trail.
I took a picture of this because I'd read a blog post in which the guy and his friend had accidentally taken the wrong trail down when it split and then had to hike back up and down again to get to the right 5th station (there are several) to get the bus. We didn't want to take any chances on extra hiking, so I took the picture and we tried to memorize the kanji in case the trail wasn't marked in English. (It was.) Here's how we looked before leaving:
Again, for the benefit of anyone who might be planning to do this, here's how we dressed and packed. I started in a running shirt and spandex running capris under rain pants. I knew at some point, I'd need to take the rain pants off to put on long underwear and with the spandex capris, this wouldn't need to happen in a bathroom, which I'd heard (accurately) were not a place a person would want to spend more time than was entirely necessary. Amy has bike shorts under her hiking pants for the same reason.
So, what you'll want are base layers that are wicking material (NOT COTTON!), wicking socks (mine are Smartwool), and good hiking shoes or boots. I have weak ankles, so more ankle support was better in my case. Next, you'll want rain gear - pants and jacket. Later, we both added long underwear pants and shirt. Toward the end, I put my fleece (and Amy put her compact down jacket) under the rain jacket. Plus stocking cap and mittens. Oh, and a watch was good to have and you'll obviously want a camera. I used my iPhone.
at the 8th Station at some indeterminate time late at night
You absolutely must have a headlamp if you're climbing overnight. We also both were very happy with our decision to wear gardening gloves and found them very useful during the scramble portion (Amy, an accomplished outdoorswoman, tells me scramble is the technical term for the part of the climb where there were lots of medium-size rocks a person with excellent coordination and balance could probably walk up but for which we had to use our hands quite often) and to protect our hands from skinning on the way down when we were quite sure we'd be falling down a lot (though we only fell once, both in the same spot).
You will also want to have a lot of hundred yen coins for the bathrooms (most were 200 yen, though at the top it's 300) and money for food or beverages you may want to purchase. Also: water. I didn't have any idea how much I'd need, so I just filled the Camelback, which held 2 liters. I ended up running out on the way down, but the one bottle I bought was plenty for the rest of the hike. I also packed a couple of Cliff Bars, a bag of pumpkin seeds, and some dried mango. We bought a Cup O'Noodles and a Snickers bar each on the way up. (You guys, Snickers really DOES satisfy.)
Other things we packed included hand warmers, which were wonderful at the top, and safety blankets which I'm not sure were super-helpful, but they take up no space and weigh nothing. We also took gaiters and bandanas because we were told on the way down there would be a lot of rocks getting in our boots and dust in our noses and mouths. Maybe it was less windy for us or it wasn't crowded since we left ahead of the crowd or maybe the people who suggested them had kicked up a lot of dust by running down the mountain, but we didn't find them necessary. Still, both were helpful for added warmth at the top and neither weighed much, so no regrets.
As I said, we left around 6:15 p.m. from the 5th station. We went slowly and took frequent breaks to catch our breath. (Team Tortoise!) The 6th station comes pretty early in the hike, but at later stations, we'd usually sit on a bench long enough to get cold, then set off again. We ended up getting to the higher stations right around the time there were big groups of people leaving, which I think was shifts of sleepers getting kicked out. We were pacing ourselves to avoid getting to the top too early since we knew it would be really cold up there to have to sit too long. Still, we wanted to beat the sunrise, which would be around 4:45, and I'd read there would be a huge crowd causing a big bottleneck around that time, so we thought we'd try to be a bit early.
We hit that big bottleneck much earlier than anticipated, just before Station 8.5, and were in a steady and very slow stream of hikers from there all the way to the top. This made the end of the hike take at least twice as long as it otherwise would have.
That's a picture taken looking down the mountain at the hikers behind us, each spot of light being a headlamp. Near the top, we hiked into a cloud, which made everything all misty for the rest of the hike. We were maybe ten or twenty yards from the summit when the sun broke through the clouds for the first time just before 5:00. Everyone oohed and aahed and it was gone again before we could get to our cameras.
We made it to the top soon after and sat down to rest, eat, and take photos of the sun's many more brief appearances.
Amy went to find the restroom and discovered a place that had coffee and soup and was actually LETTING PEOPLE INSIDE to eat and drink! See, even if you buy food from the huts on the way up, you can't go inside unless you've paid to sleep. And since it was ridiculously cold and my head was very much demanding caffeine, this was very exciting news.
By the time we got to the establishment in question,
the clouds were burning off, making it feel at least a little bit worth having hiked all the way up for the sunrise. We were pretty lucky since sometimes it can take hours for the clouds to part, if they do at all.
We were even more thankful for our thick mittens when the man outside plucked two cans of coffee out of buckets of boiling water with tongs and handed them to us. Then we were allowed inside to sit and warm up while we waited for our coffee cans to cool down sufficiently to not burn our lips off. Initially, we'd planned to walk around the top so Amy could see and photograph the crater (she's a science teacher, teaching volcanoes this year) and to get a selfie in front of the summit sign. By the time we finished our coffee, we were only too happy to skip both in favor of getting off that [redacted] mountain as quickly as possible.
So we took a selfie in front of this post, from the side rather than waiting in line for the front since we didn't know what either said anyway. See how happy we look? We are thinking of the hot tub at our hotel in Tokyo and how soon we might be able to be in it.
We were also just a bit punchy from lack of sleep and oxygen. Also very excited about the idea of being warm, clean, dry, and seated in the not too distant future. We made it down in about four hours. A Japanese man we passed early on was VERY concerned about us not having any hiking sticks, which made us concerned about how badly we might need them. We were especially thinking about the scramble bit there. Except the route down splits off and bypasses the scramble entirely. It's almost all switchbacks of dirt path with lots of rocks. We got pretty good at just taking long sliding sideways steps down it. No hiking sticks needed.
Right at the very end, when you can see the 5th station, there's a pretty long concrete uphill path that we made it up at a surprisingly good clip, fued by a powerful desire to just be done already. We bought tickets for the 11:00 bus to Tokyo, picked up our luggage and changed into flip flops (aaaaahhhh!), ate some dumplings, and used the restroom before boarding and getting the [redacted] off Fuji.