Monday, August 22, 2011

Climbing Fuji

happened 8/20 and 8/21

I climbed Mt. Fuji and it was miserable!!! I almost don’t want to describe it because I’m sure you will read it and think “okay that doesn’t sound like a blast, but it’s wasn’t that bad, quit your whining.” …so if thoughts like that cross you mind, know that you are imagining it wrong, make what you are thinking 100X worse and you might be approaching the appropriate amount of anguish our party was feeling.  Even so I am glad I did it, and might be a masochist because I think I enjoyed more of it than most of the group.

General info:
     The plan was to hike up Mt. Fuji at night and summit in the early hours of the morning.  Rest and hang out up top for a couple hours, watch the sunrise, then hike down in the early morning before it gets to hot.

     Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan.  Like hiking in any mountains you need to be prepared.  Weather can be unpredictable.  You need gear in preparation for the wet, and extreme cold, even in the summer
I felt relatively good and prepared.  I had my winter jacket, two long sleve layers, one cotton, one a quick drying synthetic, leggings, my “waterproofs” (the pants I got for hiking in Scotland), a hat, gloves, wool socks, and hiking boots.  I also had separated everything in my bag into three separate plastic bags.  One was for extra layers of clothes I was not wearing, One was for food (I had all the hiking usuals like snickers, peanut butter, assorted candy, calorie and soy bars, etc.), one was for valuable necessities like my wallet, my phone, and my camera.  In addition to the items in the bags I had water, Gatorade, 2 cans of oxygen, and a head lamp easily accessible.

  Before hiking:
            We started with a bus ride which knowing we would be hiking for a good 10 hours or longer I tried to sleep through.  I did manage to dose in and out and whenever I did wake up there tended to be beautiful low mountains around to look at.  Or rest stops with ice cream.  Then we arrived at the 5th Station of the mountain.  We had some time before we started so we looked at gift shops, got hot chocolate and relaxed.  Several people bought wooden walking sticks that you could get branded at each of the huts/stations along the way up.  I didn’t bother because I have tend to get annoyed at carrying walking sticks but I still think it’s a cool idea. 

The beginning:
At about 6:15 the medium/slow group (these are my people) got started.  It got dark pretty quick, and I thought it was a good temperature for hiking, cool but not to cold (at least not for those of us from the Midwest).  We turned on our hiking lamps and headed off quite happily for a few hours.  After about 2 and a half hours of hiking the other (“medium” fast) group passed us.  They had only been going for like an hour or something.  Anyways the biggest challenge during this portion was that a few of us struggled more than others with the altitude and had to stop constantly to catch our breath. 

Things start to go downhill:

Not literally we still had a ways up to go.  Somewhere between the 7th and 8th stations it started to rain.  As we got higher and it got later, the temperature was dropping.  Then the wind picked up.  I think we all had most our layers on by the 8th station, but were still in relatively good spirits (or at least I was) and were still keeping pretty warm and dry.  But, by the later huts between the 8th and 9th station my waterproofs and winter coat proved to only be water resistant, which at this point I hardly noticed because I was getting a touch nauseous. 

The split:
     The medium slow group split at this point.  After being told the hut was full so we could not enter and warm up one girl and guy who were exceedingly cold went to loiter in the restrooms to try and get warm for a bit, while me and our fearless leader sat on benches trying not to puke.  The other half of our group continued on.  After a bit of rest and several hits of oxygen, I felt a little better, and wise or reckless decided to force down a snickers, thinking if I could keep it down the energy might help me stay warmer and maybe make me feel less sick.  Success!  But, sadly the other girl was still really chilly, so we begged and pleaded and the hut agreed to let her in for a short while. The rest of us had to continue on because it was getting to cold to sit still.

     before the summit we caught the first half of our split group.  We all went through phases where some people were struggling more than others and kept eachother going.  We all went slow, most of us struggled to breathe, we were cold, and wet.  This portion was not fun! Not even for a minute.  We reached the top at about 2:30 AM in a staggered group.  I don’t even think I was able to smile I was so cold.  Those of us who got their first tried to huddle in a group, in a doorway, to get out of the wind.  No good the wind felt like it was coming from all directions.  I was shaking with cold from this point on non stop the rest of the hike, and several hours after. 

The decision:
     We lasted about 5 minutes at the top.  There would be no sunrise, we were getting off this mountain, and we were doing it now.  Just in time the final members of our group got to the top.  Only they were not ready to keep moving.  They had to stop, but we had to go!  So the group leader gave a much needed pep talk, “the way down is smoother and easier, the air will get thicker, the temperature will get warmer, it will start to get light”  It worked everyone was ready to move on.  And we almost got off the top before he started to puke.  He refused to let even that slow us down and was practically moving before done being sick (I think he wanted off the mountain more than anyone)

Going down: 
           It was still pretty miserable.  At some point though I became numb to it all. I had been cold and wet and shivering for so long that it ceased to matter.  I actually became deluded enough that I was having fun again for awhile (though I didn’t say anything because there was still occasional puking, and people in a lot pain for other reasons.)    My happy place lasted for a good couple of hours…unfortunately a couple of hours out of six or seven for the hike down still isn’t that good of odds.

The final countdown:
            After awhile going down got painful.  Mostly in the knees but a bit everywhere.  Also we were all sleep deprived.  We became a bit zombie like just shuffling one foot in front of the other.  But we were almost there.  Oh wait no we weren’t.  We began to separate again into two groups, and at the end my group managed to think we were nearing the end 4 or 5 times.  The earliest when we still had about 3 hours left, it was like the never-ending hike. Until it finally ended.

     We went into the restaurant we got hot cocoa in the day before to rest, get warm, and wait for the other group, and girl to get down.  The only problem was with every layer wet even sitting inside I could not get warm.  I decided to get a hot chocolate and in my mind began to panic a bit.  I could not move my fingers well, particularly my thumbs.  Grabbing the coins to get my hot chocolate was incredibly hard.  I got very frustrated when I dropped a coin and could not grip it to pick it up.  I was nearly in tears and started having very paranoid thoughts “isn’t loss of movement a sign of frostbite” “do my thumbs look kinda blue”  “Ive been inside for half an hour surely I should be able to use my fingers by now”  Anyway  I pulled myself together got my hot chocolate, continued to blow on my hands and try to warm them till everyone was back, we got on the bus, and we got to the onsen for hot showers and a hot bath. 

The hot tub:
In the hot tub I stopped shivering for the first time in 9 hours.  All was well in the world again. 
The aftermath:
I lost my phone and my watch to the mountain.  My knees are still sore especially when I go down stairs.  My apartment smell like wet dog because of my soaked through jacket.  But for some reason I am still glad I went, and can’t convince myself that I didn’t have fun.  Clearly the mountain took what remained of my sanity as well. 


  1. Becca,

    this sounds terrible. I literally was uncomfortable just reading this, I can't believe you did it! Proud of you I guess, but damn that's crazy!

    Don't hile any more mountains in Japan, ok? :)

    Miss you, but reading your blog is awesome! Keep it up


  2. WOW Becca, what an incredible feat.

    We just got back from the Rocky Mountains. Just walking around I had shortness of breath and was nauseous for the first day. I can't imagine climbing a mountain. I did a hike to the office one day up a very steep hill... thought I was going to die, I had to stop 2 times to catch my breath.... no mountain climbin' for this girl.

    love reading your blog.


  3. thanks, yea it was harder than I think any of us expected