Conquering Fujisan (and Other Small Everests)

A week before I left Japan, I heard some of my group members talking about climbing Mt Fuji. One of them was going over details trying to convince others to go. I had not done any research on how long or intense the hike was, so I was interested in hearing it from someone who was planning to do it. She said it would be 6-8 hours up and about half of that down. There was a bus or a series of trains to take from Tokyo which would bring you right to the start of the route. I still had a week left before my couple of free days, so I had time to consider.

A few days later, she sent our group the pictures and went over some of the details and the issues she ran into. It seemed like a massive undertaking, but doable with the time we had. Unfortunately, I had to work fast to make a decision. The bus ticket (the cheaper and faster option) would have to be reserved ASAP in order to guarantee the perfect amount of time to acclimate to the altitude. I spoke to a few others from my group who were considering joining me, but I went ahead and bought my bus ticket. Luckily, I was successful in talking three other people to go with me, so I finally wasn’t alone!

To prepare, I read all of the major Google results when you search things like “how difficult is it to climb Mt Fuji” and “how long does it take to climb Mt Fuji” and “what do I need to climb Mt Fuji.” I decided I needed to acquire a rain jacket, a rain cover for my backpack, a head lamp, and pants. The only pants I had brought with me were business casual pants, no leggings of any kind. I made the necessary purchases and borrowed what I could. I began to mentally prepare.

For two days before, I became extremely nervous. I’m a very fit person, but what if this is really something that I can’t handle. We would be bullet-hiking which meant that we would start our hike at 10pm and hike all night and the next morning. I don’t usually do well with late nights, so I feared that would be the aspect that could take me down. I also developed a cold just in time. Suddenly, I was concerned about getting enough Oxygen to my brain if I was already having a hard time breathing. At that point, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Though I have dreams of climbing Mt Everest, Mt Fuji became my Everest for the moment.

Sunday morning, I woke up as late as I could and prepared. After we checked into our hotel, we purchased enough food and water for the whole night. It seemed like it was too much and not enough at the same time. Two ice creams later, we were on the bus trying to take a nap before our sleepless night. It was dark and colder than I expected when we arrived at the Fuji-Subaru 5th Station. Most of the fear turned into excitement as we clothed ourselves and located the trailhead.

There were few other people starting at this time which surprised me because of the large amount of information about bullet hiking available online. There were many tall men who passed us and other groups with which we caught up, but there were no long lines that I was told were the norm at this point in the high season.

The first few stations were easy to reach compared to what was in store for us, but we took breaks at each of the stations and listened to our bodies. As the hills got steeper and the rocky parts got rockier, each challenge immediately in front of us became a small Everest. We made these little goals for ourselves: getting past this hill or reaching the next station or bathroom. For me, I made personal rewards like blowing my nose or taking a sip of water. I’m not the type of person to stop when something gets difficult which sounds cool, but is not always the safest. I preach the importance of listening to one’s body, but I don’t usually practice this.

I had a lot of food with me and it got to the point that onigiris were absolutely unappealing, but I ate them to lessen the weight in my backpack. I rationed my water too much and ended up with almost a full nalgene when I reached the bottom. I was wearing a light pair of cheap Forever 21 leggings (I hate fast fashion, but I was desperate), a borrowed hoodie, and a Daiso disposable rain jacket. I was cold and my cold was flaring up and I was not feeling my best.

We always seemed so close yet so far from the summit. We reached the point of the gate with all of the 1 yen coins when I realized how truly terrible I felt. There exists a horrible picture of me where I look like I’m ready to give up on life. I made it one hill past the gate and sat down for a break. Once I got up, I took five steps and turned around. One of my group-mates asked, “Are you okay?” I turned my head and puked to the side of the trail. Almost immediately, a man who looked far more prepared than I was handed me a pill and told me to drink water. This is probably the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done, but I took that pill without having a clue what it was.

Worth every minute I felt like death

Since my system cleared itself, I felt a little better, but I was close to crashing. The sleep deprivation and lack of quality nutrients in my systems were catching up to me. I made it to the summit and took some pictures of the incredible view, but I wanted to get down immediately. As soon as I put my camera away, I abandoned my group and began my descent. The lower I got, the more alive I felt. I stopped feeling tired in anyway and was deeply appreciative of how warm and close the sun felt. I slowly started stripping off my excess layers and took in the beautiful view. Pictures, nor words, could do it justice. As I think about it, I am reliving those moments and I can see it so clearly. It is something that everyone should experience.

Nothing does this sea of clouds justice.

The way down was monotonous and I was alone, but it seemed to go by so much quicker. I made some calls using my pocket wifi (this mountain was a little too connected), and spent some good time with myself. I made it to the bottom and bought the matcha ice cream and bottled green tea I had promised myself. It was so good, and I could cry now that those things are not readily available to me. I bought some souvenirs and waited for the rest of my group to return before we caught the bus back to Tokyo.

My handy North Face backpack and my beloved Asics

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sleep that whole day. I also made the decision to make the most of my last night in Tokyo and stay out all night. I was running on adrenaline and could barely even nap during my flight home. This was perhaps the greatest and most rewarding few days of my life.

It took everything in my power to force that smile

5 thoughts on “Conquering Fujisan (and Other Small Everests)

  1. Good work! I did this hike a few years ago too. It was difficult, yes, but definitely one of the most amazing experiences ever. Weren’t you cold in just leggings, and didn’t your shoes fall apart by the end?


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