Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Underachiever conquers Fuji!

After all these years I finally did it! On July 27, 2006 I took the Shinkansen to the Mt Fuji area. After a two hour bus ride through the forests around the base of the mountain and up into the clouds (literally) we arrived at the Fujinomiya Route's 5th station starting point.

After purchasing a hiking staff for 1000 yen, I began my climb at 5pm in heavy clouds. I couldn't see anything on either side of the trail, not to mention the mountain itself. It was hidden during the bus ride up so I could have been climbing a totally different mountain and never known. At the 7th station I finally broke through the cloud layer into perfectly clear skies.

A group of British tourists and three classes of junior high school girls were spending the night (till 1am at least) resting at the 7th station. From here we could look down on an ocean of clouds with the sun just setting and a moon quickly following. Lucky for me. I started climbing again and the stars soon began to come out by the hundreds.

As I continued climbing through the night the Milky Way itself soon became clearly visible. Since I was practically alone on the side of the mountain, I laid down on the trail itself several times and just watched the sky while I caught my breath and calmed my heart down. I caught sight of several satellites in the first couple hours of darkness. As I climbed higher I saw the occasional shooting star including one that lasted a long time and left a tail across the sky.

Of course the higher I went, the harder it became since both the trail became steeper and the air thinner. I had brought some canned oxygen but only bothered to take it out of my pack at the rest stations. I'm not sure if it helped much but I did finally arrive at the top alive around 4am the next morning. 11 hours is way over the average time to climb Mt Fuji so I guess I'm not as in as good a shape as I had thought.

After making it to the top I made it over to a peak on the east side of the mountain to catch the sunrise at 4:49 with many others who had suddenly began to appear on the trail in the early morning hours and quickly passed me by. After many pics with the Cybershot I was ready to head back to the top of the trail to find some food at the little "restaurant". That mostly consisted of overpriced instant noodles. I gladly paid 800 yen for a cup of ramen and drank it down to the last drop since the top of Fuji was so cold and windy.

I then paid 200 yen for the use of the toilet, 300 yen to get my stick stamped at the Shinto shrine and sent a few post cards to the families from the tiny post office at the top. I saw an Israeli guy who had been on the bus with me in the eating area. He had started at the same time as me and made it to the top by 10pm and slept in the post office with a borrowed blanket. He had started out with flip flops on his feet too!

After a quick cell phone call to my wife's family to let them know I was at the top and safe, I began my decent at 6:30am. It took me 4.5 hours to slide my way down in the volcanic gravel. A platoon (?) of Japanese Self Defense Forces were going up the mountain that morning along with several father & daughter teams. Once at the bottom I bought the family some Fuji "cowberry" cookies as an omiyage and sat talking with a British lady while we waited for the bus to take us back to Shin-Fuji station and the shinkansens that would take us home.

A mistaken train switch at Nagoya slowed down my return by an hour or so. I was super exhausted when I finally arrived and just had a light dinner, shower and went straight to bed. My leg muscles below the knee are still hard like rocks and sore. Of course that could be because I went to climb nearby Mt Ikoma on the 30th with a local hiking group. I'm a glutton for punishment.

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