Monday, September 14, 2009

Mt. Fuji

In late August we decided that we could not possibly leave Japan without climbing Mt. Fuji. It is believed that all Japanese should make the venture once in their lifetime. Before we came to Japan I was really looking forward to it and made sure to bring all of my climbing gear from an ice axe to my crampons. It turns out there is no snow on Fuji during the summer rendering my all important climbing gear useless. Essentially all you need according to the various blogs and travel guides is a pair of good walking shoes, warm clothes, and a flash light. Armed with these basic necessities we headed out toward Japan's tallest peak.

The climb was unlike anything I have experienced. A set trail is lined by a chain-link fence all the way up to the peak and can offer some support for the rocky parts. About half the trail consists of scrambling up boulders. This boulder trail is lined by japanese huts located sporadically all the way up the mountain. These huts serve as a resting place for many tourists, and costs around 4000 yen for a two hour nap. They also act as restaurants and convenience stores. In true Japanese fashion, you can buy beer at the summit. Nothing like a nice cold one sitting at 12,388 ft above sea level.

Overall the climb was not too terribly difficult, however, the lines of people approaching the summit got to be a little annoying to say the least. We encountered many tour groups on the way up, mostly consisting of elderly and out of shape climbers that were boldly fulfilling their destiny of climbing the great Mt. Fujisan . It was slow going as you get trapped behind them. Several times Kim and I had to stop as we were literally getting sleepy and dizzy, mostly due to altitude, but partly because I could not get my heart rate up beyond resting state. On top of the dismal crawl up the slopes the tour guides made sure they were heard by screaming directions all the way up. Due to these factors and the fact that sitting on top of a mountain peak freezing our butts off did not sound too appealing, the trip up took about 6 hrs (start 10pm, end 4am).

At the summit it is packed with people waiting for sunrise. We did not take any pics on the way up since it was completely pitch black. Sunrise at the summit is beautiful, but be warned it does get rather chilly. I could not sit still as my feet were completely frozen. Apparently the cold weather is leading cause of death on Mt. Fuji such as the incident this year where two climbers died of hypothermia in July at 34 degrees Fahrenheit. How they managed to die of hypothermia at that temperature and no one helped them is beyond me. Oh and I forgot to mention that in addition to the numerous huts on top of the summit there is also a post office!

Now I had done my fair share of research before the climb and even inquired with people who have climbed it before to ensure that we were prepared and in for a good time. From what I gathered from various sources everyone came to the same consensus on all details and noting in passing that the walk down wasn't exactly a good time. I really wasn't concerned about the walk down as it usually is not a fun endeavor in any climb you do. You are tired, your feet hurt, and it seems to last forever. People failed to mention that the way down Fuji, really sucks!!!! No one, and I mean no one put an emphasis to say, "the way down is a freaking nightmare!" The trail you take down consists of probably 100 switchbacks, with blocks of ten switchbacks visible to the naked eye. Once you reach the end of that ten, you peer over and low and behold another 10 switchbacks. This continues for about 2- 4 hrs (we did it in 3 hrs) all the way down. On top of this you are hiking in sand-like dirt with mixed gravel. The rocks grind into the base of your heal and manage to settle inside your shoes causing you to stop every five or so switchbacks to dump the collection of volcanic rumble. To make matters worse dust gets kicked up into your eyes rendering you blind partially down the climb.

I think my feet are permanently damaged. I had a pair of old trail running shoes that were fairly worn out. I definitely suffered, but not as bad as the guy wearing his pristine new white sneakers that thought it was a great idea to break in his new sneaks by climbing a mountain. I remember sitting up on top of the summit and Kim asked me why some of these Japanese guys were wearing gators, and I thought "well there is no snow, and no forest, they must be stupid." Or freaking geniuses!!! haha

If you climb Fuji here is my recommendation. Wear solid hiking shoes with gators, and bring a pair of trekking poles. If you have these three simple items the climb down Fuji will be a breeze and you won't have the negative perception that Kim and I will always have of the Mt. Fuji climb. I also recommend to climb during the day and catch sunset. It might be a little hot, but you will avoid lines and literally scale the mountain in half the time.

Madness at the summit

Crater at the summit. Directly across is the highest point on the mountain.

Hordes of Japanese watching sunrise.

$100 says Kim is making peace signs underneath her gloves.

Standing at the summit.

Fuji san casting its shadow.

This pic is of people approaching the summit as we make our treacherous descent down the endless switchbacks.

Look at her, she's miserable. Just plain lost all hope.

This @%#$L@ sucks!

View from the bottom of the switchbacks from hell

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