I only realized about a week ago that July was Japans rain season. I was so focused on climbing Fuji before the school holiday and Obon week, that I completely forgot about the weather conditions being a factor. Oops.
No big deal, we had rain gear, it’s an easy climb on the most climbed mountain in the world what did we have to worry about?
From Shinjinku West Bus station in Tokyo, we took the bus to Fujisan station in Fujiyoshida prefecture, where we were staying in Fujiyoshida Youth Hostel the night before and the night after our climb. I reserved a mountain hut months ago using Mt. Fuji Climbing Guides to book a space at the Fuji-san Hotel near the 8.5 station on the Yoshida trail. The Yoshida trail is the most accesable and thus the most popular for tourists.
When we arrived to our hostel it was a clear evening and we got our first (and best) view of Fuji-san.
We asked our hostel owner about how to get to Fuji the next morning and she showed us on her hand drawn map that it was about a 15 minute walk to the base of Mt. Fuji. Great! This will be so easy.
We got our supplies and packed for the next morning.
We left our hostel around 7:00AM thinking that we could walk to the base and start the hike at the latest at 8AM.
We came across the Yoshida trailhead around 8:00AM and realized her 15 might have been 50...
At the start of the trail is the beautiful Sengen Shrine.
From here we took up the trail-head and began our ascent.
Kind of. We walked for an hour then began to think something wasn’t right so we consulted the map again. We had literally started from the base of the Yoshida trail, 17km to the summit, we intended on starting at 5th station as most hikers do, but a language barrier and a miscommunication later we end up starting our 3,776 meter ascent from 650 meters. We still had another hour to walk before we even got to first station, so I stuck my thumb out and we lucked out, the first car who passed stopped and picked us up. Luckily he was headed for Umagaeshi (right before 1st station), how we figured that out I have no idea because he spoke no English and our only Japanese is hai and arrigato.
So from Umagaeshi we started our ascent. We made good time up to the third station, until it started to get steadily steeper.
After about 3 hours we reached Sota-Goya thinking it was the 5th station starting point. We stopped and had a well needed lunch break with some really expensive (but delicious) udon noodles and coffee.
It wasn’t until we reached the 6th station that we realized we had just climbed an extra 4 hours when everyone else was just starting out from this mythical 5th station we never saw.
Finally the trail started to look like what I had been anticipating.
After reaching 6th station it started to rain pretty hard. We put our gears on and had a miserable hour long climb to 7th station. Once there, we ordered some tea and sat inside one of the mountain huts ( 30 minute rest limit if you ordered something). We met a father and son from London who were on a trip to Japan to celebrate the sons final exams, they were way less equip than we were, but in way better spirits. That with a cup of tea was enough to revive us for a little while when our 30 minutes was over.
It got to a point where every 10 minutes was in agony and by the time we reached the 8th station at about 3:30 and we still weren’t finished I thought I was going to get dumped on a rainy Mt. Fuji. I promised to attend another wrestling match free of complaints if we completed the summit ( 1 mountain for two wrestling matches isn’t a bad trade). Finally, we reached the Fuji-San Hotel, (between the real 8th station and the 8.5 station), at 4:30. We hiked for a total of 10 hours, at least 3 of them soaking wet, when it should have been an easy 5 hour hike, at the most.
The took our wet clothes immediately and shoved them into plastic bags along with our boots. We changed to dry gear, paid and they showed us our beds for the night.
We hung up our soaking clothing the best we could and ordered some 400 yen hot chocolate with our dinner of bread and jam.
After dinner we crammed in to our close quarters and tried to get some sleep. I barely slept. I put my wet pants under my sleeping bag to dry them and slept with my under armor in between my legs to keep it warm for the morning. My jacket was hopeless and my t-shirt was still damp. I put it over my base layer and under armor just for another layer, there is no way I could wear my fleece with my jacket as soaked through as it was.
Regardless of listening to the pounding rain all night, we woke up and 2:00AM and started our ascent to the summit at 2:45. It wasn’t a difficult climb, but with the wind and rain and darkness I wouldn’t particularly want anything more technically challenging. The most difficult part was the last 200 meters when we could see the peak but it was still so far away and the rain was mericlessly beating down. My feet were making soping noises with every step, but it felt great to push against the elements like that. It was by far (minus the lightening storm on Hehuan Shan that I was only in for about 40 minutes) the worst conditions I have ever climbed in. And as bad as we thought the weather was, it could have been so much worse.
At 4:05AM we finally reached the summit. It was rather anti-climactic. The famous shrine at the top was barely visible until we came right on it. There was a little restaurant hut open with all our fellow sunrise hunters huddled inside from the wind and rain. We got a hot chocolate(500 yen!!!) to celebrate and wait out the darkness until the sunrise at 4:30.
oh yeah we had some whiskey too.
4:30 came and went with no sunrise, just a vague gray coloring in the sky instead of black.
We tried to see the crater, and briefly debated doing the loop around the rim, but decided it would be utterly pointless, and a bit dangerous.
So we headed back down. About 30 minutes later, the rain broke and we finally got some views.
The descent on the Yoshida trail branches off at the 8th station into a series of short and sweet switchbacks that we flew through. When we reached the treeline again it was starting to rain and get foggy.
We saw a girl ahead of us barely able to put one foot in front of the other wearing only a poncho, jeans, and converse high tops that looked like they were going to fall apart at any moment. I did not believe how many people we passed wearing jeans and sneakers, completely unprepared for mountain climbing, let alone mountain climbing with elements.
We made it to the 5th station where we should have started from the day before at 8:00AM. One bus ride and one train ride and a 20 minute walk brought us back to our hostel around 11:00AM.
Although the weather was beyond shitty, I am so glad we climbed Fuji and didn’t give up, or delay even when we realized how badly I biffed the navigation. Even though they say “only fools climb Mt. Fuji twice” I would like to give it a shot in better weather. It has definitely been one climb I will never forget.