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It seemed when we looked into things to do in Japan, there were defined seasons; cherry blossom season, sumo wrestling season, ski season and a season for climbing Mt Fuji. As our trip was in the middle of summer, it was peak time for climbing Mt Fuji!
We flew into Tokyo from Dubai on Emirates airlines. You can fly direct into Narita or Haneda airport. If you are looking for convenience, Haneda is much closer to Tokyo city and will save on the commute.
To reach Mt Fuji, it really depends on whether you are going to be part of an organised tour or do it yourself. Unless you are a local, know someone else going or you're a really experienced climber, I would strongly recommend being part of a tour group!
If you are going to arrange the climb yourself, you can get the train and then a bus to the 5th station where you start the climb for the more popular trails.
We booked through the tour company JAPANiCAN. The process of booking through to starting the tour was really well organised, with lots of information provided and your tour leader contacts you directly closer to the time.
From Tokyo, we were asked to meet early in the morning at a hotel to join our group. From there a bus takes everyone to the 5th station, with a short stop on the way to buy any last minute food etc.
Mount Fuji stands at 3776m, making it the highest summit in Japan. The now inactive volcano forms an almost perfectly symmetrical cone shape and its outline has become one of the most recognised mountains in the world. Mount Fuji, and the opportunity to climb it, has become hugely symbolic in Japanese culture.
In the peak of the season, 5-7000 people will climb Mount Fuji everyday! Something that is surprising is the sheer numbers of people going up and down the mountain day and night.
Most people will begin their climb from the "5th Station" - a meeting point around 2400m, where tour buses will continue to drop large numbers of tourists all day long. The station has food, toilet facilities, souvenirs and the worlds highest post office to send post cards. It is suggested that climbers take a few hours at the 5th Station to become accustomed to the altitude before commencing the climb - our group spent around 2 hours having something to eat, resting and sending postcards. You can leave things like a change of clothes in a bag at the station for when you come back down.
You can buy many of the things you might need like water, snacks, climbing poles and equipment that you may have forgotten.
The 5th station is also really popular with tourists who simply want a piece of the Mount Fuji experience. If you don't have time or don't want to do the climb, you can visit the 5th Station for photos, souvenirs and to experience the atmosphere.
From 5th Station, several trails can be taken to reach the summit. Our group climbed Yoshida trail - it has a large number of huts along the way and is regarded as one of the "easier: routes.
We left the 5th station around noon and short rest stops are made at each station along the trail. We arrived at the 8th station by 4pm and here we had a meal and sleep to again acclimatise to the altitude. The beds (communal bunk style beds) are simple but effective for a couple of hours sleep and its best to try and get some rest. It was at this time that some climbers were showing signs of altitude sickness and needed to be treated and return to the 5th station.
We commenced climbing again around midnight in order to reach the summit for sunrise. The further you go, the busier it gets - to the point where it becomes quite slow going in single file. We climbed on a still mild night, but I imagine in wind and rain, it could become quite slippery and dangerous.
We reached the summit before dawn and its really crowded with people. The summit is actually a large crater of the volcano with a rim around the outside. The Yoshida trail reaches the summit on the Eastern side of the mountain. The true summit is on the Western side which is another 45 minute walk. On the Eastern side, you will see the shadow of the moon and the sunrises over the horizon/clouds. We chose to keep walking around the rim to the Western edge of the crater to see the incredible shadow of the mountain on the blanket of clouds formed as the sun rose. You also get a really beautiful sunrise over the crater. If you are feeling up to it, I would definitely suggest taking the extra effort to walk to the other side of the crater! The view is well worth the little bit extra hike.
You can spend time at the summit taking pictures, having a break, eating before its time to start the descent. They warn before the climb that the descent is the hardest part of the climb. Whilst its much quicker (around 3 hours) it is hard on the legs and is incredibly slippery in stages. Take your time getting back down, we saw quite a few spectacular tumbles and people can really hurt themselves getting back down.
After meeting back at the 5th station, our tour group organised a visit to a traditional Japanese hot spring. They are more like indoor pools than "hot springs" and we chose rather just to take a good rest in a comfortable chair. When you get back to your hotel that night, you will carve a big dinner of sushi......I promise!
You can buy lots of things from the huts on the mountain, including water, so if you would prefer to carry less weight and you're happy to pay the extra cost, it may be easier than starting with litres of water (a 500ml bottle will cost 500Y compared to 100Y in Tokyo). To avoid altitude sickness, you need to ensure you are keeping fully hydrated, so always have a bottle or 2 of water in your pack! As a rough guide, we drank around 3Lt of water each, so I would suggest budgeting to buy a few bottles on the mountain!
We brought some snacks with us - light things like nuts, jerky, chocolate bars that we ate along the way. i would suggest bringing these types of things if you are like me and get really hungry!
At the overnight rest stop, they provide a meal (rice, hambuege/tofuburger, noodles and miso soup) which is pretty filling.
Adventure. Iconic. Summit. Sunrise. Fujisan
The iconic Mount Fuji experience is to be at the summit for the sunrise - this requires an overnight hike and departing the 5th station around noon.
It very much comes down to luck with the weather in terms of what you will see when you reach the summit or even if you will able to climb at all, with some climbs having to be suspended.
We were especially fortunate that our climb coincided with a full moon. The result of a full moon and sunset is that you get the shadow of the mountain from both the moon and the sun at different times from opposite sides of the summit.
Toilets are not free on Mount Fuji! Make sure you bring change as it is 100Y per use. Additionally there is a recommended maintenance payment of 1000Y, which goes to the upkeep of the facilities. My only issue was you then had to pay to use toilets and there were no bins on the mountain.
Altitude sickness is a potentially dangerous situation when climbing above 2000m. It is a result of the thinner air having less oxygen to supply the muscles and brain. There are a number of things you can do to reduce your chances of this being a problem:
- have a basis level of fitness before the climb.
- be well rested.
- keep really well hydrated.
- climb at a comfortable pace and take regular short breaks.
- make sure you take time to acclimatise at periodic rest points.
- be aware of the early signs of altitude sickness.
We did see several people suffering with degrees of altitude sickness and it didn't look at all a good situation. The tour leaders are experienced in recognising and treating situations of altitude sickness and this is another reason that inexperienced climbers should always go as part of an organised group.
The temperatures in Tokyo in Summer are quite hot, however if you are planning to climb Mount Fuji, you will need some warm clothes! We went layers - skins, t-shirts, light jackets and it was perfect. If you arrive in Japan a little light on for warm clothes, visit North Face or Uniqlo and you will get everything you need. Decent hiking shoes are definitely advisable as it gets pretty slippery. You will need a headlight for the night and sunglasses/sunscreen for the day as you are up above the clouds.
We did not receive any discount from JAPANiCAN to write this review.
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