Japan’s most famous natural symbol is the mighty Mt. Fuji, whose almost-symmetrical snow-capped cone is a familiar sight in photos and pictures. Rising over 3,776 meters, its famous reputation extends far beyond the country.
Towards the end of my 2013 trip to Japan, in what is perhaps one of the few major achievements in my modest life, I climbed it. It was the perfect height – spectacular enough to be one of Asia’s highest mountains, but able to be climbed in one day. It wasn’t easy as it took me about 6 hours to reach the top, 1.5 hours to walk around the crater at the top, and 3 hours to get back down. I have to clarify that I didn’t climb it from the ground, but midway from the 5th station on the Yoshida Trail, the most popular of the four trails on Mt. Fuji. This isn’t cheating though, almost everyone who climbs it does it from that point.
After I got to Tokyo, I spent one day there then went to Mt. Fuji. Rather, I took the night bus to Kawaguchiko, a small resort town at the foot of Mt. Fuji which also borders a lake of the same name, and checked in at a hostel just across the station that I had prebooked. The next morning, I took the bus up to the Fuji Subaru 5th station, which is a large rest area on the mountain with several stores and washrooms.
I started off on a wide gravelly path along the Yoshida Trail, the most popular of the four different trails that go up from different directions and intersect near the top. However, coming down, you do need to be careful to go down the correct train. There were a lot of people, some of whom were coming in the opposite direction who’d probably climbed down after viewing the sunrise on top. Mt. Fuji was one of the few places I saw a fair number of foreigners during my Japan trip. There were even horses carrying lazy hikers further on to a certain point.
The path got steadily steeper, narrower and rockier and darker. The higher you go, the less vegetation there is until eventually it’s all bare soil and rock because Mt. Fuji is a volcano. I’d started from the 5th station so there were 3 more stations to pass until the top. At each one, there were benches, toilets (you had to pay to use but they were rather clean), and even huts that travelers could sleep in. There was always a lot of people, both Japanese and foreigners, along the trail. I even passed a few Hong Kongers including one family, who I’d bump into later.
While it was still summer and hot on the ground, it was a little cold on the mountain, which was the highest mountain I’d ever been on. The ground was desolate; there was no trees or vegetation and the soil was red. From far off, Mt. Fuji looks great but up close, it was ugly but majestic. Climbing the mountain is not technically difficult as there are clear trails and steps, but it was extremely tiring and I had to stop almost every 10 minutes or so. There were signs along the way and at each station showing how much more meters to go before reaching the top which provides a small psychological boost. It was a cloudy day and when I got high enough, the clouds were below me and often shrouded the land below so I couldn’t see it.
After what seemed an eternity, the top came into view. I told myself I’d soon be on top and I did, but that last bit was one of the hardest. It was great when I finally reached the summit; the sky was blue, the clouds formed an impenetrable layer around the mountain, and I was literally above the clouds. It was one of the most fantastic sights I have ever beheld.
The summit isn’t a single spot, but a large crater which requires over an hour to walk around. The absence of any vegetation and walking on red earth surrounded by bare rocky slopes almost felt like being on the moon or someplace not on this earth.
I’d started the hike at about 10 in the morning and I reached the top at 3.30, so by 5, I headed back down. The trail down was initially on a different path from the one going up, and at one point, it splits into two with one continuing on the Yoshida trail and the other to a different trail, but this is clearly marked by signs that explicitly warned climbers not to confuse the two trails. The trail down was very loose and almost sandy, so at times it was possible to jog down.
Lower down, I ran into a HK family of three who I’d met near the top and we passed each other several times again. It was a good thing because it was getting dark and just before we reached the fifth station, we took a wrong turn that resulted in me asking a park employee who spoke no English, and the family having a small dispute, shouting in Cantonese. It was a little desperate because we had to catch the final bus at the fifth station down to Kawaguchiko which left at 8.30, but we ended up doing so with some time to spare too.
We were actually staying at the same hostel too, but on different floors. After saying goodbye, I took a soak in the hostel’s hotspring spa. The next morning, I walked to Lake Kawaguchiko which was about 20 minutes from my hostel, did a short stroll enjoying the scenic lake, then headed back and took the bus back to Tokyo.
5th station, the starting point of my trek
The trail starts off nice and smooth
It was misty at times.
The “8.5th” station, one more station and 900m to go before the top
When the clouds shifted, you could see a bit of the ground below
The summit features large craters which take at least an hour to walk around.
Weather station, where the highest point is
The highest point on the summit
The way down starts off on a different path (though it’s considered the same trail as the one up)
The trail forks at this point, but luckily there are clearly marked signs like this