After coming to Japan, the one item that I had put on the top of my bucket list was to trek the iconic Mount Fuji (富士山). I had completed the wonderful West Sikkim trek the previous year and I was on the top of my trekking spirit. One, however, can not climb Mount Fuji throughout the year. Every year the trail is opened for only two months (July and August). Fortunately, I was in Japan during those two months in 2013 and was able to fulfil my wish.
I researched a bit about the trek and found out that the difficulty level is not so hard. But the slope is quite steep and it is difficult to acclimatise with the quickly changing weather as one goes up. So the preparation should be there to counter the cold and lack of oxygen. I tried to find some other persons to accompany me during the trek. Few people in office showed interest initially but backed off because of the difficulty. My French colleague Vincent gave me his headlamp and some useful tips for the trek.
Finally accompanied only by my own will power, I started for the trek. Alone.
I reached Shinjuku on the morning of 20th July. A bus starts from Shinjuku station to the Kawaguchiko Station (河口湖駅) which is an important station in the Fuji five lakes region. From Kawaguchiko Station another bus took me to the Mount Fuji 5th Station which is the starting point of Fuji trek.
I went to the information centre in Kawaguchiko station to enquire about the bus. The beautiful lady at the reception noted down my name and nationality. Then she asked who else were with me. When I told her that I was going alone, she was surprised. “Are you sure?”, she asked me. I assured her of my preparation and booked the bus tickets.
When I reached 5th Station it was afternoon. The sun was setting and the sky produced dramatic colors. There were many people, including kids and old people, waiting to start the trek. I was relieved to see that so many people are going with me. Given the politeness and helpfulness of the Japanese people, I was sure to get some help if required.
Unlike the famous photographs, of snow-capped Mt. Fuji, the Fuji peak looked rather boring from this point. One of the reason is the lack of snow on the top (which is also the reason we could trek the summit); another reason is the complete absence of vegetation. For the ones who have trekked in the Himalayan mountain range, Mount Fuji may seem less impressive in terms of beauty and grandeur. But the apparent lack of beauty can be compensated by the excitement of climbing a dormant volcano that can break its slumber any time during the trek. The gray, ruthless landscape of the mountain surely helps in such exciting (or morbid?) thought. If I enjoy the Himalayas as a romantic movie, I would enjoy Mount Fuji as a horror one.
I took some noodles in a shop in 5th Station. I also bought the long stick that can be used while climbing. As you go up the mountain there are facilities to stamp the stick with height information. So, it became a nice souvenir from the trek.
I had no idea which way to go from the 5th station. So I asked a Japanese group who were resting there about the way to the summit. The guys were not very comfortable in English. But they tried their best to give me the directions. After some honest but futile effort with English vocabulary, they directed me to an all-girls-group who were starting then and said, “follow them”. A guy from the group was so happy to finally provide me a solution that he shouted, “Let’s go”. And thus I started my Mount Fuji trek following a group of young girls.
It was not very easy in the beginning. I was in a sedentary lifestyle for the last one year. And I was carrying a bag with two cameras, one tripod, and 4 lenses along with the warm clothes that I would require on the top. I started panting after an hour of a hike.
At that time a big and brawny Brazilian guy came to my rescue. He introduced himself as Bruno. I tried to start a conversation. So I told him how I liked the Brazilian soccer. He was not very moved by the topic. He told me that he came to Japan with his father when he was only 5 and hence he does not relate to Brazil much. I realized that I should have started with the greatness of Japanese green tea instead of the Brazilian Football. He took my bag and started walking with me slowly. He weighed my bag and appreciated me for taking up the challenge. He walked with me for almost an hour after which I insisted him to go ahead. He was becoming unnecessarily late due to me. Bruno wished me luck and went ahead.
There are many resting places on the way up. They are called stations. There are sitting places and small shops set up for the season. There are some mountain huts where you can stay for hours. Some people break up the journey in two parts and rest in these places.
I trekked the whole night and reached the 7th Station at around 5:00 am. The sky started to become bright. There were clouds in the sky. So, it was difficult to say when the sunrise happened. But the clouds and the terrains below provided with an awesome view from this point.
I started getting weaker from lack of food and oxygen. The slope from 7th station to the summit was very steep. I could feel my heart beating slowly. I was so sleepy and weak that I was falling asleep while resting on the side of the trail. I was worried about the oxygen level. Some of the people around were taking inhalers. I tried to move on somehow. One old man enthusiastically cheered me up saying “Gambatte Kudasai !” (which approximately translates to English as “Keep it up”). When, after an hour or so, I finally crossed the Toiri gate of the summit the same old man came to me and congratulated me for making it up to the summit.
I was very sleepy and lied down on the first bench that came to my sight. I slept for an hour there.
After waking up, I explored the area. The crater of the volcano is visible from here. It is a huge cavity covered with stones showing the signs of volcanic activity of the past.
Some people trek around the crater. But I was too worried about climbing down. I was already late and I had to go back and catch the bus.
On the mountain-top, there were some small shops. There were some vending machines too. I wondered what happens to these shops when the snow covers the top of Fujisan in winter. From one of such shops, I bought a key ring with the date of hiking printed on it.
After spending some more time on the top, I started my descent. I was too tired to take any photographs after this. It was a long and tiring journey of 5 hours (it generally takes lesser time, I was a bit slow).
Finally, I reached the 5th station and was relieved to see that the bus was available for going back to Shinjuku. I took some food and prepared for return with a taste of success.