Mount Fuji was covered in clouds—and apparently often is—when we visited Hakone a few weeks ago. We were starting to think that the highest mountain in Japan was actually a myth and was just photoshopped into all the photos. Of course, the only way to find out was to climb it.
First, I attempted to find out what to expect. However, there were such mixed reviews, ranging from people saying it took them nine and a half hours to get to the top to others saying they had to go back down due to altitude sickness. There were even some who said it was just a long walk, and one man who told us it only took him three hours! None the wiser, it seemed I was just going to have to find out for myself.
We had decided that we were going to do the Yoshida Trail, which starts from the Subaru 5th station. Starting on Saturday night to catch the Sunday sunrise, we were going to do it all in one go and not stay in a mountain hut overnight, mainly because we all had work on Monday.
At the start of each trailhead, you can make an optional donation of JPY1,000 to the Fuji conservation fund and receive a wooden souvenir made from Mount Fuji timber.
We met a few people on their way back just as we were starting out. When we asked if they had been up for the sunset, the reply was, “Yeah, it was terrible”—not giving us the motivation we needed.
However, we reached the 6th station pretty quickly, in about half an hour. This was a morale boost, as there were only 10 stations and that first leg of the climb wasn’t too steep. The stations were very well stocked. You could buy oxygen and drinks there, as well as get your wooden hiking stick stamped. The hiking sticks could be purchased at the 5th station.
It became steeper after the 6th station, but we reached the 7th station after only about another half an hour. Two stations in an hour—we were on a roll! However, we were aware that altitude sickness could strike if you climb too fast, so we stopped briefly at each station for a rest.
The climb to the 8th station was quite tiring, as there were lots of boulders and rocks to climb up. If I had done it during the day I think my fear of heights might have kicked in, but by the light of the headtorch it was more about focusing on where to put your feet!
I was quite short of breath at this point—I think this was a combination of the way being steep and the air becoming very thin at this elevation. I tried to make a conscious effort to breathe very deeply to get as much oxygen as possible as my breathing had been shallow because I was tired.
After the 8th station, there was the old 8th station. Then there was the top or the 10th station. This was confusing as I was looking for the 9th station as a marker of our progress. After the old 8th station, there were lots of people climbing and quite significant snaking queues of fellow climbers trying to get to the top. This was frustrating as we wanted to get to the top for sunrise. At the same time, we were exhausted at this point and the air was very thin.
Due to the queues, there are people with megaphones instructing you on which side to queue and helping you up the boulders.
After six hours and 45 minutes, we finally we made it to the top! In our group of five, none of us got altitude sickness and we made it for sunrise—success!
We got a good seat on one of the wooden platforms at the top and marveled at what we had just accomplished. This being Japan, I was able to get myself a drink from a vending machine and use the free Wifi to facetime my parents from the top!
One thing I found very surprising is the varying levels of preparedness of those around us. Some, like us, had the full gear with hiking rucksacks, poles, and rain gear. At the same time, we saw others hiking up in jeans and trainers, carrying nothing with them!
After spending about two hours at the top taking many photos and refuelling, we started our descent. My top tip for this phase of the climb would be to use hiking poles—the way is quite steep. The ground is quite sandy and rocky, meaning it is not difficult to descend, but it is hard work on your knees and the poles take some of the pressure off.
It was very hot on the decent. The sun was beating down at this point due to having not slept in 24 hours. Also, our motivation was lacking because we had already achieved our goal of reaching the top. However, we had a fantastic storyteller in our group who managed to entertain us enough to take our mind off the descent.
Overall, I would say the descent was pretty gruelling if you bullet climb like we did.
The distance from the 8th to the 7th stations felt like a lifetime. We kept seeing signs saying 50 minutes to the station, but it felt much longer.
However, from the 7th to the 5th stations, it was much more undulating with some flatter parts. We also passed some horses on the way down and learned you could pay to have them take you the rest of the way! However we motivated ourselves to continue on, carried through by the goal of reaching the end.
Finally, we started to pass a lot of eager, fresh-looking people who were beginning their climb, who called out to us “Otsukaresama deshita”—translated as something like “good work”—as we passed. It was a great morale boost.
Reaching the 5th station was such a relief—and even more so when I could take off my boots and socks, which had been on for 24 hours and 3,776 meters of elevation. I apologized to everyone around me!
As I boarded the bus home, I was 80% Pocari Sweat, 100% tired, but would 1,000% recommend the climb to anyone.