People climb Mt. Fuji
MT. Fuji, Japan—Hundreds of people climb Mt. Fuji through the night on June 30 in a bid to reach the top in time for ”goraiko” (sunrise).
What kind of person tries to climb Mount Fuji? Somebody who likes litter, hot sun on black rock, stinky outhouses, 3rd-world filthy $80/night mountain huts, and lots-&-lots of company.
The rainy season is over so now is your chance to suffer too. :-) Don’t say I didn’t warn you, hee, hee. (It’s cheerfully called Fuji-san –no it’s not “Mr Fuji”–“san” is just the Chinese name for mountain.)
And don’t miss the official climbing season for Mount Fuji unlike so many clueless gaijin wannabes: Official climbing season for Mount Fuji is from July 1 to the end of August.
Climbing Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji (3776 meters) is Japan’s highest mountain. Occationally visible from Tokyo on a clear day, the mountain is located to the west of Tokyo on the main island Honshu.
A perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone, the mountain is a near-mythical national symbol immortalized in countless works of art, including Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mt. Fuji.
When to go
The official climbing season lasts for only two months, from July to August. Even during these months, when Tokyo often swelters in 40-degree heat, temperatures at the top can be below freezing at night and climbers must dress adequately.
Climbing outside the official season is not only technically illegal without police permission but extremely dangerous without alpine climbing experience and equipment. Nearly all facilities are closed in the off season. The weather, unpredictable any time of year, is downright vicious in the winter and there are cases of people being literally blown off the mountain by high winds.
Main approaches to Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji can be approached from all sides, but note that transport schedules are sharply cut outside the official climbling season. For up to date information, the city of Fujiyoshida maintains a Fuji access page listing current routes and schedules.
The quickest option for reaching the slopes of Mt. Fuji is to take the express bus from Shinjuku in Tokyo. The direct bus takes 2.5 hours, costs 2600 yen, and takes you directly to the start of the climb at Kawaguchiko 5th Station.
Alternatively, you can go via the nearby town of Fujiyoshida, which you can reach by taking the JR Chuo line to Otsuki and changing to the Fujikyu line. The Fujikyu line passes through Fujiyoshida to Kawaguchiko, from where hourly buses (50 minutes, 1700 yen) shuttle to the 5th Station.
Visitors coming from Chubu or Kansai may wish to opt for the southern approach via Fujinomiya instead. The nearest Tokaido Shinkansen stop is Shin-Fuji station. If arriving on the ordinary Tokaido line, change trains to the JR Fujinomiya line at Fuji station.
Once on the mountain the only way of getting around is on foot. The sole exception is horseback riding, available on the Fujiguchiko trail between the 5th and 7th stations only for the steep price of 12,000 yen.
For merely seeing Mt. Fuji, it’s better to maintain some distance. The most popular places for sightseeing tours of Fuji and surroundings are Hakone, to the east of Mt. Fuji towards Tokyo, and the Fuji Five Lakes, located just north of the mountain.
The thing to do on Mt. Fuji is, of course, to climb it, preferably overnight so you can reach the top in time to see the sunrise (go-raiko). As the Japanese say, a wise man climbs Fuji once, and a fool twice, but the true wisdom of this phrase is usually only learned the hard way. Depending on your pace, the climb up will take 5 to 8 hours, and the descent another 3 to 4.
An absolute minimum set of clothing for climbing Fuji would be:
* sturdy high-top shoes (hiking boots if possible)
* rain clothing
* head cover
Gloves [Volcanic rock is sharp] and warm, layered clothing are also strongly recommended. Other supplies you will need are:
* Headlamp and spare batteries (if climbing at night) Get the new type of LED headlamp that runs on one C-cell is 1000 times better than a crappy flashlight.
*Bring tons of money (10-20 thousand yen extra) in case you need a horseback ride back down because a typhoon, twisted ankle, altitude sickness, etc.
* sunglasses and sunscreen (which will most likely be needed during the daylight descent even if you climb at night)
* toilet paper
Also bring along at least 1 liter of water per person, preferably 2. High-energy snacks as well as a more substantial fare (rice balls and such) will also come in very handy.
The usual starting point is Kawaguchiko 5th Station (Kawaguchiko Go-gome, 2305m), which offers you a last chance to stock on supplies before heading out. The initial stretch through flowery meadows is pleasant enough, but the bulk of the hike is a dreary and interminable slog: the volcanic landscape consists of jagged red rock in varying sizes from dust to boulder, with the trail zigzagging left and right endlessly, and the hike just gets steeper and steeper as you progress. Actual rock climbing is not required, but you will wish to use your hands at some points.[[Volcanic rock is sharp. Be sure to buy a pair of white Japanese construction gloves for sale at a convenience store before climbing]].
The trail is well marked and in season you will find it difficult to get lost, as the trip is completed annually by 300,000 people and there may even be human traffic jams at some of the dicier spots. However, due to the danger of landslides do not venture beyond the trail; visibility may also be very rapidly reduced to near-zero if clouds roll in.
Once at the top, you will pass under a small torii gate and encounter a group of huts selling drinks and souvenirs; this being Japan, you will even find vending machines on the top of Mount Fuji. Yes, this is as anticlimactic as it sounds, but with any luck seeing the sunrise above the clouds will make up for it. You can also gaze into the long-dormant crater at the center of the mountain. Strictly speaking, this is not the highest point of the mountain; that honor goes to the meteorological station on the other side of the crater, an additional 30 minutes hike away and not really worth the trouble. A full circuit of the crater takes around an hour.
There is a separate path for descending down the mountain back to Kawaguchiko; be sure you take the right one! Do not attempt to run down the mountain; it’s a long way to the nearest hospital, and you don’t want to find out how much a helicopter medevac costs in Japan.
Buy, Eat and Drink
Kawaguchiko 5th Station is the last place to have a meal or stock up on supplies without breaking the bank, although there’s a bit of inflation even here.
All stations along the Kawaguchiko trail, as well as the summit itself, are equipped with mountain huts that sell drinks and basic climbing gear (sticks, flashlights, raincoats, even oxygen canisters). As all materials have to be hauled in on foot, prices are high and rise the closer you get to the summit. The huts also have extremely basic toilets, but they get the job done.
Note that most huts will not allow visitors to stay within the (heated) huts without paying a resting fee of 1000-2000 yen per hour. Simple meals (curry rice and such), if available at all, will cost in the range of 1000 yen.
The summit has fewer people staying overnight and many more people resting, so the price of a cup of tea or a bowl of noodles is somewhat more reasonable.
Huts from 7th station onward also offer primitive accommodations; reservations are strongly recommended if you plan on staying in these. [[Don’t bother to stay at these animal cages.]] Prices are pretty much standardized at 5250 yen a night for a very cramped space (one tatami mat or less) shared with the halitosis, funky boot juice and snoring of 150-500 strangers, plus an optional 1050/2100 yen for one/two meals.
A full list of huts (in English) with phone numbers is available here
Mount Fuji is a real mountain and should be treated with respect. Near the top the air is noticeably thinner, which may cause altitude sickness and breathing difficulties. The hike to the top is taxing, but hypothermia strikes when waiting for sunrise at the goal, while injuries typically occur during the descent phase when you’re tired. Especially after heavy rains landslides are also a possibility.