On cloud 9 in the Japanese peaks
Last year I fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting the land of the rising sun, Japan. From technologically advanced mega cities to enchanting forests and spectacular mountains, Japan is one of the far east’s most incredible countries to visit.
A mountain that has always been on my bucket list is the 3,775m tall active volcano, Mount Fuji. One of the most iconic and picturesque mountains in the world and the tallest in Japan, climbing to its summit has always appealed to me. So I booked my trip so that it would fall in Fuji climbing season (July and August).
For a man who has travelled a lot, I surprisingly do very little preparation before my trips. This would later hinder me on this trek. So, before I left for Japan, my research was, (1) when I could climb it, and (2) what route I should take. I'd heard that the most iconic Fuji climb is overnight so that you can see the sunrise from the summit, as it lights up the landscape below. This was my number one priority - I had to be at the summit for sunrise.
My preparation for the trek was not ideal. Climb day started at 6.30am in a backpackers' hostel a few hours north of Fujisan Kawaguchiko by train. Three trains and several hours later, we greeted Fujisan town around midday. It was raining and zero visibility. To my despair, the mountain had been closed to all walkers. Upon booking into a youth hostel and meeting some walkers who had climbed the previous night in driving rain, the stories of people getting pulled off the mountain with altitude sickness and hypothermia made the climb look even less likely.
Most people were saying that the mountain would remain closed to climbers for a few days.
Japan isn't close and the mission to climb the mountain seemed to be slipping through my fingers. Reminding myself to keep my fingers, arms, legs and whatever else I could crossed in hope the conditions would clear. Around nightfall the rain eased off and my optimism returned.
I prepared a hiking bag.
Like I said, I don’t do that much planning for my trips. Therefore, two months in Asia in the middle of summer meant that I didn’t pack much in the way of warm clothing and certainly no wind stopper. So I took as many layers as I could and wore the only long trousers that I had, enough food and water for a night, a headlamp and of course my camera gear.
Before the climb, I went for a big hearty Japanese meal with my girlfriend who then waved me off as I caught a bus to the start of the walking trails. I caught the last bus of the night, as I was worried about going too early and being at the summit early.
Stepping onto the mountain at 10pm and all that crossing of appendages started to pay off, the clouds started to clear.
They cleared so quickly that, within half an hour, I was gazing up at the stars from the trail! I then knew that the summit was 100% on and I was going on this epic trek. I was absolutely buzzing as I set off, a grin from ear to ear and only my own thoughts for company.
On cloud nine.
There were two concerns: summiting too quickly and altitude sickness. Summiting too quickly would be overcome by always reading the signs and timing myself between points. If I was going too fast I would have to stop. Altitude sickness would also be helped by stopping and taking my time. The early parts of the trek were easy because, despite having been awake for 16 hours, I was full of excitement and the initial walking was very easy going. The group stopped from time to time to take photos and try to waste time.
However, I was still flying up the mountain.
As I got further up it became more apparent that I was going to summit too early, even with my casual pace. The mountain is divided by mountain huts, the trail linking each one. I got to the point of having to wait at least 30 minutes outside each hut. This became the hardest part for me. While I was walking, I had energy and drive but when I stopped, it got cold and tiring. The cold was really starting to set in with the clear skies. By 3,000m the temperature was only 5 degrees celsius and that would have been okay if the wind wasn’t gusting up to 60 kilometres per hour with a windchill of minus 5 degrees celsius. When you are walking, you stay warm but when you stop, the wind goes straight through you. Finding shelter was really hard. Occasionally, I found a decent rock to sit behind for 10 minutes but most of the time I had to stop and wait in the wind.
Reaching the summit at 3.40am was nearly a full hour before sunrise and remember thinking to myself that this could possibly have been the coldest I had ever felt! Perched atop of the mountain with my camera sitting on its tripod waiting for sunrise, it was a long hour! When the sun rose though it was all worth it - the view was epic! The most incredible thing was that, in all the time of climbing, you couldn’t see any of it properly. So, as the light started painting its way across the land, it revealed more and more of the beauty in front of you. I don't think my photos could ever really do it justice. However, it was an experience I will never forget.
I must admit, however, as epic as it was, once the sun had risen my next thought was… I want to go home and go to bed! So I went for a super speedy descent down the mountain. As the sun rose, so did the temperature and by 6am the sun was burning hot - from one extreme to another. I was now getting sunburnt. I made it down to the bus stop by 7am just in time for the first bus of the day back to the town. When I got off the bus I turned and looked back at the mountain from the town - wow! This was the first time I had actually seen the mountain. Looking at it was incredible; to think that, just a few hours ago I was standing on top of it, was awesome. I got into bed at 8.30am and enjoyed a very well earned sleep. That was 26.5 hours of amazingness that I will never forget.