A WISE MAN CLIMBS IT ONCE, A FOOL CLIMBS IT TWICE - a Japanese proverb.
It seems like we will stick to the proverb.
The volcano is the highest mountain in Japan (3775m) and climbing it is a great adventure.
The climbing season is from July 1 to August 31 and during this time about 3000 people climb Mt Fuji everyday. The Japanese are obsessed with the mountain and watching the sunrise from the top. Everyone climbs it. There are kids, old people, and handicapped climbers. Serious climbers do it all year round, but climbing it in the winter is for experienced people only.
There is more than one route to the top, but the easiest, shortest and the busiest one is Kawaguchiko route. Every route has the 5th station. The stations are located at about 2000m and this is as high as you can drive. Most of the people start climbing from here, but it is possible to climb the mountain from the base.
We chose Sabishiri route which is a little bit longer and harder than Kawaguchiko route. The reason why we chose
Sabishiri was because on the way back we wanted to take the famous sand route down where you simply run
down in almost straight line instead of zig-zagging down on the regular trail.
The trail was almost empty, but when we reached the 6th station after 1 hour of hiking we were surprised to see a lot of people resting there. There was a small building with bunk beds and a shop inside. The price list was shocking. The drinks were Y500 (normally Y150), a bed cost Y5000 and resting inside cost Y1000 per hour or Y300 per 30 min. Even the washroom was Y100. Ridiculous!!! Everyone was outside sitting on the benches eating, drinking or smoking. After a 15 min. rest we were back on the trail which still was in the woods.
At this stage the trail was still very loose and most of the time we were alone. The path was covered with big rocks and we needed a flashlight not to trip. After a few minutes the light bulb died and we had to wait for others to catch up with us because walking without light was impossible. It became possible again when we passed the tree line, but then the trail was already busy.
We walked very slowly and rested long time at every station. Everyone who's climbed Fuji told us that being at the top isn't pleasant because of the strong winds and low temperatures and climbing should be timed to reach the top right before the sunset, see the rising sun and then head back down. After reaching the 7th station though we ran into trouble. Ewa's blood pressure jumped sky high and she couldn't take more than 3 steps without taking a rest. We thought that it was an effect of high altitude and Ewa was experiencing the symptoms of altitude sickness, but later we realized that it was the coffee (Japanese coffee is extremely strong. Probably it was the combination of altitude and strong coffee.
When we reached 3000m we had to put on jackets, pants and even gloves. It was cold. We moved at a very slow pace. The trail was already full of people. At the 8th station we rested for a very long time. There were many people and most of them appeared to be extremely tired and cold. Some were sleeping. We could see the lights from 8.5 station, but at this stage the slope was very steep and even though it seemed less than 100m in the straight line, the zigzagged trail was 5 times as far. It took as about 1 hour to reach it and the horizon was already becoming a bit lighter. According to the guide we had 1 more hour to go, but because of the slow speed we knew it was gonna take us longer than that.
The trail was very crowded at that level. At the 7th station Kawaguchiko and Sabishiri routes joined into one. People were moving upwards in a line at very slow speed resting every few minutes. Everyone looked exhausted.
We reached the 9th and the last station before the summit. This station is different from others because there is only
Torii gate and a small shrine. It's too steep for a bigger building here and it is really near to the top already.
We sat down and waited for the sunrise. A few minutes before the sunrise the entire trail froze and people were
waiting for the sun to show its face. The cloud carpet was below us and the sky above was clear.
We started moving again leaving people at lower levels waiting for the sun to come out. The screams of joy continued
slowly moving downwards. We could see the summit and it looked very near, but we knew that climbing on that zigzagged
trail was gonna take a long time. It was finally daytime and we could feel warmth from the sun. We could also see
what appered to be fresh vomits on the trail, but we didn't pass anybody going back.
Between 8th and 9th stations people looked really tired. They walked upwards dragging their feet behind them with their heads hanging low just like people walking on a desert without any water left. It all changed passed the 9th sations. It seemed like everyone got an injection of fresh energy. The top was very near and once again reaching the top seemed possible. We passed some people vomiting and others sitting on the rocks looking extremely tired.
We finally reached the Torii gate on top and put our feet on the levelled ground for the first time since the 8.5 station. The place was crowded with people. As expected there were many souvenir shops selling all kinds of crap at ridiculous prices. The sun was up, the sky was dark blue and it was windy. We were very tired and sleepy, but decided to walk around the crater. It took us more than an hour to go around. There were a lot of foreigners on top. We came across 2 big tours, one from Indonesia and the other from France and talked to a very nice guy from Brazil.
The way down wasn't easy. We used the same trail down to the 8th station and from there used the service road. By discovering the road we also discovered that it is possible to drive all the way to the top of the mountain. The road passed through every station making it possible to deliver goods by car. After living in Japan for 5 years we kind of expected something like that. It's one of those things that makes Japan Japan.
From the 7th station we took the sand route down. It was very steep, but staright and it seemed like we were gonna reach our car in about an hour. In the end it took us 5 hours, including 1 hour of walking in a beautiful birch forest in the last stage of the trail. From about 3000m until the tree line we walked in the mist. It never rained though.
When we finally emerged from the forest and saw our car we were greatful that it was over promising ourself that we will stick to the proverb and never climb Mt. Fuji again.