Even though it’s a year and a half after the fact, it seems only fitting that the first hike that I post on is Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji was my first hike since I arrived in Japan. I didn’t even know about the Hyakumeizan when I signed up 2 months ahead of time at the MWR office of Camp Zama. MWR sponsors usually 2 trips to Mt. Fuji each year, once toward the end of July, and then another sometime in August. You have to take a free 1 hour class about hiking safety before they let you go on the trip. My only take away from that was to bring plenty of duct tape because of the story they told of someone having to wrap it around their shoes in order to keep them together for the decent.
We left Camp Zama via tour bus at around 4:30 am and got to Mt. Fuji Subaru Line Fifth Station around 7:30. There were already many tour buses at the parking lot, tourists, plenty of selfie sticks, and shops trying to get you to buy snacks, water, and their special Mt. Fuji hiking stick. I bought a small version of one of the wooden hiking sticks only because I heard that you can pay to get a stamp branded on your stick at each station all the way to the top and I thought that would be a good souvenir.
So I started the ascent, with most of the people from the tour at first, but I’m a faster hiker than most of them so I got ahead of them and hiked at my own pace. I stopped at each station for usually no more than 5-10 minutes to eat a snack and get the stamp branded on my short hiking stick (which I didn’t use for hiking, I put it in my daypack and used real hiking poles). The Yoshida Trail usually takes people about 4-5 hours to the top and about 3-4 hours back down. I got to the top in about 3 hours, bought a coke for 500 yen (it gets progressively more expensive as you get higher up), and took in the view which was mediocre because of the cloud cover. There are shops along the way as well as at the top where you can buy a bowl of ramen, water, and souvenirs.
After the 8th station, I started to feel what I later determined to be altitude sickness. At 4:30 am I was basically at sea level, and by lunch time I was at 12,389 ft. Altitude sickness for me included headache, upset stomach, difficulty breathing, and extreme fatigue. I didn’t recognize that it was altitude sickness at the time so I continued to walk around the crater loop, which added about 0.5 – 1 mile of mostly level terrain. Because of the altitude sickness, that loop took be about an hour because I had to stop to rest every 100 ft or so. When I got around the loop, I didn’t waste any time to head back down the decent trail, which is a separate one from the ascent trail. By the 8th station, which is at approximately 10,600 ft, I started to feel much better.
After navigating through the hundreds of people starting their ascent as part of guided tour intending on staying in a hut overnight to catch the sunrise, I reached the 5th station at about 3 pm. I was the only one back. I had a bowl of ramen, a couple Asahi’s, and bought some omiyagi.
I struggled with enjoying this hike partly because it is too well known, which brings large crowds of people that aren’t normally hikers, and partly because I’m not unique there. No one cares that another “gaijin” is climbing Mt. Fuji. That’s what people say they’re going to do when they get here for vacation – eat sushi, drink sake, cross the Shibuya scramble, and climb Mt. Fuji.
That said, one thing unique about hiking Fuji and living in the Tokyo metro area is that on a clear day Fuji is the most prominent feature. From Tokyo Skytree, from the Odakyu Odawara line, from Hakone, Chigasaki, you can see it every where. And each time I see it I get to say that I’ve been to the top. My son gets tired of me saying it, but I only say it because I know he gets tired of hearing me say it. Personally, I find it much more enjoyable to view Mt. Fuji from a distance. It’s probably better that way anyway. When I return from hiking somewhere in the Kita, Chuo, or Minami Alps, Yatsugatake area, or anywhere south or west of Tokyo, I know I’m getting close to home when that big mountain comes into view. Now if I can only get past the Utan rush on the Chuo.