Monday, August 17, 2015

Climbing Mt. Fuji

I wanted to start this series of blog posts about my trip to Japan with the highlight. The "climb"

It was on a trip last March with the kids that the idea of climbing Mt. fuji came to me. At this time, the path was still full of snow and as we were listening to the presentation, it was said that the mountain was open to climbing (safely) ONLY 2 months during summer of every year.

A light bulb hit me..... why don"t we try to climb it? (yeah... I thought it was easy)

I was planning on doing a training program before the climb.. but I got busy with work and everything else that I barely got any training in... (BIG MISTAKE)

I was even talking to a Japanese friend about climbing and he was concerned about me not training at all (which made me even more concerned for myself... but by then it was too late to do anything about it)

It was a few months back that by chance (serendipity.. I think) that while I was browsing through information on Mt. Fuji, an ad came on for guided tours by a local bus company WILLER. You can choose only a guided tour for 17,000 Yen (6,290 pesos/$135) or tour with rental gear 27,000 yen (10,000 pesos/$215). I chose the one with rental gear since I really didn't own any climbing gear.

I think it was when my husband said yes to accompanying me that this brilliant plan of mine really took shape. No guts, No glory!

The climbing gear included were: walking sticks, hiking boots, socks, windbreaker and pants, backpack, headlight, and ankle protection (for mud and dust).

The hike itself was a two day affair. The tour would cover first day dinner and 2nd day breakfast.

Here was our schedule:


The bus company would give clear instructions on how to get to the bus terminal  (call time 7:10am and 7:30 departure). The terminal is located in SHINJUKU area of Tokyo, but I would suggest you leave your hotel early (we left the bulk of our luggage at the hotel and brought only cellphone and money since we rented gear). The way to find the bus terminal is a good 15 min walk from the train station. The bus company gave clear instructions on how to walk through the train to get to the terminal via email but I forgot to look at it.

We did get to check in on time though and got our gear. We checked the sizes for the shoes and pants and they are happy to replace them if they don't fit (I took a medium set... but the pants were a it tight so I had them replaced with large..... what can I say??? I have a booty!!!)

10:30am- we arrive at FUJI SUBARU 5TH STATION- we quickly go up to the 3rd floor to change into our climbing gear (add some under shirts, wear the hiking boots). We even had to figure out how to put money in one of the rental lockers so we could leave our other clothes and shoes. (we did not want extra weight going up)-- tip: you have to open the locker before you put in the coins (cost: 300yen)
subaru 5th station. everyone is getting ready

We quickly ate lunch (that station had our worse lunch experience in japan) so we can catch the meet up with our guide at 11:15. the guide already gave safety reminders on the bus as we were traveling from Tokyo to the 5th station regarding altitude sickness (what to do, how to avoid it), how NOT to rush climbing since it is after all 3776m climb

The walk from the 5th satin to the Mt. Fuji safety station was pleasant enough, some inclines, some rocks. I was feeling... YEAH, this is fun! picture here, picture there and even a video!
smiling.. still

by the end.of the trip. i was looking for this horse!!!

The video was taken at the 6th station.. where the Safety guidance center is and where most people start the REAL climb. (2,390M)

This is when I realized.... HOLY CRAP.

it says... 3.6km till summit

... look at those rocks!!!!! that is what you call.... MOUNTAIN CLIMBING

fortunately, it wasn't all like this, there were also steep gravel paths (I swear there were no plain paths. it all incline until you reach the rest huts that are in between the stations.) the walking sticks were a great help in hoisting ourselves up.

--- we were carrying 2 liters of water each in our backpacks since there is no water in the mountain. You can buy water - which gets more expensive as you climb up. (normal 160 yen  in the mountain: 300 yen... 500yen)
--- you need to cover ALL surfaces with sunblock. Our ears got sunburned (the nape of the neck and the base on the neck too)
--- sunglasses and hats are a must!! the weather during summer even at 2500m is still warm and when you give effort, you really sweat. I was dripping loads by the time I got to the 7th station. (more on that later)

It was a few zigzags up before you reach the first hut - and by the time I reach the 7th station, I was already feeling dizzy. (effects of altitude sickness). I felt like I was going to throw up (which I did after the 7th station). I wasn't taking any more pictures (my feet were like lead)I was doing the deep breathing exercises as suggested  by our guide. I could see clouds on the side of the path which made me even dizzier. (it was like vertigo)... all I could think about was one step in front of the other and I'll be able to reach the hut....

couldn't look up. too dizzy

clouds.. clouds...

my husband calls it.. the "grandma walk"

too dizzy. had to lean on the sign. goo thing there was my husband to take pictures

There are : 2 huts before the 7th station (one member of our group , a thai, gave up upon reaching the 7th station) 4 huts before the 8th station, and 3 huts before the tomoe-kan hut (where we will overnight). It was a struggle to say the least. AGONY is a good word. I reached the hut at about 6:30 in the evening. I tell you. it took a lot out of me.

I was an EXPERIENCE. I was talking to myself the whole time... saying... it will all be ok.. you can make it. only a few more feet... (then realizing I still had 2 more huts to pass to reach the final hut)... WAAAA....
I was trying to motivate myself saying.. it's like giving birth... the pain will go away anyyyyy moment now....

My heart was  thumping so hard every few steps that I had to stop and take  breather. It was like sprinting (if you ever tried it) and then your heart is thumping near your throat.

this is path we took. the solid yellow is the ascent. the dashed yellow is the descent
7pm- I had no appetite (I guess I was too tired and of course had altitude sickness). Took a picture though.

Sleeping arrangements were like in a ryokan. where you sleep on mats. But the space is like very very small. (sardine-like)... My husband had a hard time sleeping with two big american women beside him.. LOL.

Went to sleep with serious doubts if I would attempt the summit at 1:40am.

Day 2:

With much convincing from fellow climbers, I put on my headlamp and walked towards the trail. The Tomoe kan was abuzz with activity and even at an early hour, I could see the sea of people heading for the summit (a trail of headlamps)-- no picture here.. still woozy

I really tried to make it to the top... but by a certain level, I was feeling nauseous again. The guide decided it was in my best interest to go back down to the rest hut. But then, it was too dark to see the descending path clearly. ( the ascending trail is different from the descending trail ) I trudged on and managed to reach the plateau before the summit. (some people were saying that I could have hiked more and reached the summit... but I TELL YOU, at that point, I was physically done and as per my husband, the last leg was especially hard and was almost a vertical rock climb to the summit.

I told my husband... "leave me here.. I can manage.." . I knew HE could make the summit (he was a marathoner after all). It was like a scene in the movie. I could tell he was torn. hahaha

He finally went on leaving me there.... (at some point, I was scared I may not be able to find the descending route from where I was sitting.) Luckly, I figured it out. ( a little bit of thoughts that I might get lost in the mountain and never be found flashed through my head)

The temperature was freezing at the top. The wind was blowing too and I was shivering while waiting for the sunrise. I couldn't wait for it to get light enough so I could go back down.
sunrise was at 4:45am. Trekked back to then hut a few minutes after and got a few minutes of rest.

victory picture!!!

last picture before we trek down

I still had no appetite for breakfast (cold salty salmon and rice) and started to trek back down. the trek back down was on purely gravel and ash. It was slippery and hard on the knees. It was about 3 hours to reach the 5th station. My ankles were hurting by the time I reached the 6th station and I still had to trek about 2km to reach the bus. (where are the horses?)

What really amazed me were the senior citizen and japanese children doing the climb! Really something.

I was glad I got to do it... would I do it again? (NOPE). I underestimated the height of the mountain (3776m) and did not train enough for it. (I could have used more lung power)

The guides were pretty great. They were there all the way guiding us. although I hated it when they kept saying.. keep moving when all I wanted to do was stop and rest! I just felt really OLD and WORN!!!

---I wore a uniglo heatech under shirt and it kept me warm until tomoe kan (it was fleece coat level)
--- if you don't want to bring extra jackets, you can rent one at the tomoe kan (jackets, gloves and warmer pants) I think it was 500 yen per pc.
--- oxygen can be bought in cans at the huts
--- you can mail postcards at the top with a special postmark from Mt. Fuji. (you can actually mail them at the summit where there is a postbox.. but I didn't get to that part). I had the people at the tomoe kan mail it for me
-- sunblock, sunblock, sunblock
-- drink water
-- there are waling sticks for sale and each hut can stamp on your stick (300yen/ stamp)so by the end of your trip, your stick would be full of stamps. But I didn't want the extra baggage and then if I got all the stamps, it would have been about 4000 yen total. (eek)
--- summer is the best time to go (late june - early sept). You bring back down all the plastic bottles and trash you accumulate.
--- there are toilets in the rest huts. but they require 200 yen tip. No toothbrush facilities (you either use your drinking water or none). --- there is no water in the mountain.
--- bring lots of spare change (100 yen coins or 1000 bill)... for the toilets, for the storage lockers, drinks,

If you plan to do this... hope the tips help... and for the love of GOD.. go train!!!!

here is video of a you tuber who climbed click here


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