Mount Fuji: Challenging summit hike literally takes your breath away
A typical Mount Fuji inn balances level against the almost vertical rock face.
Stars and Stripes
Two different online guides describe climbing Mount Fuji as "relatively easy to climb for most people" and requiring "little expertise or equipment."
Don't let that deceive you.
Hiking to the summit of Japan's iconic highest peak is truly an exciting, "bucket-list" achievement -- an experience that comes with breathtaking, unforgettable views and bragging rights.
But a word of warning to any weekend warriors confident in their physical abilities after finishing that last-minute half marathon without training: Consider a Mount Fuji climb like walking that half-marathon at a 30- to 40-degree angle, carrying a 15-pound backpack while wearing thick hiking boots. Add in a 30-degree temperature change and layers of swirling dust and dirt for the second half of the race.
In other words, don't take it lightly.
There are portions so steep, climbers must grasp the rock wall with their hands for balance and to pull themselves up. Often, only a flimsy, white rope separates hikers from the edge of the narrow trail and a precipice. Climbers routinely stumble on slippery gravel, scramble to grab nearby rocks -- and are helped back to their feet by a polite hiker a few steps away.
The atmosphere is thinner the higher the climb, and the bodies of exhausted hikers steal a few minutes' rest, lying down or slumped next to the trail, appearing to be casualties of the thin air.
The descent from Mount Fuji is monotonous and brutal on feet and knees. The trail is as wide as a one-lane road, all reddish gravel and volcanic dirt. It steeply snakes back and forth for miles. The descent is a combination of a slow shuffle and a slide, jamming a climber's toes against the front of their boot.
But in between the ascent and descent, the reward is the summit.
Most hikers try to time their arrival at the summit with the sunrise. At that time, hundreds in coats, hats and gloves crowd the crater's edge, hoping for a glimpse and picture of the sun as it lights up the clouds below and turns the sky a fiery orange.
It's a magical moment that's hard to forget.