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Climbing Mount Fuji isn’t cheap or easy, but it’s worth doing

By JESSICA BIDWELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 11, 2016

A last-minute decision to climb Japan’s highest peak had me scrambling around Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo — from the Outdoor Recreation Center to the base’s Exchange store — preparing for the trip.

Buying gear recommended by colleagues, including a CamelBak, hiking boots, head lamp, energy bars, electrolytes, sunscreen, sunglasses, poncho and warm clothing, set me back about $100.

And the costs kept climbing before I even got to the mountain.

Road tolls from Yokota to the base of Mount Fuji were $75, and a taxi from there to the trailhead was $50. I consoled myself by thinking about the priceless view from the top.

The climb started after midnight on the Fujinomiya trail, which passes several stations — each offering food, drinks and a place to rest — on its way to the summit. The lower stations were closed in the wee hours, so my climbing partner and I chose to pause elsewhere on the trail, where there was less light pollution to dim our view of the stars.

Strokes of color painted the sky by the time we reached the eighth station at 3:30 a.m., so we increased our pace to get to the top before dawn. We were still short of the summit when the sun finally came up, but the view was fantastic even from the side of the mountain.

After basking in the early-morning rays, we realized that we were both cold, tired and feeling the effects of altitude.

We took a ramen break inside a hut to warm our cold bodies. That rest did the trick, and we were back on the trail a half-hour later.

But I realized something was wrong when we reached the ninth station. I felt nauseous, my head was pounding, my mind was foggy and my body was screaming “stop.” Still, I pressed on.

Upon reaching the summit, I resisted an urge to lie down and curl up into a ball by trudging around taking photographs. I was higher than the clouds, but I wasn’t enjoying it.

I bought a $15 can of oxygen, which seemed to make things worse. We had to drop to a lower altitude.

Going down was much easier than the climb up, but my body continued to protest, and I needed frequent rests.

Fortunately, there was a medical center at the eighth station — the only one on the trail — where a nurse said my oxygen levels had dropped low. I had acute mountain syndrome, he told me after a series of tests. The treatment involved more oxygen along with pills for my headache and nausea.

Once my oxygen levels were restored, I returned to the trail feeling much better.

On the way down we spotted a pair of poles with Japanese coins embedded in them. There were also some rank pins left by servicemembers.

Just over 12 hours after our adventure began, we were back at the trailhead and headed home after a sometimes challenging but utterly unforgettable experience.

bidwell.jessica@stripes.com

 

Climbing Mount Fuji

 

DIRECTIONS

By car from Yokota Air Base, take the Chuo expressway to the Kawaguchiko interchange and follow the Fuji-Subaru Line to the fifth station parking lot. If the road is closed to ordinary vehicles, you may need to park at the bottom and take a taxi or bus. TIMES

Climbing season is July through August.

COSTS

Parking, 1,000 yen (about $10); taxi to the fifth station, 5,000 yen; toilets on the mountain, 200 yen; Fuji climbing stick, 1,500 yen; Fuji stamps, 50 to 300 yen each.

FOOD

There are plenty of restaurants at the fifth station, and snacks, drinks and food can be purchased at huts along the trail to the summit. Food and drink on the mountain is expensive — for example, 500 yen for a drink and 1,000 yen for a bowl of ramen.

 

INFORMATION

Plan a trip with information in English at www.yamanashi-kankou.jp/english.

Climbers are higher than the clouds atop Mount Fuji, late last month. The active volcano is Japan's highest peak.
JESSICA BIDWELL/STARS AND STRIPES

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