Although "the season" doesn't officially start until July, bases around Japan are starting now to prepare climbers for trekking up the country's highest mountain, Mount Fuji.

Although "the season" doesn't officially start until July, bases around Japan are starting now to prepare climbers for trekking up the country's highest mountain, Mount Fuji. (Courtesy of Jeff Laitila)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Steven Marksberry calls Mount Fuji a “paradox.”

Its well-worn paths, souvenir shops and toilets cause “most self-respecting mountaineers to sneer with disdain,” says Yokosuka’s outdoor recreation director.

But don’t be deceived into thinking Mount Fuji is a “Disneyland” pleasure trip, he said, warning that those same niceties lead to a misperception that anyone can summit the 12,388-foot volcano with little or no preparation.

“The last years, the Outdoor Adventure Center staff has observed many climbers, both part of and not part of our group, in trouble on Fuji,” Marksberry said.

“What makes climbing potentially dangerous is that everyday problems may become life-threatening exceptionally fast when they occur on a mountain.”

So, as bases prepare for the official Fuji climbing months of July and August, most prospective climbers are required to add a safety briefing to the calendar along with their climbing date.

Formal pre-trip briefings are mandatory at Yokosuka, Yokota Air Base, Camp Zama and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

People leaving from Naval Air Facility Atsugi are given a checklist and briefing when they sign up, and the guide does a “bag check” to make sure everyone has the right gear before the bus leaves. At Sasebo Naval Base, climbers are briefed on Mount Fuji hazards on the long bus ride to the mountain.

Among the hazards are changing weather. Even on a 70-degree day, a person can get hypothermia if a storm blows in and he or she isn’t carrying proper clothing, Marksberry said.

Altitude sickness and dehydration also are common problems, Marksberry said, adding that these situations are avoidable with a little preparation and respect for the mountain.

“After all, mountains, oceans — even deserts — are living entities with moods that can change in a heartbeat,” he said.

“Without the need of technical rope work and with bilingual signs to guide you, the climb becomes a steep, intermediate hike accessible to those with moderately good health and a sense of adventure,” he said. “But at 12,000 feet, Fuji may become dangerous for the ill prepared, inexperienced or simply unlucky.”

Tips for reaching the topHere are some climbing tips from Steven Marksberry, Yokosuka Naval Base’s outdoor recreation director:

Don’t drink alcoholic beverages. If you can’t refrain from booze for 24 hours prior to climbing, seek counseling, not Fuji. Alcohol is a diuretic that causes a person to lose fluids, which the body immediately seeks to replace. Put simply: Begin your hike hydrated — never dehydrated.If you have sickle-cell anemia, sickle-cell trait or a family history of these diseases, see a physician before you go. Altitude and dehydration can affect the symptoms.Never hike alone. Anything and everything can happen on that mountain and there is no way of calling for help. Don’t rely on mobile or cellular phones because they don’t have guaranteed coverage.Wear appropriate clothing. Cotton, believe it or not, is one of the worst things you could wear. Instead, your clothes, stored-away rain gear and cold-weather clothing should be made of non-absorbent, manmade materials. Wrap them first in a garbage bag if your backpack isn’t waterproof.Eat and drink while on the mountain. Drink lots of fluids and eat small amounts frequently.Be in shape. An inactive couch potato with hiking experience limited to the fridge and back should not climb Mount Fuji — at least not yet. A climber should be able to comfortably walk or jog two to three miles without a break before taking on Fuji.Have some common sense and respect. Climbers don’t determine when they summit mountains; mountains allow climbers to summit them.Hikers who find themselves in over their heads should stop, take shelter and try again another day if necessary. Mount Fuji isn’t going anywhere.— Stars and Stripes

Fuji briefings at Japan bases

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE: Briefings will be held on June 6, 13, 20 and 27, at Green Bay Marina.

YOKOTA AIR BASE: Briefings will be held at the Communication Center on July 5 for the July 7 day climb, July 11 for the July 13-14 overnight climb and July 18 for the July 21 day climb.

CAMP ZAMA: Briefings will be held July 11 for a July 13 climb. Another trip will be offered July 21.

MISAWA AIR BASE: Contact ITT for information.

SASEBO NAVAL BASE: MWR is offering trips on July 13, Aug. 3 and Aug. 17. There is no formal briefing, but climbers will be given a checklist when they sign up. On the day of the climb, there will be a bag check to ensure climbers have the required gear.

NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI: Briefings will be given on the bus on the climbing dates, which are tentatively scheduled for July 7, 21 and 27 and Aug. 4.

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI: Climbing trips include a night’s stay at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo. Briefings are mandatory and are held in the Wellness Room. A July 5 briefing will be held for the July 10-14 trip. An Aug. 2 briefing will be held before the Aug. 8-12 trip. A briefing will be held Aug. 16 for the a 22-26 trip.

For more information, contact the MWR office on each base.

— Stars and Stripes

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