Mount Fuji climb is tough, but worth it
Stars and Stripes August 16, 2009
An old Japanese saying goes, "A wise man climbs Mount Fuji once, but only a fool does it twice."
Looking up from the eighth station, I could see the summit clearly and knew the torment I’d put myself through in the hours preceding was going to pay off. Not that much further, I kept thinking. But as I’d come to realize throughout the day, looks on Mount Fuji can be deceiving.
My wife and I took the journey to Japan’s highest peak from Yokosuka Naval Base on a Morale Welfare and Recreation trip, which included bus transportation and a walking stick. At $60 per person, the deal was hard to beat, especially when you consider the price of tolls in Japan.
Just before 5 a.m., the bus arrived at the fifth station, a quaint little town setting where most climbers begin their journey. We were given some final instructions from the tour guide and left to traverse the terrain ourselves. I glanced up at the mountain, not overly impressed. It seemed like it was going to be a nice Saturday stroll. But as I soon found out, my assumption was wrong.
The next six hours I spent oxygen-deprived, battling the rugged terrain and working my way through the crowds of thousands. At times, I found it hard to go more than a couple of hundred feet before I had to stop and take a rest. The winds were extreme and several times caused my wife and me to lose our balance. From time to time we’d start a swifter pace, only to be humbled by the trail runners making their way up the mountain at three times our speed.
Offering solace along the way were the checkpoint stations, each equipped with food, water and bathrooms. The food and drinks were reasonably priced and the bathrooms cost 100 yen per stop. Most of the stations also offer a place to rest and get warm, but each hour you spend inside will cost you about 1,000 yen. There are benches available outside, which provide an opportunity to rest your feet and enjoy breathtaking views.
The walking stick also comes in very handy throughout the climb and makes a nice souvenir afterwards. Throughout the voyage, you’ll have the option of having it stamped at the different stations, signifying your progress up the mountain. Each stamp will cost you about 200 yen, and depending on the weekend you climb, you’ll have the opportunity to get 15 to 20 stamps.
After leaving the eighth station for the last leg of our ascent, that "not too much further" climb I talked about ended up taking us another 2 ½ hours.
As we approached the summit, a feeling of ease finally came over me. The mountain hadn’t beaten me; I had beaten it. Standing atop the 12,388-foot peak, I lifted my arms in triumph and celebration, only to be interrupted a moment later by 80- to 90-mile-per-hour wind gusts and loose sediment sandblasting my exposed skin.
Spending only enough time at the summit to get our stamp, we began our return to the bus.
The descending trail was covered in loose volcanic rock, but provided a much easier walking path than the ascending route. Luckily, the tour guide was standing at the sixth station to make sure we followed the right path back. Some unfortunate souls turn right instead of left and end up a $200 cab ride away from the right station. It took nearly three hours to get back to the fifth station and finally wrap up our hike.
Traveling down, the feeling of accomplishment slowly surpassed the pain and anguish we’d felt in the hours before. We had climbed a mountain. It was an enjoyable experience, and one that I think everyone should try once and once only. I’d be a fool to do it again.