So as many of you know, I've been in Japan for over a year now, and this past weekend I finally got around to making the standard foreigners pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji. Since many of you seem fairly interested in Japan things, I thought I would give a quick overview of my experience (sorry there's no photos, I was busy being cold and dying), so you can decide if the trip is worth it for you, should you ever come to Japan.
Now let me start by saying, I'm a pretty fit dude. I lift weights practically every day, my diet is very clean and healthy, and I fit a bit of cardio in here and there. With this in mind, Fuji was still one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I don't want to dissuade anyone from climbing Fuji due to distrust of their personal fitness; there were people in my group of varying ages and fitness levels, and the guides WILL get you to the top eventually, but the less fit you are the harder it will be.
My journey starts in 宮原 (miyahara) station in Saitama prefecture where I live. I rose at 5am on saturday, to give myself plenty of time to walk to the station and take the 30 minute train to 渋谷 （shibuya） station by 7am. There I met some friends and walked to the bus station close by, where we collected an assortment of hiking gear (headlight, amazing hiking boots, poles, windcheaters etc) and boarded the bus to go to Fuji. The total cost of the trip was roughly AUD 280, this was including hiking gear, a guided climb, round bus trips and 2 meals. It was on the pricey side, so if you have your own gear and can get yourself to Fuji I'm sure you can get a cheaper deal.
The bus ride to Fuji from Tokyo takes about 2.5 hours, and by the start of September Japan is starting to cool down, leaving the temperature at the bottom of Fuji pleasantly cool (about 20C, you can work that out in F for yourself). The bus takes you to the 5th of 10 stations ascending Fuji, where all the gift shops and restaurants are (all ridiculously over priced, bring your own food for the first day). The first 5 stations all have proper roads and its only about a 10 degree slope, so its really not worth considering it to be part of the mountain.
After dumping our extra stuff in a coin locker, we set off on the hike at around 12:30. Our group consisted of around 15 people (one who was as old as time, and incidentally a pain in the ass because we had to stop for him all the time, but I'll get to that later), and 2 tour guides named みどり (midori) and Yoshi (like from Mario, which he pointed out about 5 times). Both of the tour guides spoke English, Yoshi explained to us that during the Summer he actually lives on the 8th station of Fuji where we were to stay the night, and he regularly makes trips up and down the mountain to guide climbers. He casually mentioned that it takes him about an hour to get from the 8th station to the 5th (this took us about 7 hours to climb up), the bloke was clearly fit as a fiddle.
Since father time couldn't hack the hike very well, our group ended up stopping every 35 minutes or so, which was good at first. The altitude hits you hard, especially if you have never climbed before, which I hadn't. If you breathe deeply as you climb the altitude is manageable, but carrying on a conversation whilst climbing can be challenging. As we would stop and breathe deeply to adjust to the altitude, with many of the struggling girls sharing oxygen cans, it was not uncommon to see Yoshi casually standing on a rock face having a cigarette. The dude is totally bad ass, most of the time it looked as if he could climb the mountain on his hands if he wanted.
3 or so hours in shit started to get real. Although it wasn't yet too cold, the altitude started to properly set in, and hike turned from trail into practically a stepped rock face. We broke at a hut about 5 hours in, where we paid extortionate amounts of money for small cakes. At the gift shop at the bottom of the mountain you can buy a simple stick which you can brand at the various stations up the mountain with firebrands to mark your journey... for 5 bucks a pop. Midori informed us that it costs upwards of 50 dollars to get all the stamps, another way Fuji ruthlessly grabs for your money. Oh and as an aside, every restroom up the mountain costs 2 bucks to use.
6 hours in, when were were supposed to have already reached the 8th station where we would stay the night, we were just over half way up. Since it was starting to get dark I questioned whether I could get away with kicking father time off the side of the mountain so we wouldn't have to stop every 20 minutes. So we walked in the dark. And walked. And walked. every time we reached a station we could smell food and see climbers relaxing in the warm huts, and yoshi would tell us 'Just one more station!'. This happened about 5 times. It began to feel like I was in purgatory, eternally walking but never getting anywhere, being teased by hot meals I couldn't eat and warm beds I couldn't have. We reached the 8th station at 8pm, 2 hours late, and had a small meal of rice and Japanese curry with ハムバグ （hamburg, basically a hamburger patty). The girls slept on futons, but the boys got basically a folded over blanket on the wooden floor with a hard beanbag for a pillow. I lay uncomfortably for 4 hours without sleeping, unable to reach my water as we were packed like sardines and my bag was hanging above a giant sleeping American. And the Singaporan guy next to me snored the whole time, shit was rough.
We got up at 01:30 to begin climbing again. Since it was already freezing we all rented heavy jackets to wear (for another 5 bucks), Mine looked like something Will Smith would have worn in the Fresh Prince of Bel-air, It was Lilac with the iconic 90's coloured zig zags all over it. Everyone got a good giggle out of it. we set off at 02.30 for another 3 hour climb to the summit. Since it was packed with climbers, Midori fed us a lie that she would take us up an easier track, and so we climbed up a ridiculously steep incline in almost 0C cold. My fingers burned with pain, My face is still windburned from the gale force winds. What was cool was that as we walked up the alternate track, you could see the headlights of the people on the main track, like a giant line of light going all the way up the mountain. Very unique.
When we reached the summit you could see icicles forming on the mountain face, but we STILL weren't at the top. Midori informed us that to climb to the actual top of the mountain, where you can see the giant crater of Mt. Fuji, would be ANOTHER 5 BUCKS. I've never paid so much money for cardio in my life. We stopped half way through the 40 minute climb to the very top to watch the sun rise.
Now look. I want to say the sunrise was beautiful, that it was worth every grueling footstep to get there. But it was just a sunrise. It was nice, but not being able to feel your toes kind of puts a damper on the whole experience. You could see the whole shape of the sun as it rose and the colours were quite pretty. the Ensuing 20 minutes felt like life and death. The temperature plummeted and we had to practically crawl up the giant incline in the howling wind to reach the very top. After a short break we walked down into the center of the crater. Fun fact: Fuji is due to erupt some time soon, so being somewhere that could literally blow you into the sky was unsettling, or at least it would have been if I wasn't deliriously tired. I practically had cartoon stars circling my head.
And what is Yoshi doing at the top of the mountain? Yep, having a smoke. 'it just tastes better at the top, maybe its the feeling of accomplishment'. 'are you sure its not just the altitude Yoshi' I said. 'Yeah' He chuckled, 'It's probably that'.
Luckily the descent to the 8th station was rather fast. We took the main trail back (which was MUCH easier, fucking Midori) it took about 40 minutes to get back to the station, where we had a small breakfast of rice and fish with green tea before descending to the bottom. We were allowed to go down at our own pace, and we descended the opposite side of the mountain, which was an entirely man made zigzag slope of loose gravel. The fastest of us got to the bottom of the mountain in an hour and a half, at about 10:30am. Now I see how Yoshi makes it down the mountain so fast.
We collapsed onto the bus to go back, which took us to an onsen (those public baths were youre all naked). I have never given less of a fuck about being naked around strangers in my life. It was glorious. A few of the travelers in our group quizzed me about dating Japanese girls while we sat stark naked in the hot water. I had a good giggle making up random things to tell them, they probably went home thinking that dating in Japan is some whacky hantai waifu experience. The bus was another 3 hours back to Shinjuku, and another half hour home. I inhaled some food and collapsed in bed for the best sleep of my life.
I recommend you climb Fuji if you get the chance. It isn't fun, it isn't enjoyable. It's really expensive. You'll be cold, you'll be tired, you'll want to die.
But it's worth it.