Hey there! How was your summer vacation? Mine was quite floppy, as it was inconveniently interrupted by my entrance exams (check out anxiety lair post).
Nevertheless, end of August is a relatively good time to visit Mt. Fuji. Considering that the main paths are open to the public only ~2months in the summer, it’s a shame not to arrange a plan to visit. As a matter of fact, it turns out that climbing to Mt. Fuji summit is some kind of pilgrimage, sought after both by Japanese people and foreign tourists. Almost half of the climbing crowd was short term staying foreigners, some of them awfully under-prepared for the weather conditions and the mountainous/volcanic ground. On the other hand, I met a lot of old Japanese people who are recurring visitors every summer for an impressive number of years.
So, the big question is, how was it? I’ll be honest, not bad – but not as good as I expected. The natural beauty was breathtaking, the sunset and sunrise sky colors, the red and black volcanic dirt, the clouds riding on the mountain slopes.. but the experience as a whole left me unsatisfied. Surprisingly, I can pinpoint the reason why quite clearly: too many people up there. Having a huge crowd is good for events like parties and concerts and parades, but for nature appreciation? Ehm, not so much, to say the least. Fuji is imposing and inspiring, but not unmatched in terms of natural beauty. Add up the huge, noisy, smelly, annoying crowd, and there you have it; a magnificently unique experience for all the wrong reasons.
Time for tips: Going there on the weekend may have contributed a lot to my not-so-good experience, so I strongly suggest weekdays at the beginning or end of the visiting seasons to anyone who is interested in getting there. Don’t worry too much about food; the higher you climb, the higher the cup noodles price climbs, but the overall provision prices are not prohibitive to buy. Bring an awful lot of warm and waterproof clothes. If you go for the sunrise, it means you’ll climb during nighttime. When you are moving, everything is fine, but when you decide to sit and rest, the low temperature hits you – HARD. Patches like kairo (カイロ) can keep you warm, and usually you can by at the huts, if need be. Extra socks, so that you can change your sweaty wet ones and spare your feet of some chilliness, is a wise idea. Headlight: useful. Hiking sticks: necessary for going down – the ground is slippery and knee-hurting. Oxygen can: did nothing for me. As a 2 decades long Japanese path guide told me: ‘Don’t hurry to get up, walk slowly with a steady pace, don’t take a break, just move with small steps and always choose small inclination slopes instead of stair steps. Stretch your legs and body minimally, and you’ll be surprised when you see that you arrived to the summit before all the rushed youngsters.” That being said, a path guide is absolutely not necessary. The mountain paths are properly signed, and just following the crowd will suffice. There are not many places to go on a bald mountain side. When you see big organized groups about to set out, set out before them, some parts of the path are narrow, and the last thing you want is to be trapped in one of them. Be prepared for a lingering smell of human byproducts near the toilets – you can’t expect a pine tree fragrance when you have a toilet in the middle of nowhere with nothing but lava rocks around you. Also, by witnessing both sunset and sunrise, I recommend going for the sunset. The reddish colors are stunning, more impressive than the sunrise orange ones, and the hike will all-in-all be easier. Climbing from the easily accessible Yoshida trail is of moderate difficulty, so even inexperienced, hiking first-timers will be just fine, with only some leg discomfort in the following days. Think about the ~70yo Japanese security guards, climbing up and down around 3 a.m., controlling the crowd flow at 3.400m by lively yelling ‘5 minutes more to the top, guys, 10 if you do it slowly, move on move on, you can do it!’ . If the super genki ojiisans can do that without breaking a sweat, you can at least reach the top, right?
Now, now, enjoy some representative shots! (Photo credits also go to Yili-san and Dara-san)