I'm not sure how you begin a post about an experience like this so I think I'll start by giving a little background about the epic Fuji-san. A volcano in Japan, it was officially registered as a World Heritage Site in June of 2013. It stands 3776.24m (12,389 ft) high and is the highest peak in Japan. It is considered one of three holy mountains (along with Mt Tate and Mt Haku). More than 200,000 climb to the summit of Fuji each year. The last eruption was in 1707-08 but in 2000/2001 there was increased seismic activity under the volcano, raising concerns about a possible reawakening.
So let's get down to it! We arrived via highway express bus, it dumps you at the 5th station, where everyone starts their ascent. Now that I look back at that I had no idea what I was getting into (thankfully). It was pouring down rain when we got off of the bus so it was a quick dash into one of the shops to get our gear on and everything straightened out, purchase our sticks and can of air, then toward the trail we go (we took the Yoshida trail, after doing some research online this seemed like the best option, it's by no means easy but was said to be the easiest). We left the base of station 5 at 12:30pm knowing that we had to make it to our lodging at station 8 at a decent time to catch some rest before getting up super early to finish the ascent and catch sunrise on the summit.
For the first 50m or so we were happy and laughing, it was a nice gentle walk on a well packed dirt road. We've got this. Then we were smacked with reality (one of the many times on the trail). That changed quickly, the incline started, the footing changed, and well, we were in this.
Starting at station 5, and knowing you have to go to station 8 doesn't sound bad at all, then you see signage indicating that the summit is 6km away, which I calculated in my runners brain to be more than a 5k which is just over 3 miles, again, that didn't seem terrible. I will tell you it takes forever to climb. Forever. When you think you are almost there, you're not. There is signage throughout the hike, it lies. For about an hour and 6 different signs, it said the summit was 3.4km away.
The trail is crazy, you'll go from walking in gravely sand to full on rock climbing looking for holds, oh and did I mention it's raining and windy?! At times we were climbing on all 4's. For me altitude sickness kicked in pretty early on, starting with a massive headache, next was shortness of breath (crazy scary feeling like you were suffocating and just simply couldn't get enough air, combine that with the physical activity of climbing and it was really something mentally and physically to get over). I thought that staying at the hut would help acclimate my body and prepare it for the next day, but the headache was back all night and into the next day. I wasn't prepared to bust open the can of air for fear that I'd need it should things really take a turn for the worse. To deal with altitude sickness listen to your body. Take breaks, frequently.
Parts of the hike were so beautiful. The topography changed so drastically through all of it, starting off walking through the forest and losing greenery as you ascend. Sometimes the clouds and fog settle in so thickly that you just can't see anything. Sometimes this is better because you have no idea how much further you have to go.
The distance between station 5 and station 6 is pretty long. Don't miss your stamps. Station 6 is your first stamp (aside from the one your stick came with at station 5), they have a sign on the door that says no stamp if raining, it was raining and we still got our stamp, just open the door, use some basic Japanese courtesies and I'd bet they will be glad to take your yen in exchange for the stamp!
There are multiple station 7's, don't get your hopes up that you're almost at 8 when you see the next station in the distance, I started calling them 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, because we kept hitting station 7. They all have stamps, and one of the station 7's has more than one, I can't remember which but it's the one with the Torii shrine/museum stuff, there's a special torii stamp (sadly we missed this one because it's tucked back and we didn't know about it, only stamp we missed)
Station 7 is also where we were so lucky to have yet another mind F on the trail, this one courtesy of an American. She basically told us that we were nowhere near the top, that it takes forever to get there, and that we were also nowhere near station 8. If I had the energy I might have choked her.
Honestly at this point in the hike it was about going through the motions, convincing my mind to keep pushing...one step in front of the other. It was nice when you would see a station because it gave you motivation to keep going, not seeing a station ahead was a complete mind F. Collecting the stamps helps to soften the blow of what you're doing, it is like a fun Mt Fuji scavenger hunt, if there is such a thing!
We finally got to our 8th station (there are also many of those, conveniently ours was the last of 4...lucky us. I think I nearly died when the man at the first station 8 told me it was another hour and 15 minutes) just before it got dark. By that time we were drenched from sweat and the rain that had been so gracious to join us on the journey. We got checked in, got our meals (they gave us the breakfast bento then too so we could bring it in the morning to the summit or eat it before we left), they indicated that we would need to leave by 3am, we left just after 2:30am and that was actually perfect timing because there was serious hiker backlog on the trail near the summit, causing lots of stopping and slow climbing (good for altitude sickness).
The sleeping arrangement...how do I even describe this. On my pictures that were posted on Facebook I said it was like hostage sleeping arrangements, I stand by that. You get better accommodations in prison, no mom I don't know from personal experience. Basically a bunk bed that would normally fit 2 people was squished with sleeping bags and now 6 people lined up like dead bodies. I did not sleep. At all.
2am we got up, dressed, and attempted to eat our bento breakfast box. I couldn't do it, the meat packet looked and smelled like Alpo (and I can eat almost anything), I'll also admit that I was afraid that if I ate it I'd have some intestinal failure and the thought of using the bathrooms scared me enough to not. So I dined on the pickles and rice and called it a day. I had been trying to hydrate so I finally used the restroom, at this point I had gone one time in 2 days, terrible. I certainly did not want to die of dehydration on this mountain!
The bathrooms are the most disgusting things you'll have to experience. Even not using them will be the most disgusting thing. I legit gagged when walking past them because the smell that comes out of them, or blows down the mountain is putrid.
This part of the hike was crazy, sensory deprivation is a complete bitch. It's so dark, you can see nothing despite having a headlamp. It's dark, cold, and windy, all you see are the headlamps of others ahead of you, it lights up the mountain path in a really beautiful way, like a little Christmas tree. We left our lodging at 2:30am which worked out
2:45 minutes later, and lots of stumbling, we reached the bottom, the 5th station, and I've never been so damn happy to be done...to take my shoes off, and to just sit! Looking at our sticks and the stamp collection of our journey, I'm so damn proud of us! Once in a lifetime opportunity for sure!
- Where to stay: While in Tokyo we stayed at the New Sanno Hotel, super convenient and about a 15 minute cab right to the Shinjuku bus station where the highway express bus leaves from (approx 2500-2900 yen cab ride)
On the mountain: We stayed at the Fuji-san Hotel on the 8th station (at 3400m) you can make reservations here
- Getting there: from Tokyo you take the highway express bus from Shinjuku station directly to the 5th station. The cost was approximately 5000yen roundtrip, and reservations must be made in advance as it books up. You can make reservations online, our hotel had information on how to do this
- At the 5th station base camp: get your gear all set up, purchase a can of air if you are worried about altitude sickness (I purchased one and never used it but did enjoy the sense of security in having it). This is also where you can purchase your stick (that you can get stamped along the way), shop around, the shops all offer different style ones, I wish I wouldn't have bought the first one I saw. Don't skip the stick, it's seriously my favorite souvenir and collecting the stamps was fun, the stick was also helpful as a walking stick throughout the trek
- What to bring: water (i put a bladder in my backpack and that worked, I emptied it midway through the trek down), snacks that are small and easy to deal with and create minimal trash (you have to bring all of your trash down the mountain with you, yen (you need approximately 300 yen for each stamp and toilets are 200 yen if you need to use those along the way, stations also have hot beverages and snacks for purchase. For reference I probably have around 20 stamps on my stick), a change of clothes (I was soaked after hiking for the day so getting out of those sweaty/rain soaked clothes and into dry clothes was necessary to not get hypothermia!), a pack cover (this is important...it will rain, you want to keep your stuff dry, if your pack doesn't have a built in rain cover bring one with you, they sell them in the shops at station 5 if you forget), layering clothing (the weather on Fuji changes by the second and changes drastically), rain gear, an emergency blanket (I didn't bring this but sort of wished I had because when I got to our lodging at station 8 I was absolutely freezing from being soaking wet, an emergency blanket would have helped to regulate my body temp, recharger packs (you'll be hard pressed to find a plug to recharge electronics so bring something of your own to recharge them with!)
- Do I need to book a tour? No! We did this totally on our own and I'm so glad that we did. A lot of the base sponsored tours bring you there for a one day up and down, if I had to do that in one day I think I would have taken a header off of the mountain. It's so easy to book and plan by yourself, you don't need to pay the extra money to go on a chartered tour, I highly recommend booking and planning on your own.
- How long? It took us 7 hours total to climb from 5 to the summit (5.5 hours to get to our lodging at station 8, then another 1.5 hours in the morning to catch sunrise on the summit), it took us 2:45 to climb down. They say that it generally takes you half the time (from stations 5-8) to climb down