Climbing Mt. Fuji solo – from dusk to dawn!
On August 12, 2016 I set off from Tokyo motivated and determined to achieve a very spiritual goal, to climb to the summit of Mt. Fuji, the highest elevated mountain peak in Japan. Mt. Fuji is a 3,776 meter (12,388 ft) high active volcanic mountain, which last erupted in 1707. Despite not having erupted in over 3 centuries, scientists and researchers believe it’s due. In September of 2012, a report was released highlighting that Mt Fuji’s magma chamber pressure had risen to a worrisome 1.6 megapascals, which is estimated to be higher than when it last erupted. However, those discouraging numbers are neither here nor there to the many that attempt to scale the volcanic mountain yearly during the official climbing season from July to September. Off season climbing is permissible, however cold weather, snow, high winds, and a lack of mountain station support have often lead to accidents and tragedies.
Due to the number of websites and blogs providing information about climbing Mt. Fuji, I won’t get into the technical details about how to climb it, but rather gloss over my experience a little. Mt. Fuji is accessible by many forms of transportation, I took a 2-3 hour bus from Tokyo Station to the popular local town of Kawaguchiko. This small town is popular because of its proximity to Mt. Fuji and for its beautiful view points of the famed Japanese holy mountain. A view of Mt. Fuji reflecting from Lake Kawaguchiko is a highly sought after picture if you’re lucky enough to capture it with cooperating weather. On my trip to Kawaguchiko, I arrived with no hiking gear so I rented all my necessary equipment for a set price of 10,200 yen ($100.00 USD) from a local shop near the station. After which, I took a 1-hour local bus to the Fuji Subaru Line, 5th Station located at an altitude of 2300 meters. The Fuji Subaru Line, 5th Station in Yamanashi Prefecture is the furthest accessible point up Mt. Fuji by bus or car and is a popular point for sightseeing, souvenir shopping and leisurely viewing of the UNESCO World Heritage site up close. Moreover, it is home to the starting point for the Yoshida Trail, the most popular base for a climb to the summit.
It is recommended before beginning your ascent up the mountain to take 1-hour to acclimate yourself to the altitude. I began my hike at approximately 6pm with my goal to reach the summit before sunrise, which was shortly prior to 5am. As I began my hike, feeling as prepared as possible, I noticed many people from around the world that took a more casual approach to the hike. A lack of preparation, especially in terms of proper hiking shoes and warm clothes can make the difference between success and failure to put it mildly. Mt. Fuji should not be underestimated and requires planning and preparation, both mentally and physically. Do not attempt to do it on a whim! Most people will list the climb manageable between 6-7 hours, which I think is meant to be encouraging to promote the climb. However, I think 7-8 hours is a more realistic time frame, which I completed on the latter side of my approximation. For those feeling unsure of their ability to climb without a safety net, there are several mountain huts available for refuge. However, do not expect to walk-in and be sold on their minimal accommodations for rest they offer, reservations are more than likely required. These huts are expensive and personally, I don’t recommend them if you are looking to rest for less than 2-3 hours, I suggest you take breaks outside around the stations and keep going if you’re up for it.
After reaching the original 8th Station Tomoe-Kan mountain hut by midnight, the distance to the summit was listed as being only 376 meters more and is estimated to be only 1-hour further. However, due to several factors including exhaustion and the increasing difficulty of the climbing terrain, I started to slow down because the goal was to reach the peak by sunrise and regardless of my pace, I was going to be waiting more than an hour or two at the summit. On this last solo leg up the mountain, I made friends with three guys from the Philippines, Brazil, and Ireland – we bonded in the solidarity of being completely exhausted. One of the guys was suffering from a very bad case of altitude sicknesses. Fortunately, the altitude didn’t affect me, probably because I’m of Tibetan blood. Lhasa, the capital of Tibet lies at almost the same altitude as the summit of Mt. Fuji – a nugget of information I enjoy sharing which defines why Tibet is commonly referred to as the ‘Roof of the World’… After reaching the summit shortly after 2am Saturday morning, it was only a matter of time before the sunrise. As the clock ticked slowly in our frigid conditions, all eyes on the summit were locked on the dim horizon. As seconds became minutes, the glow of the horizon began illuminating ever so slowly. The anticipation of mother nature waking up has never been so surreal. All my symptoms of fatigue had been forgotten as the seconds ticked and the sun slowly began to rise. This grueling climb likening to heavy metal music pounding on my body had turned into a classical orchestra slowly reaching its long anticipated crescendo. As the horizon slowly lit up and the sun began to rise, I soon witnessed the most pristine sunrise I have ever seen in my entire life.
Note: For a link to all my pictures from this trip see my Mt. Fuji 2016 One Drive album