Monday, January 4, 2016

Fujisan

So about five months ago (August 18th to be exact), I just happened to climb the 35th tallest mountain on ALL OF EARTH. Well, when you put it that way it doesn’t sound all that impressive but for a rotund, mostly out of shape, American - it’s quite a feet. Personal achievement. Mount Fuji sits 3,776 m (12,388 ft) in the Japanese sky and can be seen from many a places around Japan. While it may be the 35th tallest mountain in ALL OF EARTH, it IS the highest point in Japan. So yea, Japan conquered.

I woke up early, walked to the train station, got driven by my fellow hikers, and then took a bus to the 5th station of Mt Fuji. There are a total of four paths to hike Fuji, we of course chose the easiest of the three as most do. On the Yoshida course, there are a total of nine stations. These are places where hikers can sit, rest, rent a place to sleep, use the restroom, and eat/drink at ridiculously high prices. The majesty that is Fuji is not immune to the invisible hand.

My crew was assembled from fellow teachers, students, and past students. So yea, everyone on this hike was somehow connected to my job. Due to our crew of eight, our pacing wasn’t too fast. During the early phase we had a strict no man left behind policy but as the hike continued that changed. Our resident Fuji-Master told us that pacing is key to getting to the top. Thus our once unified group of eight splintered into smaller factions.

While Mt Fuji is undeniably a beautiful mountain to look at from a distance, especially when snow capped. On the mountain, it is ugly as sin. No life exists. No grass. Just soil and rock. I imagine the hike being just that, a hike. There was more actual climbing than I anticipated. I’m not talking rope and crampons here, I’m just saying some slight hand work and carefully placed footing. At no point was there danger. I’m just saying it was more than I expected. At the 5th station one strap of my backpack broke and I had to Macgyver it together. A few hours later, my belt broke. I used my Mt Fuji pin to hold it together. Somehow that worked. Off to a great start!

We pre booked a 5 hours of rest at one of the stations, I believe the 8th. Excuse this analogy but it’s really the most accurate I can think of - the resting quarters were like that of a slave ship. Packed tight like sardines in an impossible to stand crawl space. A tight walkway in the middle divided the room. Each side having two oppressive floors. So yes, there was a place to rest. However, no rest happened. Sure my body was beaten, but there was no comfort to be had. It was cold, it smelled, and the snores - god damn the snores.

This gig also scored us a meal. Which was welcoming. It was full on Japanese style at a long table, sitting on the ground, and served on a tray as a set. The thing about a 5 hour rest is that the sun went down. This added a few more problems to the hike. The two most obvious ones are the darkness and the cold. Did I bring pants? Yes. Did I change? No. Why? I have no idea. I went up and down Fuji in shorts. What made the cold bitter was the wind. The wind was like I was near the top of a mountain with nothing to block the gusts. In all honestly though, when I was moving, I was actually hot. I kept removing my hat due to comfort. Darkness was whatever, I bought a head lamp as instructed. I was basically a miner.

At this point, me and a student took the lead. Others were starting to back down and the ultimate goal of hiking Fuji is to be be at the summit at sunrise. We were NOT going to miss this. Thus, we went ahead. Despite all my boasting and energy, This was the hardest leg of the mountain. Not because of the dark or cold, but because of the altitude. Part of the reason some rest like we did high up is to adjust to the height. Apparently my body didn’t get this memo. I suffered hard. It was a headache I never experienced before - practically stunning me. I needed to take frequent breaks just to get my head under control. Luckily the guy I was hiking with was awesome and didn’t mind. If not for him, I’m not sure what would have happened. I'm not sure if the little bottle of oxygen I bought or was just a placebo. It did nothing.

To make matters worse this part of the hike is very different. Remember how I mentioned that there are four paths? Well, they all sort of converge at this point so the path is filled with people. You literally take about three steps and then wait for about ten seconds before moving again. This part if extremely easy but extremely slow. I thought my head was going to explode.

Then, just like that, we somehow reached the top. The good part about this was that we had 45 minutes until sunrise. The bad part was that we had 45 minutes until sunrise. There were looooots of people at the top. There are restaurants, vending machines (yes, everything you read about vending machines in Japan is true), and scattered benches. I sat on one of these benches and woke up 40 minutes later. THIS was my single greatest mistake I made on this mountain. I woke up absolutely frozen. I had gloves on but my hands were so damn cold.

When the sun broke over the horizon, I honestly debated if I should take pictures or not. Why? I was scared to take off my gloves. They were really that cold. I did of course, I took the shotgun approach to photography since my hands were shaking so much. I figured if I took enough photos some wouldn’t have blur lines on them. All my bitching aside, the sunrise was so worth it. It was truly astounding. Unreal even. It’s just one of those “oh shit, this is real life” sort of moments that I’ll never forget. Worth.

We met with the few other which made it to the top and sat down to some top of Fuji ramen. I held the bottom of the bowl for heat on my hands. It felt divine. After checking out the very tippy top, you know like the volcano hole, it was time to head down. As the sun rose high I warmed up pretty quickly. I had been using a summer blanket as a sort of makeshift scarf until then. I both looked and felt like I had destroyed the One Ring. Good riddance.

At this point we had climbed a mountain and now we were heading down it. My body was a bit achy, very confused at the several temperature changes, still hungry, and brutally tired. While the hike down sounds easy in theory, it was all but. Imagine a never ending zigzag, that was the way down. Nothing surprising. Nothing particularly hard. Just never ending. The way down may have been my most hated part of the hike - despite my head feeling like it was going to explode earlier. As we headed down, my head felt much better. Oh, and the other strap to my backpack broke.

The morning was beautiful though. The sky was so blue. We were ABOVE the clouds. Surreal moment number two was when I could hear thunder below me. I was above the thunderclouds and was standing on solid ground. Surreal man, surreal. Very very cool. I took a sort of explorative path with someone which ended up not working and we had to double back some. Whoops. We ended up being the last two back. We ate at a restaurant at the 5th station. The ride home I did my best to stay awake in the car but just couldn't. Half our members went to an onsen (hot spring) after, I just wanted sleep.

I slept for 12 hours straight - something I don’t think I’ve ever done even sick. When I first came to Japan climbing Fuji was one of two things I really wanted to do, check! It was amazing, beautiful, a challenge, and 100% worth it. I would recommend it to anyone. Would I ever want to do it again? Nope!

EDIT:
Fun fact, the entire time I was hiking Mt Fuji I had Modest Mouse’s “Baby Blue Sedan” stuck in my head for zero reasons.

2 comments:

  1. Yay! It looks amazing! So glad you finally posted! Miss you and love you :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Finally read the whole thing! Kind of want to do it!!!

    ReplyDelete