Fuji-san — in Retrospect

A pano view from our mountain hut. The evening shadow of Fuji-san as the sun was going down.

This is the “she” part of the blog team… The “he” part will write his own blog on our Mt. Fuji experience. We had a successful climb and we are now back in Tokyo… not much worse for the wear… some sore climbing muscles, and a few minor abrasions from close encounters with all that volcanic rock. It was a good trip.

But… to say “yes, we had a good trip” just doesn’t describe this experience at all. Yet, I can’t really go so far as to say “we had fun” either. This experience, certainly, is not “fun” in the classic sense. It is “fun” maybe in retrospect, but as I was working my way up and down that mountain, “fun” is not the word that popped into my mind. In fact, on the long and difficult descent (oddly… the descent from Mt. Fuji is definitely more difficult than the ascent — steep and slippery) I remember thinking how much I hated it. I was not having fun. But in retrospect, with the climb over and behind us, I did enjoy it in a bucket-list sort of way.

Looking up the mountain from one of the mountain huts. The trail was a series of rocky switchbacks to the top.

There are many things I learned from and about Mt. Fuji. First and foremost, the difference between hiking and climbing. Before our trip I mistakenly referred to it as “a hike up Mt. Fuji.” This is not a hike. This is a mountain climb. We have done lots of hiking. We have hiked all the way across northern Spain when we walked the Camino de Santiago. That was indeed a hike, a walk… we carried packs, we were on the trail for days and weeks. Fuji is different. We started the climb at an altitude of 7562 feet, and ended at 12,388 feet. Nearly 5000 feet of altitude gain in roughly 5 miles distance.

Before we started, we were advised to take it slowly and to allow our bodies to acclimate to the altitude in order to avoid the “mountain sickness.” My husband and I usually set a pretty fast pace when we are hiking. Forcing ourselves to slow down wasn’t easy at first, but it really did make a difference. We had absolutely no altitude issues with this trip. As you get to the steeper and rockier portions of the trail, and when the trail is crowded with people… all lined up to ascend a narrow trail … it was necessary to go slowly, and it paid off.

There is water at Mt. Fuji…  Lots and lots of mineral water and hot springs… at the base of the mountain.

The second thing that we learned is just how dependent we are on water. We were advised to take at least 2 liters of water with us, so we bought water before we started. Mt. Fuji is a volcano. There isn’t much water available there. There are no natural water sources as you climb up. All the mountain huts along the way will sell you bottled water, but they do not have drinking fountains or tap water sources… at all. They have to carry all the water they use up from the bottom. The mountain huts do have flush toilets… And charge between 200 and 300 yen (about $2 to $3) for each use. They biologically treat all their waste water to be re-used to flush the toilets. There is no potable water all the way up the mountain. So you take your own, or buy it from the huts. [As a side bar to that… there are NO trash cans on Fuji. ALL of your trash — and empty water bottles must be carried down with you to take home.]

That also means… that after a long days climb when you are tired and dirty and sweaty, there is no water to bathe or even wash your hands. You have to use bottled water even to brush your teeth. The mountain hut we stayed in provided a sleeping dorm, a boxed dinner (with ONE cup of hot green tea), and a boxed breakfast with a small carton of tea. Anything else you want is extra. So… you resign yourself to being a little grubby, wearing your dirty clothes, and conserving your precious water for climbing the mountain. Oh… and the higher you climb, the more precious the water becomes. The price of bottled water doubled by the time we got to the top… lol.

But regardless, even with the strenuous climbing, and the discomforts involved, we DID (in some strange way) “enjoy” this experience… and hope to actually do it again. It was an amazing sight to see… and to be together with so many other people who wanted to experience “the mountain.” Difficult or not, it was well worth it.

We left our mountain hut at 3:45 am to climb to the summit for the sunrise.
We were still 50 meters below the top when the sun came up… but everyone stopped where they were to sit and watch as the sun rose out of the ocean.
Along the rim of the crater is a group of buildings and shops, and a Shinto Shrine. The buildings all have rocks piled on the roof. Winds are fierce during the winter. The hiking trails and mountain huts are only open between early July to early September. This year the trail closes September 10th. Snow comes early to Fuji-san.
The morning shadow of Mt. Fuji as the sun rises over the crater.
The view from the top. This time in the season, mornings usually start out clear, but the clouds move in early and obscure the view of the mountain. We hiked down from a sunny summit through a cloud bank below.

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My husband and I were both born and raised in Kansas, but for the past 20+ years we have been living in Atlanta, Georgia. Now, with our children grown and out of the house, we have the opportunity to spend two years living in Tokyo. My husband will be working with the Japanese counterpart to his American company. UPDATE 2023... After 4-1/2 years in Tokyo, we returned to Atlanta. Now we are heading to London for a three year job assignment!

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