Thursday, August 30, 2012

the mt. fuji climb

Well, how do I really say this? I guess I should start with, Mt. Fuji climbed us and not the other way around.

Let's dial it back to the day of departure. There was a bad storm on the mountain and some roads were closed so we immediately started formulating a back up plan. Should we go? Should we stay? Little did we know this would become a trend.

We had a friend visiting from the states and this is "the one thing" he wanted to do, so whenever we began to question our next course of action, we most always chose: go!

We had pretty good plans (very well researched by yours truly) to drive up to the Marine base, Camp Fuji and stay the night. We would then wake up super early and start our hike at 3:00am with the intentions of being at about the 7th station by sunrise. However, the previously mentioned storm changed all of that. While doing research about the storm we found out they were closing the toll road up the mountain due to a Japanese holiday. This was disappointing because we specifically planned to hike at the beginning of the season to avoid toll-road closures. After calling the toll road office (yes, we did that) we discovered the road would remain open until midnight. So, we quickly canceled our reservations at the Marine base and headed up the mountain to climb through the night. I mean, wouldn't seeing sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji be better than half-way up? So, we changed our plan to begin hiking at 10:30PM so we could make it to the top by about 3:00am.Yea....

We got to the parking area happy to find about 40 other people doing the same thing that we were doing. We ate some sandwiches, put on our hiking shoes and gear, drank some water and started our 1 mile walk to the trail head. We stopped in and bought my Fuji Stick and a few extra pairs of gloves, used the restroom, saw a lot of people stretching, did some stretches too and took off for our hike.

Slowly but surely, the rain came. And then more rain came. Decked out in full rain gear we trucked up the volcano in a complete down pour. We checked in at the 6th station right on track for our goal and we kept going, soon checking in at the 7th Station. At this point we were 100% wet. We were completely soaked, our cell phones and money had transferred to the plastic baggies that used to carry our sandwiches and we were getting used to the complete blackness. The rain was coming down so hard that we had to follow the reflectors on each others shoes because we could see no other markers! Every once in awhile one of us would run into a chain fence and realize we were hiking in the wrong direction. Let's address for a minute that we are in no way recreational hikers. Luckily, our friend Jesse is, because other wise we might have died. The aforementioned Fuji Stick saved my life about 5 times as I pounded it into the ground during high-gusting winds. I must have shaved about 1" off of the thing.

At the 7.8 station we took some time to second guess ourselves, but with Jesse's support we decided to push though. Slowly but surely we saw everyone we began hiking with begin to give up. Paying crazy amounts of Yen to get out of the rain and wind, some even huddling together inside the stinky bathrooms. We didn't think too much as we push through and passed the 7.8 station, but after about 10 minutes Jesse made the executive decision to stop for the night. Winds were blowing at about 40mph and there was so much rain that it was almost white around us. I pretty sure it started snowing at one point. We made our way back to the 7.8 Station and paid Y5,000 each for a place inside the station's hut. We were each given a futon mat and bean-bag pillow, along with the opportunity to dry our clothes in a electric camping dryer. So basically, we didn't get to dry our clothes.

We made the most of it and decided to get up at 4 to watch the sunrise. After a 2 hour nap we woke to our sunset. There are no words to describe it, I will just let you experience it for yourself in the picture below:

At this point the winds had not let up, but indeed they were worse. The rain was pelting sideways and people were dropping their Mt. Fuji summit dreams like flies. Knowing that this was "the one thing" that Jesse came all the way from Connecticut for and that we would never have a chance again we just couldn't leave. While everyone from the hut at station 7.8 (including Fuji climbing guides) formed back into their groups and began to go back down we waited around in hopes something would change.

After about 2 hours of standing around a group of 60--->? year old's came up through our station. We listened to their guide and we could understand that they were going to push through and see if they could make it to the next station. So, we filed in behind them. After all, they were much older than we were and if they were going to take on the volcano than we surely couldn't give up!

After about 30 minutes of rain and intense winds this happened:

Our reward from Heaven for sticking it out? I like to think so. Onward to the summit! Everything was great. The winds died down and the rain held off. It was at this point I realized how freaking hard the hike was. Mentally, I felt like my legs couldn't make it, I felt like I couldn't lift my knees anymore. But, if survived the night before I surely wasn't going to give up! Plus the view was beautiful, no it was breathtaking.

We made it to the summit!

As you can see, Mt. Fuji has a mind of it's own. Once we reached the summit there was no visibility and again, there was pelting rain. It was so foggy I couldn't find the bathroom hut! We did however find hot bowls of udon and curry. It felt amazing to sit at the top of Mt. Fuji, whether we could see around us or not. Everything we went through, from the almost road closures to the Y5,000 futon mat seemed to fade away as we enjoyed our HOT soup and milk sake.

Then we went outside again.

However, as we descended down the volcano mother nature calmed down and the hike was more amazing than any one nature related thing I have ever seen. For the entire 5 hour hike down the volcano we enjoyed breathtaking views and perfect weather as we were greeted by the hikers on their way up. There was a slight jealousness knowing that if we had stuck with our original plan we would have had a perfect hike with them but in the end, we wouldn't have had nearly as great of a story.

Did I mention it was all in honor of Brandon's 31st birthday? Oh yes...what a birthday?!

Just a few more photos!

 Jesse, super happy and loving life.

Our top tips for climbing Fuji:
1. Rent shoes and rain gear no matter how cool and awesome you think you are.
2. Bring lots of Yen, you never know when you'll need a Y5,000 futon mat!
3. Put your change or clothes/spare socks inside of a plastic bag.

Oh and here is another great part of the story. I forgot to close the car door the night before! Luckily, we live in Japan and people don't break into easily accessible spaces that aren't there's AND I had turned the dome light off for some weird reason. It would have been ridiculous to come back to a dead battery! So, our fourth piece of advice: check your car doors!

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