Monday, August 2, 2010

Mt. Fuji

Before moving to Japan, the idea of hiking Mt. Fuji always entertained my mind. I think the reason had to have been was that it shared something with my home mountain, Mt. Hood. Though I'm not from Oregon or live on the mountain, I call it home. The reason being is, I have spent the last fourteen years navigating every slope, ditch, bump, and tree on a snowboard. What it has in common with Mt. Fuji is that its a heavily trafficked mountain.

Fuji Yama or Mt. Fuji is the most climbed mountain in all of the world. Mt. Hood, has been bitting at its ankles at number of years. (Last time I checked however some mountain on the east coast, maybe Vermont has been a challenger. I thought they only had hills in Vermont but I could be wrong). When I think of Mt. Fuji, inevitably I think of Mt. Hood growing up and I always remember countless stories of stranded hikers or lost souls who decided to brave the elements in the harshest of conditions. This thought also crossed my mind when I was hiking Fuji. Although, I'm no defeatist, so calling in for a search party was the furthest thing from my mind.

Planning the trip took the greater part of a day or two. My friend Brian helped my figure out the train situation down there. There were a handful of transfers but making it to the foot of the mountain was to take about five hours. This went by quickly, partly due to flirting with girls and speaking with other lost foreigners. My job was to fig out what trail to hike and any extra thoughts on what to bring.

Before I mention to you the trails, let me first break down Mt. Fuji so it makes sense. From the bottom to the top, Mt, fuji is ten levels. Ten being the summit and one is supposedly where the original trails started, though that is so far from the truth; I can tell you first hand. As far as the main trails, most people start at level five and hike to ten. Few people go from one to five. I felt like it would be cheating to hike from level five so starting at level one was the plan.

Now there were four main trails to pick from; Yoshida(the most popular), Gotemba(the longest), Fujinomiya (the shortest), and Subashiri (heavily forested). The original starting point for each is quite a distance away. Tacking on the original starting point, on the Fujinomiya for example, ads an extra 14km. Making the total length of the trail somewhere over 20km. Since I saw that Gotemba was one of the least trafficked trails and that its original starting point was fairly short, I figured it would be best to do this one, as a whole,. Then once we got to the top; decide weather or not, to take a bus back from the 5th station. I was not expecting this to be a horrible idea.

The original starting point for the Gotemba trail is at a tiny little place known as the Suyama Sengen Shrine. Maps or any details about hiking Mt. Fuji are surprisingly difficult to find. There was no indication as to how long the trail was. The only information I could find about how long it took, said it was 5.5 hours. At a decent pace, you could climb that distance in three hours. I wanted to play it safe so I predicted six. In reality, this trail takes around eight hours and is totally gnarly.

At the end of my journey on fuji, I found out that there are three different variations of the trail markers on the mountains. One of them has to be the most retarded way I have ever seen someone measure climbing distance. It occurred to me when I was trying to climb from one hut to the next. The marker said 300 meters, I then looked at all the switchbacks leading up to the mountain and estimated it was around 800 meters to 1km in length. AS A CROW FLIES its 300 meters. The same level of frustration arose in me as I ran down the mountain at a brisk pace for about fifteen minutes to only realize I descended 200 meters. I could run all the way around the mountain in a day and only descend a foot. Just tell me HOW LONG THE TRAIL IS!

Anyway the journey began at 6am. Waking up and riding the bikes to the train station. Next was a train ride down to Gotemba which took around 5 hours. There was a short wait until the bus arrived to take us near the shrine. We ended up at the Sengen Shrine at about 1pm and began our trek. I figured if we went straight there, we would hit the top at sunrise.

The Suyama trail was a combination of walking on city streets and dirt trails that ran into the wilderness. For about the first two and a half hours it wasn't too bad. I thought we were halfway at this point, due to my calculations. We took a breather and some pictures. The mountain wasn't visible at all. the entire journey. It was just too cloudy.

After a short rest we went along our path. Everything was going fine up until the point we hit a golf course. The trail was eroding and a stream took its place. We talked with a worker on the golf course about the trail. I found that over the small solar powered electric fence that the trail was fine and continued on for a distance. The greenskeeper thought we already overshot the start of the gotemba trail and wouldn't meet up with it. Hearing this was a bit frustrating but we continued on. He warned of us about black bears on the trail. I got excited because I have never seen a black bear in the forest and was hoping we would see one. Sadly we didn't. We saw a deer though. Man, they're weird, follow you in pitch black, and make obscenely frightening noises at night.

I should mention that the sun went down while we were on the Suyama trail. It was also disappointin to find out that we finally arrived at station one after such a long time of hiking. This was at around seven o'clock (six hours in), right when the trail got extremely difficult. It was like I was walking up the side of a black diamond in complete darkness. When I saw some lights, I got excited, because I knew the huts weren't far away but they totally were. As we got out of the timberline (6,000ft), this steep path continued on. Luckily there was rope and I pulled my dead body up the side of Mt. Fuji until we hit flat ground. We were now at the edge of the Hoei Crater.

From my line of site were were around 2km away from the closest hut. I thought we were near the bottom of the Gotemba trail. Both Brian and I were exhausted. Since it wasn't cold, we decided to take a rest on the edge of the crater. The stars were out and it was clear for the only time we were on the mountain. I saw a few shooting stars. It was silent. You could hear all the other hikers in the distance. It sounded like they were right next to you.

I miss read my watch and thought it was 11:30 but it was actually 9:30. Luckily we got out of that messy trail. Its just too bad the time was so off. The plan was to stay on the crater for about two hours then continue on the hike. I drifted in and out of sleep for an hour then sprang to life after about 30 minutes, ready to take on the mountain. Sadly, I sprang to life to fast. A cold gust of wind hit my to hard and my body started to go into shock. After a few deep breaths and some Jedi mind tricks, I was able to calm myself down. I then put on a jacket and it was another rocky black diamond up until the path leveled out. Brian didn't seem affected at all by the lack of sleep and was a good 30 meters ahead.

When we made it over to the nearest hut, we found out that it was actually the 6th Station on the Fujinomiya trail. A wrong turn was taking somewhere and I'm not sure. Between the bad directions I spent hours searching for online and the terrible trail heads, it was hard to find who to blame. Regardless we took a bit of a rest. Both of us were nearly out of water and for a bottle on the mountain was outrageous. Price gouging is rough but it makes complete sense. The huts all run on generators, which means gas, which means a lot of money. Supplies to and from the huts are also expensive. Its like how FedEx charges more for packages flown to Hawaii or Alaska or even into Canada. When its more of a hassle to obtain something, expect to be charged more. I coughed up the 300 yen for a bottle of water. It tasted so good but was not enough.

While at the 6th station, I started to talk to a Japanese gal. When she replied in fluent English I was shocked. She had some words of encouragement because at that point I wasn't feeling so great and was about ready to give up. 'Gambatte!' She said. It means 'Do your best!'. I then turned into the Anime character I already am, so I bought a walking stick with some fancy wood burnt stamps on it. I can't read it but it sure looks awesome.

From this point we had only a little while left and if we had the energy we could have made it for the sunrise. We went at a decent pace from levels six to nine. Taking rests at about every other switch back. The lack of oxygen really gets to you past that point I was beat and remember saying weird things. At huts, we would stop for longer. Eventually when we got up to the 9th hut, the sun looked like it was about to come out but guess what also was out? Clouds! Both of us knew it would be pointless to go up just for some clouds so a much longer rest was underway.

We put up stop on that last hut for maybe twenty or thirty minutes. Both of us were sitting, with out backs on the the side of the hut. I got tired of sitting and then just decided to lay on my side. Some Japanese ladies started to talk about me but I didn't know much of what they were saying. I also didn't care cause I was so tired.

When we woke it was a quick trip to the top of the crater. I saw a guy in a Luchido mask and asked to take a picture of him. He was ok with that so I did. Awesome.

At the top of Mt. Fuji there is a little town. There is a shrine where I got another stamp on my walking stick. There is also a police box, post office box and a small area for expensive food. It felt refreshing to finally be at the top but at the same time, I was a bit disappointed. I didn't mind missing the sun rise but I felt a bit left out because of the clouds.

After a little while on top, it was back down. We thought going down the trail were were supposed to go up would have been a good idea…. No, it was a terrible idea. That trail has so many small rocks. At first it starts out ok. Three kilometers down it wasn't to bad. There were some switch backs and it wasn't too steep. And then it turns into about 7km of just straight rocky road. It was just steep enough that you wanted to run down it. Then you do and get rocks in your shoes. Its easier on the body as a whole just extremely annoying.

Once we got to the bottom of the 5th station at Gotemba, we got on a bus and were out of there pretty quickly. I didn't take much pictures on the trek but did manage to take plenty of video. There will be some posted later down the line.

The train ride back wasn't so bad. I was in and out of sleep. I am not like the Japanese though and can't sleep through much noise. Whenever a train going in the opposite direction passed, I would wake up scared.

Now, would I do Fuji again? Yes but I would start from one of the fifth stations. I would also start at an earlier time. Its just a shame that so many places to stay are so expensive. Hotel costs in Japan aren't by room but by how many people stay in them. So if there are two people sharing a room, it doesn't matter, both have to pay an arm and leg.

Alright, thats all for now. That was my second attempt at writing it.

1 comment:

  1. You guys are beasts. I'm proud of you. Also, are you sure it was the lack of oxygen that made you say weird things? 'Cuz I'm pretty sure that's just you all the time... :P