This weekend, I hiked up Mount Fuji.
Would-be hikers are advised to prepare for the ascent with rain gear, sturdy hiking shoes, and appropriate clothing for “5-8 degrees Celsius” at the summit. So I was feeling pretty nervous when we started making plans for this trip; I bought hiking shoes (which I was already thinking about buying) and borrowed some jackets from a friend.It hadn’t occurred to me when I was rushing to pack for Japan that I should bring jackets, gloves, etc. for a Mt. Fuji adventure.
According to various anecdotes on the internet, climbing Mt. Fuji can be quite pleasant if you happen to pick a good day to go–July and August comprise Fuji climbing season, when the conditions are most mild and buses/lodging becomes more available to accommodate all the summer visitors. Sadly, the weather in Japan seems to be mocking me by being sunny and clear on days I have to work, and cloudy and rainy on the weekends. Grace and I planned to climb from the Fujinomia Trail 5th Station (2400 m elevation) to the summit on Saturday, stay overnight at the summit hut, wake up in time for the sunrise on Sunday and then hike back down.
We woke up super early to catch the 5:45 train and started up Mount Fuji from the 5th station around 10:30. It was raining very lightly at first, and the skies started to clear up about an hour into the hike. Great, we thought. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it won’t rain much more. About halfway up, it started raining again, but this time the rain got harder as we ascended and turned into a thunderstorm. We dragged our soaking selves toward the top for the remaining two hours and arrived at the summit hut a little before 4pm. By that point my fingers were going a little numb and all I wanted to do was go inside to take off my wet clothes. But first we detoured by the highest post office in Japan, which we were disappointed to find had closed a few hours prior.
We spent the night at the summit hut, where they told us lights out/curfew was at 7pm and checkout was at 4:30am. Which meant we were conveniently woken up and kicked out just in time for a Mount Fuji sunrise…
…that we couldn’t see. Sunday morning brought with it a thick layer of clouds that obscured our view from the summit, so we hung around for a while hoping to see anything at all but decided it was futile. Disappointed, we headed back down the mountain, but pretty soon after we’d left the summit, we could see the sun peeking through the clouds. The one nice thing about that morning was it didn’t rain on our way down. Eventually, we made it back to civilization and the comforts of home, vowing never to return to this mountain again.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about my experience of climbing Mount Fuji. It was definitely a unique experience that made my stay in Japan quite interesting. Perhaps if I knew the weather would be more favorable, or if I started off a little more prepared (or both), then I’d consider doing it again. One variant of an oft-quoted Japanese saying goes, he who has never climbed Mount Fuji is a fool; he who climbs Mount Fuji twice is an even bigger fool. Right now I’m just happy I walked away from the mountain not a fool.