The reason I picked Japan for my trip in Asia this year. Tokyo and Kyoto are both rich with history and food, two of my main reasons to travel. But, I love being active in any vacation. So far, each trip resulted in me running around somewhere (Danube) or hiking and dangling my feet off some really high cliff (Peru, Norway). Why would anyone expect Japan to be different?
Logistics were easy enough because of Japan’s reliable public transportation system. I reserved a seat on a bus from Shinjuku bus station to Shibuya 5th Station ahead of time. For the return trip, I would figure it out after I got down the mountain.
Shibuya 5th Station is the most popular trailhead for the most popular trail – Yoshida trail. The trail has the only route that would see sunrise on the ascent (in case I didn’t make it to the top), and was the closest to Tokyo. Buses to and from the stop and Tokyo were daily, so I didn’t have to worry about being stranded
I started being lazy and didn’t want to do any planning. Then, after reviewing several guided tours, I started becoming cheap (who pays $200-$400 for something they can take care of < $100??? ) and decided to do some research to do it myself.
Two ways up:
- Bullet Climb – climb overnight, no sleep, and see the sunrise. Best to start climbing no later than 7pm to reach the summit by 4am. Then, descent the next morning. Lots of websites said it was ill-advised, but several forums and blogs said to ignore that warning, so I did.
- Standard Climb – go up around 12pm to 5th station, acclimate and reach the 8th station no later than 10pm. This requires a reservation for a sleeping spot at the huts up near 8th Take a power name and resume climbing at 2am to reach the summit by sunset.
Given that I had very little time and did not want to go through the hassle of phoning up a hut to make a reservation, I figured I should just go up and come down. Saves time, I can sleep in the morning of, and saves me $80 on the hut reservation.
Total cost to me? Cheap 😀
The two companies I looked at were charging me $250 and $390, respectively. While they included the hut reservation, my cost would’ve been cheaper even with the additional $80.
Must have items for your climb!
- Headlamp & spare batteries – because you’re climbing in the dead of night and there’s no lighting except from the huts themselves, a headlamp and spare batteries is a must. Duracell does last forever, I can attest to that from this trip!
- Camera & spare camera and batteries – because you’re climbing in the middle of nowhere with no outlets to recharge. The majority of my backpack’s weight was:
- Point and shoot
- Camera phone
- External Battery x2
- DSLR spare batter x2
- Telephoto zoom lens
Ok…one can argue not ALL of that list is “must have”…
- Water – you’re climbing at high altitude and you’re expending energy at the middle of the night. I used my camelpack and pretty much had 1.5-2L of water in my pouch, plus 2 bottles of water in my side pockets.
- Layers – a friend from work gave me the best advice, wear your ski clothes. You’re hot when you’re climbing at 5th station, but when you’ve reached the summit and are waiting for the sun to rise, wind chill will make you feel like it’s freezing. I had:
- Ski pants with vents
- Inner fleece layer
- Outer waterproof/windproof shell
- Proper Climbing Shoes – no Nikes this time, proper hiking shoes for this one
Nice to haves that some people would say are must haves:
- Poncho – weather is unpredictable up there and most of the time there may be light precipitation, or so I was told. I decided I already had too much weight so I didn’t bother
- Oxygen – they sell them at the base of the mountain and at pretty much every hut on the way to the top, but price gouging is definitely at play here. I was proud to say I didn’t need it, because who would if your trainer makes you push sleds with him sitting on it?
- Snacks – I like to eat, so I stocked up on snacks at the convenient stores in Tokyo before climbing up. The rice balls are delish.
- Walking Stick – it actually hinders you on the way up since you’re rock scrambling for half the climb and poles get in your way. May be welcomed on the way down.
I would group the climb up Mr Fuji in the following phases:
- Station 5 to 6: I see nothing but cloud and fog, I’m gonna die!
- Station 6 to 8: Woot! Rock Scramble, watch my hip flexors work! Oh pretty stars!
- Station 8 to the Summit: Gotta beat the crowds!
- Summit: Eff, the sun doesn’t come up til when?
- Descent: Omg so step and no rails, I’m gonna die!
Station 5 to 6 (7pm to 8pm)
Very well maintained trail here, with steps and clear pathways. The inclines are light and you’re not at the elevation where air is thin. You think you can do this because there’s really nothing physically hard here. Steps are low, maybe 5-6 inches each, and you can feel the gravel crunch beneath your boots. It’s not cold at all, life is good.
Foggy. Oh eff. It’s dark and it’s like driving through dense fog. Except, somewhere to your left, not sure exactly where, is just a drop. Ah yea, and the wind is blowing the cloudy/fog thing into your face, great. Well, it’d be sad to fall here and die, so let’s not do that ok?
Wow, walk past the fog and you look up and see a bunch of lit huts dotting the trail up to some unseen top. At the summit of this dark, imposing mass is the moon, so much larger than anywhere else you’ve seen it. Plus, lots of stars! No light pollution from a bustling metropolis up here.
Last bathroom break at Station 6 if you need it, otherwise, hold it until you hit a hut from Station 7. Unlike Peru, Japanese people would prefer you not to find a rock and do your bidding there.
Station 6 to 8 (8pm to 12pm)
Best part ever! Rock scramble and steps randomly dot your path and the incline steepns! All those squats and lunges are paying off, as well as pulling/pushing some 190lb guy sitting on top of a 100 lb sled. The weight on your back is nothing. With the proper mobility training, stepping on rocks that rise up to your knees is also nothing.
The trail is less organized now. There’s signs showing you which way to continue, and they’re labeled in 4 languages (Japanese people are so thoughtful). So, if you knew Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or English, you’re all set. There’s also rails preventing you from going off trail. Yep, they’ve clearly thought this through.
Clear sky! With the exception of that lightning/thunderstorm, but you’re way above the clouds so who cares? I probably wasted about 10-15 min just sitting there trying to take photos of lightning…and failing. The ski pants came on, as well as the outer shell, but gloves and hat would be too much.
There’s so many stars here, and literally nothing blocking them from view. Sometimes, it’s nice to sit, rest a bit and look up and admire the night sky before resuming. Long exposure shots are a must here, the only problem is finding creative ways to prop your camera up to take those photos.
You can stop at huts along the way to take a restroom break or surf the net. Yes, they have WiFi equipped at every single hut! These huts also have convenience stores for your refueling needs. I got a bowl of udon, because, why not?
Station 8 to Summit (12:30pm to 3am)
While the trail earlier was wide enough for people to pass you as you rested, the trail near the summit significantly narrows. Some parts are single file lines moving up, so you’re only going as fast as the slowest person in front of you. Resting is harder, because you have to maneuver yourself out of the way of others. My goal was to start climbing before everyone who stayed at Station 8 resumed their climb at 2am.
Yep, it’s cold. The fleece layer was still too hot when moving, but I rested indoors, where I could, at Station 8. Hats and gloves are definitely on. Near the top, if you stop too long, it does get windy.
Stars are still there and you have a much better view of the towns and stations below you. As hikers emerge for their 2am ascent to the summit, their headlamps give them away. Little white dots bob up and down in a single file. A long exposure photo here is pretty cool; it looks like a white line highlighting the path up.
You got nothing. Station 8 was the last station before the summit, so I hope you relieved yourself and sent a text on whatsapp or wechat telling friends where you were, just in case, you know…
Summit (3am to 5:30am)
It was an easy climb to the highest point at the summit by the crater. Find a flat-ish rock and make yourself comfy. I arrived too early…eff. So I sat there, placed the fleece layer on, and, for over an hour, told myself, at least this wasn’t like tenting for Duke/UNC where it was cold and wet.
It’s so windy! So so windy! I don’t care what the weather said, felt like 20 degrees F. That’s less than 0 for you Celsius folks.
There’s misty clouds and a town with lights on. As the sun emerges, it becomes clear that it’s gorgeous at the top, just sitting there and watching everyone wake up below you. Then, take the time to walk around and see what is around you.
There’s a long assed line to the bathroom, but best to go before descending because, unlike on the way up, there’s only two huts on the way down.
Descent (5:30am to 8:15am)
No scrambling! That’s a good thing because at that incline going down, that’s just a recipe for disaster. The trail, however, is still steep, with gravel and dirt. I was literally sitting backwards getting a nice core, glute, and quad workout trying not to fall. With a hiking pole, it may have been easier, but what really drove me crazy were the people holding hands down…seriously, wtf.
Nice and sunny! I totally got lucky with the weather. Lots of people said they’ve experienced drizzling, but I got sun. Brought out my Oakley’s and thoroughly enjoyed the sunshine.
There’s gorgeous views of the land below, and the clouds and mountains to the side of the valley. You can see a few of the five lakes surrounding Fuji as well. I’ll just let the photo do the talking:
On the Yoshida trail, descent and ascent are two different paths. There’s two huts on the way down for only bathroom breaks. There’s one around Station 8 and one at Station 7. By the time you reach Station 7, it’s probably an hour from returning to the trail head.
Buses run hourly from 8:30am onwards to return to Tokyo, with stops in Lake Kawachigo. I conveniently missed the 8:30am bus due to my desire for a soft serve. There are certain immovable priorities in life and ice cream is certainly one of them.
After arriving in Tokyo, I promptly cleaned up, rinsed all the dirt from my layers of clothing and headed to the nearest bbq shop and proceeded to eat my heart out. Gotta get your protein in after a hike like that!