So, Mt. Fuji.
We all met up at Shinjuku at about 10:30 and boarded a big bus, all 45 or so of us, ready to head up to the mountain, a few hours away. We stopped part way up at a big rest stop and got ramen, which we ate outside while we met two of our fellow climbers--an English teacher living in Saitama-ken, and her boyfriend visiting from San Francisco.
We continued up to the mountain while Helen had a pre-hike nap, and we got increasingly apprehensive as the oxygen and headlamps were handed out and we got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji, with the summit somewhat obscured by clouds. Hoping desperately for good weather, we we praying to the sun to come out so we had a hope of a sunrise.
At 3ish, we got to the 2500m bus stop, and and hung out there for 20 minutes before driving the next few minutes up to the 5th station. It's one of three or so places where you can start hiking up the mountain. We got water and checked out the shops, buying our official walking sticks, and acclimatizing to the altitude a little bit in this very mountain-lodge like area...
At 5, we all grouped up for a briefing, stretch, and group photo before heading up the mountain at 5:30. Helen and I were 'buddies' and headed up together, with our front-of-the-group leader, Anton. The beginning of the hike was as you might expect--hardpacked path and gravel and all uphill... A little while into it, we befriended two guys--one who work at the Serbian Embassy and another who was his friend visiting from Belgrade. They were so sweet--buying us kit kats, helping me with my bag, hiking with us, etc.
About an hour in, we reached the 6th station, and kept hiking from there. It was actually much more rock-scrambly than either of us had imagined, and was quite fun, but definitely a challenge, especially when it got dark! I was kind of worried about getting pulled backwards off the path (maybe I packed too much!) so I went for the hands and knees thing as we both scampered up the mountain...
Luckily, we took regular breaks, and it was great to have a guide to tell us when to stop and when to start. We stayed right up at the front, which maximised our breaks and kept us heading up at a pretty swift break. It was very cool at the 7th station (well one of them, there are actually a bunch of each station!) when they started setting off summer fireworks in the valley by the five lakes and we were above them, which was pretty great to see, as were the stars--STARS! I haven't seen stars for like 8 months!
We got our sticks branded, had an onigiri at one of the last 7th stations (remember that point!)
and headed on. By the 8th station, I started feeling kind of nauseous, but brushed it off as exertion, or my something diabetes-number related, or a touch of altitude sickness... Unfortunately, the feeling didn't wear off, and I started feeling REALLY ropey! The oxygen wasn't helping, and we started having to stop more and more as I struggled up. Helen was doing an amazing job getting up the mountain, and was VERY helpful in getting me up it too!
We summitted, in one of the first pairs in our group, at about 1:30--a fairly fast ascent at 6 hours, and then tried to get some sleep in a sheltered area. We were really lucky there was no wind, and were basically not freezing, although it was cold. I still wasn't feeling very good, but I figured that some sleep would help things, so we curled up and tried to sleep. Unfortunately, at about 3, I started shivering uncontrollably, and feeling REALLY REALLY crappy! My shivering woke Helen up from out of any sleep she might have been getting, and eventually, we got Anton, the group guide, and told him. I actually though that I was dehydrated, b/c the only time I'd felt like this before, that's what it was, be everyone also thought maybe I was cold, so I bundled into Anton's spare jacket and Helen tried to keep me warm, calm, and un-shivering.
At 4, still working on the assumption of being dehydrated, we went into the absolutely NUTS ramen shop, where you have to fight for a spot sitting on a group bench, and then put your hand out when they call out what you want, and then basically fight for it, b/c they have no idea who ordered what and people are so hungry and cold and tired they'll just grab it. I finally got my ramen, and the smell of it made my stomach turn to the point of being sure I was going to throw up...Helen convinced me to try it and every sip made me gag, but since I thought that liquid and salt was going to help, I made it through most of the bowl of ramen, during which point the sun started to rise, so Helen went out to take photos, and I was struggling through my bowl while trying to protect hers beside me. One of the hut guys came up to me and barked something at me and pointed at the ramen, and I was like 'my friend' and pointed outside. He was like blah blah blah TABEMASU!! (eat) and I was like 'hai hai hai!'
Just a moment later, it all went terribly wrong and I sprinted out of the ramen hut to puke infront of literally thousands of people watching the sunrise. Go me. Embarrased, crying, and feeling utterly crap, and people just pointed and laughed. It was pretty brutal! I did feel instantly better though, which led me to believe it was not diabetes, not altitude sickness, not dehydration, not hypothermia, and not exhaustion, but that stupid tuna onigiri from 5 hours before. THIS is exactly why I didn't eat fish for eight years! I hadn't felt that sick for a couple of years at least, and owe A LOT to Helen for taking such good care of me and making me feel a little bit less like death!
After sunrise, around 5am, I was feeling much better, if not exactly genki, so I staggered over to find Helen and watched the sunrise, which was lovely, and then we fought through the Yamanote-train like (and aggressive!) crowds that had gathered at the top to go get organised to leave. Unfortunatly, we didn't make it to get our sticks stamped, to mail postcards, and in my case, to see the crater. Thus, Fuji 08 is a distinct possibility!
Unfortunately, the way down was much harder than the way up--scrambling down in deep, loose volcanic gravel which was very slippery and hard going, especially in the hot sun and huge crowds. It seemed like the switchbacks kept going and going, and it took us probably 4 hours to get down, stopping for fairly frequent but short breaks, as we just wanted to get off that mountain by that point!
At the 6th station safety centre, we saw the horses you can ride back to 5th station (about a 45 minute walk) and I almost rode one back, except it was Y10,000 (about 100$)! Yikes! Thusly, the four of us slogged down under our own steam, staggering into base camp around 8am. Helen and the guys headed out for breakfast, and I got water before heading back to the concrete area where we were meeting, and passing out on my backpack for two hours. I was feeling pretty rough as I was on a mission to go get everything from the locker, which was literally 30 meters from where I got water, and I didn't have enough energy to do that--I had to go back to rest up, but that proved to be an hour long pass out til Helen got back from breakfast.
We had to wait for people to come back from the trip down (first up, first down for us), and while we were waiting in the bus, found out that four people didn't summit, and that one person was actually lost on the mountain. (After making contact with her, we actually ended up leaving her as we needed to get going back to Tokyo, a rather long proposition!)
One rest stop and some interupted bus sleep later, we pulled into Shinjuku just somewhat worse for wear! I got home around 4:30, just in time to send peter and hitomi off to the airport for their Hawaii Vacay followed by a crashing on the couch and approximately half an OC before falling fast asleep. I woke up at about 1, just in time to feed Venus and grab a half a bowl of cereal before going back to sleep around 2.
This morning, I got up at 6 and went to work for 8 to help get Weekender to print. Karin and I had lunch--I just had chicken soup and rice as I was still feeling not so great, and then I headed out of work early, around 4, and have basically been chilling since.
Overall, Mt. Fuji was much more doable than either of us had anticipated, and we would both do it again. You definitely need headlamps, walking sticks, chocolate, and a basic level of energy, but it's totally doable, especially the getting up the mountain part--coming down was a bit of a nightmare!
Very cool to do though!