Climbing Mt. Fuji has always been on my to-do list since I came to Japan. So we immediately made plans to hike Japan’s tallest and most famous mountain during my first summer there. Because of snow, the official climbing season in Mt. Fuji is only from July to August. We decided to climb late July, to avoid the busiest time (middle of August). (For more information on climbing Mt. Fuji, please check out this site.)
Our plan was to climb using the Yoshida Trail, which is the most popular and most accessible route by commute from Tokyo. We also planned on hiking during the night so we can be on the summit in time for the sunrise.
We met with our climbing team in Shinjuku Station to take the train before 5 pm.
In Kawaguchiko, we joined several people lining up to buy bus tickets for the Subaru Line Toll Road (1500 JPY one way) bound for Mt. Fuji’s Kawaguchiko 5th station, where most climbers start their ascent. We were one of the last people to board the bus, so we had to stand for the 50-minute bus ride up the mountain. Most of the other commuters in the bus were also foreigners, since Japanese climbers usually climb as part of group tours.
At the trailhead
When we arrived at the Kawaguchiko 5th station (2,305 m elevation) at around 9 pm, we were surprised to see busloads of climbers! The group tour buses proceeded directly to the 5th station so this was where we realized just how many people we would be climbing with.
The 5th station looked like the perfect tourist trap, with shops selling souvenirs and climbing accessories that anybody might want to buy at the last minute.
Food and snacks cost double the price when compared to convenience stores outside the mountain (I bought a Snickers bar for 250 yen, which would normally have cost 120 yen. As we went up, this price increased at each station until it ballooned to 600 yen near the summit!).
We had dinner/snacks upon our arrival and started our ascent at 10 pm. The temperature was much lower at the 5th station compared to lower elevations, so we put on our jackets before starting our ascent.
The climb to the summit
The start of the 5th station featured several signs and maps to guide us to the right direction.It wasn’t necessary, though. The continuous stream of people coming and going along the trail was guide enough for us.
The first part of the trail consists of wide man-made stairs that was built from volcanic gravel. At first, the stairs were wide enough for 5 people to climb side by side. As the climb progressed, the gravel were replaced by large boulders and the trail became narrower and narrower until we had to line up one by one.
And what a line we made! The light from climbers’ headlamps made a dotted line from the 5th station to the summit. It was really a sight to behold, and the photos we took were not enough to do it justice .
Every ‘station’ on Mt. Fuji serve as a rest stop, consisting of cottages with some benches to sit on. The huts serve as lodges (for those who can afford to sleep there at 8,000 yen/night), but it also sells souvenirs and food.
There were some huts offering temporary shelter, but only if you buy food from them. We bought hot chocolate (at 500 yen a cup!) so that we can sit inside the hut. Unfortunately, if you only buy drinks, you cannot really enter, only your butt is allowed to sit on the elevated floor while your foot remains outside. We tried to sleep while sitting, with our heads on our knees. After about 20 minutes in that position, we gave up and headed off again.
For me, the worst part was to not go at my own pace on the later stages of the climb. It was really hard to stop every few steps to wait for the people ahead of me. And since the line was so many kilometers long, it was really slow-going.
But the crowd was part of the Fuji experience, so we just trudged on with the group.
By 4 in the morning, the summit was only a few meters away, but the sun was already starting to appear and the huge crowd and narrow path really slowed the climb. We just decided to stop, sit and enjoy the sunrise. And it sure did not disappoint! Watching the sun rise in Mt. Fuji while we were above the clouds was a very majestic moment. The sea of clouds were also a sight to behold. The magnificent sight made me forget my fatigue and drowsiness for a while.
At 5 am we stood up to finish our hike, and it was quicker since not too many people were on the trail at this time. After 10 minutes, we reached the summit (Yey!).
It was like market day up there. There were far too many people buying food and souvenirs while others were busy looking for a place to rest.
We walked past the shops and stalls and picked a spot to sit on for breakfast. When we’ve had our fill , we were so sleepy that we just had to take a nap. Since we did not have anything to lie on, we just lied down on the gravel. And so it was that we came to the top of Mt. Fuji to sleep on the dirt 🙂
Going down and back
After our power nap, we started to descend by 7 am. I had trouble going down because the path was made of loose gravel, which made my feet sink.
I felt that the soil was weighing me down, plus the dust flying around did not help to motivate me at all.
But I was eager to get the descent over with, so I just continued going down with the group until we reached the 5th station before noon.
We lined up for the bus to take us back to Kawaguchiko and from there, we rode the bus going directly to Tokyo (2,500 yen fare), where we slept for most of the three-hour trip. When we arrived back in Tokyo, our adventure seemed surreal. I couldn’t believe that just the night before we were climbing the tallest mountain in Japan with throngs of other climbers, then the next day we were back in the busy streets of Tokyo. Our Mt. Fuji experience will definitely be one of my more memorable climbs.