I want to climb Fuji in winter
Snow capped Mt Fuji is one of the world's most iconic sights. What the
photographs don't convey is the severity of climbing Fuji "out of
season." Obligatory disclaimer:
climbers, experienced alpinists and gumbies alike, die every year on
Fuji. Risk of death or serious injury is quite possible. None of the
below is a recommendation to attempt the mountain out of season. You
climb entirely at your own risk and should realize the inherently
dangerous nature of the undertaking.
What is "out of season"?
The official season starts in early July and ends in early September.
After that, the mountain is "closed", although it's worth noting that
the huts will sometimes open a little in advance and often stay open
for a week or so afterwards. The only hut on the mountain that offers
(albeit sporadic - mainly weekends during winter) year round opening is
Sato-goya at the 5th stage. If you climb out of season, then assume
that there is no support & that you're on your own to the top.
Can I climb when the
mountain is "closed"?
Yes, but the rise in out of season fatalities has raised the occasional
police presence on the mountain during winter. They won't stop you
climbing (apparently) but can and will inspect your gear, and will urge
you to descend if they think you are under prepared. They're generally
good guys, if somewhat officious, so try not to give them a hard time
for doing their job.
Is the road open?
Depends on snowfall. The road to the 5th stage is not infrequently
closed during winter, which means you'll be climbing from the 1st stage
at Uma-gaeshi. If the path is relatively clear, then it's a couple of
hours from there to the 5th stage. It's not unknown, though, for there
to be several feet of snow after a decent storm, which will require
snow shoes and considerable stamina to break through.
What are the risks?
- Fuji is very, very cold in winter. People come from
all over Asia to train on Fuji for Himalayan ascents. Temperatures of
-40C with wind chill above the 8th stage are the norm.
- It can be extremely windy. Gusts of 100mile/hr and
above are not uncommon, enough you knock you over and send you skidding
down the mountain (see below). Wind is probably the most key factor in
summitting - if there's a plume on the top then you're probably best
off turning back.
- It can be extremely icy. That white capped cone is,
after a couple of days of cold wind, a scoured ice slope. Against this,
the mountain is neither steep nor technical enough to require ice tools
or roped belays. The result is that you'll be spending many hours at
reasonable altitude, fatigued, and at risk of a slip. If you do slip,
you'll have at most one chance to self arrest, and if you miss that
then you're probably taking a highly injurious or fatal one-way trip
down the mountain. People
die this way every single year on Fuji in winter. Don't be among them.
- Coming down is harder than going up. You'll have done
a big day going up and now you're facing at least a 2000m descent on
snow and ice that has been degraded by the daytime sun in all
Should I climb Fuji in
If you enjoy big, technical alpine routes in winter, then there are
many better routes in Japan. But it remains an icon in the Japanese
mountain pantheon, and is a tick many feel they have to acquire.
If you're fit, have adept winter mountaineering experience, and are
sensible with regards to the very changeable conditions on the
mountain, then Fuji in winter represents an interesting and memorable
For detailed information, including routes and climbing strategies, see
Tony Grant's page at: http://climbjapan.blogspot.sg/2013/01/winter-mt-fuji-some-climbing-strategies.html
Reprinted with permission from Mr. Chris White. Thanks for sharing, Chris!