My Mt. Fuji Climbing Experience
by Mark Berry
(Sunnyvale, TX, USA)
Mt. Fuji trail sign
I first climbed Mt. Fuji in July of 2000. I had just turned 40 back in May and this was my birthday present to myself. I attended the opening ceremony at Sengen Jinja in Fujiyoshida. I highly recommend it. The people are great and welcomed me like I was family. They were too friendly and I got caught up in the moment, but I drank some sake with them at this gathering just up the trail from Sengen Jinja.
There was some kind of religious ceremony at a small shrine there. Some priests performed some chants and they burned incense and such. Afterward there was lots of food and drink and these sweet old ladies were killing me with kindness in the form of food and drink. I started my climb shortly after that and my head was spinning a bit. I didn't have very much knowledge about climbing Mt. Fuji and at the time, there weren't many good resources like this page available.
I had a guide lined up, but he had to cancel at the last minute because of work. So I started off on my own really not knowing a thing. I do not recommend this! Don't assume there will be a bunch of people you can follow - there weren't in my case. Not many people climb from the bottom. They normally start from the 5th station.
One thing I had done was fill my water bottle at Sengen Jinja, and the other water bottle I was going to fill at another traditional spot in the trail. I never found it, by the way. I learned a valuable lesson. I should have filled both bottles at Sengen Jinja. It's easier to pour water out if and when I found the other source.
So maybe you can tell by the way things started out how this story is going to end. Well you're only half right. I did fail on my first attempt to climb Mt. Fuji. I was a bit tipsy, it was extremely hot, and I consumed all my water before reaching the 4th station. It was a great climb. The lower half is very beautiful and I highly recommend this to others.
Maybe start at Umagaeshi rather than all the way back at Sengen Jinja to save a little energy and dehydration. It's hot on the paved roads. From Umagaeshi to the 5th station is a wooded and cool forest. There are some old shrines along the way and some sacred points like where women used to have to stop climbing. Women weren't always allowed to climb Mt. Fuji. Anyway, this is a great portion of Mt. Fuji that doesn't get used as much as it should. Give it a try.
OK, back to my story. I made a decision at that point to come back down the mountain. The unknown can be a bit scary and I didn't know how far the next stop was and when I could get water. Needless to say as I started going down I was really thirsty. My mouth was dry and I quit sweating. One Japanese climber had shown me some wild cherries on the way up. I started searching for those and managed to find a few. They put a little moisture back into my mouth.
When I finally reached a place called Naka no Chaya, I hoped to buy some water, but they had already closed up shop. They also removed the handle on the outside water faucet. I couldn't get to water anywhere around there. I really started to worry. I continued down the trail occasionaly looking at cars hoping someone might offer me a ride. But no luck.
I finally reached Sengen Jinja just about sunset. I went to the water fountain and feasted on water. I drank 3 liters of water! My body just seemed to keep soaking it in. I laid down on a bench to rest and finally someone came up to me and asked if I was alright. I thanked them and told them yes I was OK now. I managed to get back to my hotel and checked back into my room. The manager seemed a little surprised to see me back, but luckily there was a room for me.
The climb down had done a number on my feet. Blisters and one of my big toes looked as if the nail was ready to come off (it did eventually). I soaked in a hot tub for about an hour. I didn't even venture out for food. I went right to bed. I left my decision for tomorrow up to mother nature. If there was good weather, I was going to try and climb again.
By the way, failure was not an option. I had already scheduled an event when I got home to talk about my Mt. Fuji climb. I'm not the type of person that would let myself fail and then go tell people about it. So, when I got up, mother nature had decided - you will try again. This time a little bit different. I would start at the 5th station like the majority of the people do.
I filled both my water bottles this time. I stocked up on some energy food at one of the convenience stores and off I went. There were many more climbers here than what I had seen down on the lower half. It was a warm day and my hopes were high that I would have an easy climb. Well, it wasn't so easy.
The day before sure didn't help any either. My feet were a mess, but I was determined. Climbers are very encouraging people. So many people shouting words of encouragement. I wish I had a dollar for every "Ganbatte" I received. This helped me a lot.
The lower portions of the trail are a series of very monotonous switchbacks. Back and forth, back and forth and very tiring. The middle portion is craggy lava rock. More interesting and you feel a better sense of accomplishment because you seem to make better time on this portion. The last bit is a sort of mixture of the two, but mostly its lava trails are like the first but more interesting.
Finally, about sunset I made it to the summit. I was filled with emotion at this point because I felt I had pushed my body somewhere it had never been. I pushed its limits and I had survived. I watched a glorious sunset from the summit. I hung around the top a little while. I never found the post office they say was up there. I couldn't find anywhere to stamp my climbing stick.
It became a bit deserted so I thought I better start down. It took me about 30 minutes to get to my mountain hut - Mt. Fuji Inn. I paid my money and they showed me to my little space among the musty futons. I changed clothes and went down for some food and a beer! I went to bed soon after and told the staff there what time to wake me up. They woke me up in time to see the sunrise. It was really beautiful. I filled my camera with photos from every angle I could manage.
This was a magical moment for me. It doesn't happen so fast and you spend a lot of time in anticipation of the first sliver of sunlight peaking above the sea of clouds. We got a nice star shaped sunrise. People were reacting all over the mountain. It was great.
After sunrise, I ate a bit and then got my gear together for the long hike down. Hiking down is harder than the hike up. Just a warning to you out there. Lots of chances to fall also. The lava is deep and loose, so you need gators or something to keep the lava out of your boots. Climbing stick(s) sure come in handy on this portion of the hike. Took me 3 or 4 hours to make it back to the 5th station. Tired, sore, beat up, but so, so happy I had done what I set out to do. I was able to give my presentation back in the US proudly and share my experience.
Since 2000, I have climbed Mt. Fuji 7 more times. I used all 4 trails and I've climbed from the bottom all the way to the top. I've climbed at night and during the day. Every climb is a different story and I never get tired of this mountain. I've been lucky to see the sunrise every time I have climbed.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I like to help others enjoy Mt. Fuji. Maybe I'll share another story or two when I have time. Thanks for the opportunity to share!
p.s. More Mt. Fuji pics here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjHoKRAd