I climbed Mt. Fuji on 09/28/10
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I climbed Mt. Fuji on 09/28/10

by Matt Miller
(Portland, Oregon)

My friend Yu and I drove to the 5th station and started our ascent around 7:30am. The wind at that time was very strong and the rain was coming down in sheets. I had prepared for the climb a month prior so I had good Columbia rain gear including a hat, coat, pants and leather waterproof hiking boots.

I carried an extra set of dry clothes stuffed in plastic bags in my Camelback backpack. I had a first aid kit, 3 liters of water, energy food, sunscreen, headlamp, cell phone, aspirin and several other small items including waterproof gloves.

We were as prepared as we could be, considering the weather. After notifying our friends of our intended route via cell phone, we started hiking. The weather the day before was colder and it was reported that Mt. Fuji had its first dusting of snow. I was somewhat wary of the cold near the top of the mountain, but the weather at the 5th station on our day wasn't uncomfortable.

Maybe we should have considered it an ominous sign that there weren't any other people parked in the parking lot. It appeared we would be the only ones climbing the mountain that day.

The initial part of the hike was beautiful as we passed trees and a small waterfall. We were obviously protected from some of the elements while we passed through the wooded area, because when we emerged from the treeline the wind and rain got more intense.

I began to think about all of the dangers associated with an off-season climb including high wind, rain, lightning, severe cold and hypothermia. Those factors didn't deter us and Yu and I continued our ascent.

Our pace was pretty intense and we climbed relatively quickly. Although I feared altitude sickness, neither Yu or I experienced any symptoms. As we climbed, the wind and rain began to get worse. It was only a matter of time before I felt the first sign of dampness creeping down my neck and back. My very expensive rain gear was clearly failing me.

I also became extremely hot in all my clothes and was starting to perspire. This concerned me because I wanted to avoid hypothermia. I peeled off layers of clothes on the side of the mountain, but the rain soaked all my undergarments before I could put my coat back on.

By our best estimation, after walking for 3 hours, we made it approximately 3/4 of the way up. By that time the wind had almost hurricane force as it was blowing us all over the trail.

When the rain hit the exposed skin on our faces, it stung like bb's hitting you. My partner Yu was about 40 yards in front of me on the trail and couldn't hear me yelling at him to stop.

I was definitely worried at that point, because my clothing was failing rapidly and I was wet all over. The wind sounded like a freight train coming down the mountain from somewhere near the summit. We stopped at a slightly sheltered area to rest and I voiced my concern to Yu. We decided to wait it out for a spell to see if the wind and rain would subside, but it only got worse as time elapsed. After a 20-minute rest I was starting to get cold and the miniature thermometer I had attached to my backpack read 36 degrees.

We made the decision to head back down fearing that the conditions would worsen. Immediately after we began our descent, we heard thunder some 5 miles from our location. We hastened our pace because we didn't want to be stuck on the side of a mountain in a lightning storm.

After making it back to the parking lot I removed my layers of clothes and found, much to my surprise, that I was soaked all the way through. Even my waterproof boots were wet inside. I will never understand how that happened?

I think the gods were against us that day because we went to a natural hot spring afterwards, near the base of Mt. Fuji, to relax after our climb. Suddenly the clouds opened up and the sun shined through for the first time that day. Although there were still visible clouds near the summit of Fuji, 3/4 of the mountain became clear and beautiful.

Even after all we endured, it was an awesome experience and I am looking forward to going back next year and trying again!

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Oct 12, 2010
A valiant effort !!
by: Gary Wolff

Great story, Matt ! Thanks for sharing it.

Fortunately you had the wisdom to pack it in when the weather conditions went south. Through the years that hasn't always been the case for me whenever I was confronted with a situation where I knew I would fall short of my goal.

It's always better to come back again rather than to risk your life, which I regrettably must admit I've done on more than one occasion. :-)

The first dusting of snow that you mentioned is referred to in Japanese as "hatsukansetsu (初冠雪)," or literally, "first crown of snow."

The only thing that would make your story more complete would be a few pics (before the rain), :-) so if you have any you'd like to share, please drop me a note and I'll give you the address where you can send them so I can upload them for you.

Thanks again for your story, as it is definitely a good one, and I hope you will share it with your family and friends by sending them the URL above.


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