Lost and Found on Mt. Fuji
The summit bid team near the 8th station
I’m embarrassed to admit that the first time I climbed Mt. Fuji was with a guided tour. I had been invited to join by my girlfriend, herself having been invited by an acquaintance from work. We set out by bus on a rainy Saturday afternoon from Shinjuku station at the end of August. Apparently there was a typhoon somewhere in the vicinity of Japan, close enough to bring lots of rain but not close enough to bring strong wind and cancel the climb. After winding our way up the side of the mountain through dense traffic, we finally arrived at the 5th station on the Kawaguchi route around lunchtime.
The weather gave us a break and we set off in the sunshine. My girlfriend even got stung by a bee. Slowly, slowly we climbed, pausing ten minutes every hour as required by our guide. We were a small international group, about ten people perhaps with a couple of people from Hong-Kong. The rain returned and I even saw some flashes of lightning, but everybody continued to climb. Afterwards I told my friends that climbing Mt. Fuji during a typhoon was the stupidest thing I had ever done.
Finally we reached our sleeping spot for the night - an overcrowded miserable little hut near the 8th station. My backpack was so drenched that I didn’t have a dry piece of clothing inside it. My girlfriend kindly bought me one of those tacky “I climbed Mt. Fuji” T-shirts that was on sale in the hut. I had never been so happy to own one of those before. After dinner, we were able to lie down for a few hours. I wouldn’t call it sleep since we had to get up barely a few hours later at 2am so that we could get to the top before sunrise around 5am. My girlfriend and me had a snorer next to us. At every gigantic snore we would squeeze each other’s hands, our way of laughing silently together.
When we were ready to leave at around 3am the weather had improved somewhat - mist but no rain. We set out in pitch black darkness with our headlights on, ready to climb the last 500 meters or so to the top. This was probably the most surreal part of the experience since all the climbers were walking in one long line that slowly zig-zagged up the side of the volcano. When it started getting light and we could see the tip of the crater it was obvious that we weren’t going to make it before sunrise so I left the path and started scrambling over the volcanic rock overtaking everyone ahead of me. I was that keen to reach the top by sunrise. In the end it didn’t matter since the Eastern sky was still thick with clouds and no sunrise could be seen, although I did get to see some nice lightning strike right above Tokyo.
Once my girlfriend arrived, we took a few photos with the summit marker and she headed down immediately, too exhausted even to contemplate going around the crater. So I set off on this adventure by myself admiring the fantastic views from different directions - the clouds had lifted and the weather had become quite sunny shortly after sunrise.
One thing I haven’t mentioned so far is, that while climbing the final portion we noticed that our mascot, our small stuffed “Cheburashka,” known as the Mickey Mouse of Russia, had gone missing. He had been hanging from the side of the pack and had come undone sometime during the excitement of the final push to the summit. We asked a few of our group when they reached the top, whether they had seen him but nobody had.
I was resolved not to abandon our little Cheburashka somewhere near the top of the tallest mountain in Japan. Since the ascending and descending paths on Mt. Fuji are different I was forced to go down a different path till they joined at the original 8th station marked by a small torii. From there I made my way back up the mountain, there being considerably less people since it was about 9am, asking people if they had seen a “Cheburashka.” This was before Cheburashka became popular in Japan and nobody had a clue what it was. I had no idea how to describe it in Japanese either.
Finally some people who were descending the ascending path said that they had seen a small stuffed monkey-like animal on a rock next to the path. I rushed up the next few bends and sure enough, there he was gently placed on a boulder by the side of the path, waiting for his owner to rescue him. Unfortunately for him, he never made it to the top of Mt. Fuji, but still has the distinction of being the highest a Cheburashka has ever been - at least I hope that’s true.
(Editor's note: David writes an informative hiking blog with stunning photos, mostly covering hiking up and around non-famous mountains in the vicinity of Tokyo: Hiking around Tokyo)