In 2007 I accomplished something that I had never previously dreamed of doing before visiting Japan – hiking it’s most iconic mountain. During June and July I had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country for four weeks. I stayed on an American military base that was settled at the foot of Mount Fuji. I went to bed and woke up each day with a scenic mountain view. Standing at 3,778m (12,388 ft), it’s snow-capped most months out of the year. Thankfully, during their summer season (July-August) most of the snow melts away and the mountain climbing/hiking trails open up.
[Please excuse the extremely amateur pictures. This was before I had a DSLR and proper picture-taking skills]
So just before I was hauled back to America, we reserved a spot on the bus that would take us to the beginning of our hike. As my first legitimate mountain hike, I had no clue as to what real hiking entailed. I was an athlete during high school and physically sound. However, my sports involvement post high school was practically non-existent. Sure, I was out of shape but I wasn’t climbing Mount Everest so how hard could it truly be? We woke up early – approximately 5:30AM to start the hike around 7:00AM. The drive up was a bit glum with overcast skies and low- lying foggy clouds. As you can tell I was oh-so-excited to start my hike. In reality, as I saw families with young children in our group, I mentally fought myself to keep my nerves at bay. The mountain is carved with four main trails. We started our journey at the 5th Station of the Fujinomiya Trail which precisely begins at 2400m (7,874 ft) with Station 10 at the very top. So I thought to myself, “Oh, five stations?! No problem!”
Just before the hike, we purchased walking sticks to mark our journey along the way. For a few Yen at each station you could get your sticks branded. A great way to remember the hike! We started at Station 5 with a forest-like scenery of small evergreens and bushes. As we made our way up the mountain the greenery was becoming few and far between and the realization that I was on an [active] volcano was apparent with red Earth, open skies, porous rocks, and looser gravel. It took us approximately an hour, give or take, to reach each station equipped with overpriced food, bottled water, and tea. We were smart enough to bring a backpack filled with our own water and traditional Japanese snacks like onigiri. In hindsight, I’m extremely grateful that we were semi-prepared. Had I not ate along the way, I would have probably collapsed due to extreme hunger from all the calories I was burning for hiking on an incline for 6 straight hours. Yes, it took me 30 minutes shy of 7 hours to conquer Mount Fujiyama.
During the hike, I had the chance to pass up some interesting Japanese people. I was in absolute wonderment when I saw grandmothers and grandfathers with their grandchildren in tow. You can safely assume that at that moment I questioned my health and physical fitness as a 21 year old. As I was breathing heavily and forcing my legs to take another step, these elderly were walking right there alongside me without distress. However, they weren’t even the best of what I saw. Halfway through my hike, I saw a Japanese man in nothing more than spandex running attire and a hat already making his way DOWN the mountain with one leg. Yes, you read that correctly – ONE LEG. The mister and I literally stopped in our tracks and watched him and at that point I really questioned my health and physical fitness. As we got closer and closer to the top my breaks at each station grew longer. The mister really had to motivate me at one point to not take any longer than necessary because we still had the trek down. SHIT, the hike down!
BUT I DID IT! I MADE IT TO THE TIPPY TOP! “F*******ck, I made it,” I thought to myself. But that thought quickly changed to food. Ugh, I was famished. Thankfully they had a restaurant there, well, if you want to even call it that but it served food nonetheless. Overpriced food, might I add. So as we rested, I sipped on overpriced hot tea and a really overpriced small bowl of ramen. I was washed with relief as I hastily consumed my meal. We hung around the top for another hour and walked the lip of the crater to the other little village. More stores, restaurants, people, and even a dog. It was quite lively with activity. But let’s get back to the dog. Just when I thought a man in one leg was a sight to see, a dog gets thrown in the mix. Once it was time to start making our way down, we did the tourist thing and bought this little wooden block painting (red Mt. Fuji) and made our mark.
For the hike down we took a different trail because that’s where the bus was scheduled to pick us up. We took the Gotemba Trail which sits at 1,400m (4,593 ft) and is the longest of all trails. As we zigzagged down, the terrain gradually changed from volcanic rock and red Earth to black sand, very course sand. At this point we were nearly skiing down, sans skis, with our feet sinking in with every step. This sucked for lack of better words. Really badly. The mister’s feet were equipped with his military combat boots while mine were in my 4 year old running shoes. You can safely assume that after the hike they were quite roughed up and properly retired. We made it down in half the time, approximately 3.5 hours, with ample time to spare. When we got back to the hotel, I did nothing the rest of that night. To do anything after that is pure insanity. The very next morning I woke up with so much soreness I felt like I had been hit by a car. Pain stretched all over my body and I couldn’t bend, step, basically move without my muscles screaming at me. But I didn’t care.
Would I ever do it again? Abso-f*cking-lutely. Japan is such a beautiful country and to be able to do something like this hike was truly the icing on my cake. Not many get say, “Yea, I hiked up Mount Fuji, and what?!” let alone visit Japan. I miss this country and can’t wait to visit again. In the meantime I’ll just be grateful I was able to end my month long trip in rewarding pain.