Mount Fuji 3
Don't look for "Mount Fuji 2". It may or may not come later, I am still waiting for someone to send me their pictures to write it...
Before I start, I invite you to read about my first climb if not already done. It contains everything you need to know to follow this post.
As for the previous years, we opted for the last friday of August to climb, in order to avoid the peak of the season and the weekend crowds. Our only concern was the weather but the day before the hike, we were relieved to hear that a beautiful sun was expected to last until saturday. Although weather conditions can vary pretty quickly in the mountains, thereby not guaranteeing a majestic sunrise, it was still auguring well. And being able to see such a beautiful mount Fuji from a rest area was particularly motivating:
This year, we had decided to climb via the Kawaguchiko route. Even though it is not the shortest one, it is by far the most popular and traffic jams are not uncommon, quite the contrary. In spite of our choice of a friday, we were forced to park the car almost a mile from the fifth station, only to find ourselves in the middle of the fog by the time we reached it:
After a one-hour break to get acclimatized and minimize altitude sickness effects, we are ready to go.
From left to right:
- Yamanaka-san, a colleague I was a little worried about because of health issues, not to mention he smokes. However he really impressed me with his determination. I myself had a problem of another nature, but I'll get back to that later (you might have already recognized altitude sickness)...
- Naoyuki, one of my best friends in Japan, who climbed with me two years ago
- Nami, a former friend from Nagoya, temporarily back in Japan between two long term stays in the USA
- Yours truly
- Chris, an acquaintance from the Yamasa institute in Okazaki
- Chieko, a friend from Nagoya
Those who want to pace themselves can get a horse ride until the 6th station:
In addition to its popularity, the Kawaguchiko route has another specificity: the trail starts downhill!
After a couple hundred meters, things finally become serious:
And it's not long before we emerge from the fog:
After the sixth station, the sky has completely cleared and will remain so for the rest of the hike.
Having previously climbed Subashiri and Fujinomiya trails in similar conditions, I am in a good position to compare: Kawaguchiko is indeed more popular! We have to stop regularly to queue!...
I think it's time to mention my own problems...indeed I suffered from altitude sickness just like two years ago. This time however, it started quite early, making the ascent rather painful as you can easily imagine. Somewhere between the seventh and eigth stations, Yamanaka-san and me stop, letting the others continue ahead, and I move away from the trail to "relieve myself"...It will have been the right decision: with an empty stomach, I am able to proceed under almost normal conditions.
I still have to say that I don't understand altitude sickness: obviously, I am particularly sensitive to it but last year, I only had a normal headache...
Anyway, we arrive at the eigth station around 6:30PM, where we meet the rest of the group and take a well deserved break before the second act.
Some of us order mount Fuji's signature curry rice and as for me, I still feel a little queasy and therefore decide not to eat even though I brought plenty of food:
This is a good opportunity to take pictures:
I also talk with a few people, one guy in particular who is climbing alone and claims to sleep outside (at 3250 meters, that sounds hard to believe!...) because he hasn't booked the mountain hut. An hour later, I find out that he was not lying!
Later, while the lights of the city can be seen in the distance, the myriad of headlights of the arriving hikers forms some sort of snake of light:
The crowd getting denser quickly, we decide to bring our departure forward and leave around half past midnight. Theoretically, two hours are largely enough to reach the summit but if we need to queue, that can easily double and it's absolutely out of the question that we are not up there when the sun rises...It will prove a judicious choice: while making frequent breaks, notably to admire the ballet of shooting stars, we arrive at the summit after 3am, while the hikers procession is getting more and more compact, making it clear that some of them won't reach the top in time...
Yet if we are close, we do not have a ringside seat. We can either wait at a nearby mountain hut to keep warm, meaning we will also lose our places, or wait in the cold...we choose that second option, eager to immortalize the moment with beautiful pictures. A little before 5am, yesterday's smiles have turned to tense faces:
But after a never-ending wait, the sky starts to light up and a cloud with a peculiar shape slowly forms:
Everybody lies in wait to not miss the show:
Finally the sun rises, revealing itself in all its splendor and during a moment, we completely forget the cold.
Here we are!
Let me remind that in order to actually reach the highest point in Japan, one still has to walk to the other side of the crater:
But a good half of the group is lacking enthusiasm to add another hour of hiking, so we decide to walk down.
The descending trail is obviously much easier, but is still more painful than one may think. Mostly covered with sand and gravel, it puts constant stress on the knees, forced to permanently control to avoid sliding.
A couple hours later, we are back to the sixth station, where we are greeted by yesterday's fog. We are relieved however, because it also means we are almost arrived!
For the less courageous, here is an alternative way to climb:
These bulldozers are normally used for supplies or evacuation of wounded people.
Back at the fifth station, all that is left is to walk back to the car, while inwardly wishing good luck to those just arriving...
We will realize it later, but it is now only a matter of hours before rain joins the party...