Our First (and Maybe Last) Time to Climb Mount Fuji

My husband and I just did something pretty crazy. We climbed Mount Fuji and reached the summit.

While many people reach the summit each year, this is a big deal because we’re city people.  We’re not outdoorsy. I’m from Arkansas, but have never been camping besides 1 time as a kid, and I didn’t even stay the night.

Needless to say I don’t really do “the great outdoors.” I’m moderately healthy and active, but am recovering from cancer. I exercise and eat well, but I have some obvious health conditions that could have kept me from making it to the top.  David’s much more capable of physical activity and roughing it than I am.

So, that’s who we are and how untrained we are, and here’s our guide on how we climbed Mount Fuji and reached the summit.

How it happened

We had gone back and forth about climbing Fuji. We wanted to do it last year- our first year in Japan- but my cancer diagnosis last summer kept us from climbing since Fuji is only open for climbing in the summer months.

This summer rolled around and David and I had talked more about climbing Fuji. First we planned to go with friends. Then one of my hiker-enthusiast friends suggested I try a shorter 3-4 hour hike. She went with me on my first hike ever at Mount Mitake and wasn’t thrilled about the whole hiking thing (it was a nice place and I had fun with my friends). I’m just not into summer hiking in the humidity.

David and I stopped talking about Fuji after that. Even so, I started doing some stair climbing pretty regularly in addition to other exercise, because I had a feeling we would do what we always do and say “oh, let’s just do it and get it over with.”

And that’s how it happened. We picked a date and I booked a trip with our local military outdoor center so we’d be able to take a bus there and back, get cheap rental gear, and go with strangers. We didn’t know how we’d react to the challenge, so if it resulted in us being hot, tired, and grumpy we didn’t want our mild-mannered friends to see us like that.

In the end, we did it. We reached the summit through determination, pacing ourselves, and supporting one another. It was something that was nice to say we did, but we’d never do it again. Cool experience, and great for team building and such, but for us it was a “one and done” kind of thing.

Before the climb

You’re reading this because you’re either a regular reader (thank you!), or you’re interested in climbing Fuji (thank you!) I’m going to give you a run down of what I saw, what I did, and what worked for me.

I did a great deal of research on climbing Fuji before our climb date. I spent a lot of time reading both official website and personal blogs because I wanted to see what people of all shapes, sizes, and physical conditions said about their experience. I was particularly concerned about my health and endurance post-cancer, so I was looking for as many personal stories as I could find.

Unfortunately I didn’t find many guides, just mostly ” what not to do” in the form of people’s failed ascent stories.

From my experience, being prepared is critical to a successful climb- both physically, mentally, and supply-wise.

  • Research the different paths, too. We took the yellow route, the Fuji-Subaru line trail. We didn’t have an option, this was the route that our group guide chose. This is supposed to be the easiest path, though, so it’s worth noting.
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol 24 hours before.
  • Tape up your feet with mole skin- the toes, sides of your feet, and heels.
  • Pack your gear, then make sure you have the bare minimum. You can buy water if you drink all of ours.
  • Be mentally prepared to make it to the top, but accept it if your body won’t let you. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Packing

Here’s the supply list that was given to us with a few additions from me:

  • Thick soled hiking boots (casual shoes or trainers are not a good idea, in my opinion)
  • Long sleeved wicking shirt
  • Compression socks-wicking
  • Compression leggings- wicking
  • Wicking shirt
  • Medium size backpack
  • Lightweight rain gear
  • Warm/light fleece jacket
  • Headlamp with extra batteries (if climbing at night)
  • Gators
  • Trekking poles
  • Hat (with visor)
  • Small hand towel
  • Utility gloves (for climbing the vertical rock walls-wicking is best)
  • Water bottle or hydration system (i.e. Camelback)
  • Water (at least 2.0 liter)
  • Light meals (beef jerky/protein, etc.)
  • Aspirin
  • Small First aid kit (some adhesive bandages and ace bandages)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunblock
  • 3 folded up plastic bags (to keep your things dry & for trash)
  • Small roll of toilet paper
  • Blister kit with moleskin and scissors to cut the moleskin
  • Change of socks
  • Oxygen can
  • Wet tissue (to clean your face after the descent- dust gets EVERYWHERE!)
  • Cotton surgical mask (when dust rises on the descent)
  • Watch & cell phone
  • Camera
  • Map
  • Money for stamps on your hiking stick (each station’s stamp costs at least 300 yen) plus food, souvenirs, etc. I think we took about 30,000 yen (and as many 500 yen coins as we could).

We brought everything on this list except the gator boot covers (wish I had rented them- they’d keep the rocks out of your boots on the descent).

We used everything on this list except for the toilet paper, rain gear and warm jacket. Our long sleeve UnderArmour and gloves were enough for both of us.

I strongly suggest you pack all of these items, and be sure to keep your pack as light as possible. Around 5 pounds was what we were told to pack, but I forgot to weigh it before.

  • As far as food goes- we packed high calorie protein bars and those squeezeable protein gel pouches.
  • Packing your backpack correctly is important, too. I highly recommend a hiking pack instead of a regular backpack because a hiking pack is set up with a ton of pockets and easy to access hooks and pouches.
  • Put the protein meals and yen (to pay for burned stamps on your hiking stick, and other incidentals) in the pockets on your waist belt or shoulder straps for easy access.
  • Put your first aid kid (bring scissors!) in an easy-to-access area. Same with your map, phone, sun screen, and oxygen can. You want to be able to get to these things without taking your pack off, if possible.

Climbing

I think that getting to the summit was more mental, than physical. I saw several fit-looking young men turn around at the 8th station.

I’m sure there are plenty of other tips from real hikers….but as a semi-athletic non-hiker this is what worked for me.

  • What you want to do is pace yourself and take your time. If you don’t make it to the top, that’s okay. You don’t want to over do it and you don’t want to get altitude sickness. Pushing yourself makes altitude sickness worse and you need to turn around immediately if you feel lightheaded, get a headache, or feel nauseous.
  • Stop for a rest when you need it, but try not to sit down and try to keep it under 5 minutes. We found that stopping for 1-2 minutes frequently helped us regain the strength to keep going.
  • You also want to climb and descend, when possible, in a zig-zag. Instead of walking straight ahead, you zig-zag in a wide pattern and you do it slowly.
  • I don’t know why this works, but I met a elderly man on the mountain who told me he climbs twice a year and he taught me this method. I had heard about it before from my hiking-enthusiast friend, but totally forgot about it and had never done it before until this kind man showed me.
  • When you climb stairs or the rock climbing section of the trail you want to alternate legs that you push yourself up onto.
  • Hydrate. Drink water when you stop for a rest. Even though I drank probably 2 liters of water I didn’t have to use the bathroom until the 7th station on my descent. Your body will thank you for staying hydrated!
  • The trekking poles make hiking SO much easier. Get them if you can.
  • From the 7th station to the 8th station it is about 2 hours of vertical rock climbing. Literally. You’ll need gloves and hiking poles. Sometimes I got so tired that I just climbed with my hands, and that’s okay, too.
  • At the summit you can see several souniveer shops and little resturants. We ate udon at the summit and got a few flags for our hiking stick. They offered to stamp the date on the flags, so that was pretty cool!
  • You can even what is probably one of the world’s highest vending machines and post offices there at the summit.

Descending

For me, this was the hardest part. My husband said it was difficult, but not painful like it was for me.

You’ll need your mask or towel here, the dust stirred up by other hikers is very thick. Just a heads up, when you get home you’ll find it in your nose, ears, and hair.

I was wearing rented hiking boots that were fine on the way up (I got a blister around the 8th station, but mole skin did the trick and I didn’t feel it after that). But, on the descent this was a different story. Even though the ends and sides of my toes were taped up very well, the descent wrecked my toes.

The descent is at a steep slope of lava rock from the summit to the 6th station. Some of the slopes had some soft grey rock, and that was easier on my toes because I could dig my heel into it, but the majority was this awful, hard, slippery red lava rock that provided zero comfort.

My toes keeps hitting the ends of the boots with each step. I tried side stepping and zig-zagging, but it didn’t bring any relief to my pain.

In the end I hobbled pathetically down from about the 9th station to the 6th station. My husband carried my pack from the 7th station on, and our guide realized that at my pace I was going to miss the bus. We said that was okay, and that we’d just get a hotel and stay somewhere…but he ran to the base of the 6th station and found some horsemen with ponies I could ride.

It cost something like 16,000 yen (about $130 usd), but I was no longer in pain and it was well worth it. David couldn’t open his wallet fast enough, and I got a pony ride out of the deal… so it wasn’t all bad.

It’s the morning after our trek now, and while my toes and legs hurt I’m not as exhausted as I expected. I kind of expect it to catch up to me tomorrow..but as of right now this semi-capable 14 month-post cancer patient is doing okay. My husband took the day off, but still went to the gym to lift weights. So, that’s how a perfectly healthy person feels the next day.

Final Notes

Just do your research. Take it easy. Respect the mountain, and listen to your body. If you ever climb Fuji, I hope you have a good experience!

Also, please donate 1,000 yen (less than $10 USD) when you see the little booth by the horse pen at the 5th station. It goes to the conversation of Mount Fuji and I heard that many foreigners aren’t donating in recent years. You get a cool button showing you donated and the year, and a free 3-day wifi passcode that works on top of the mountain!

Update: 2 months have passed, and the worst thing that happened to me was that I lost 4 toenails due to the injury I sustained on the descent. We have also been talking about maybe hiking again next year… so…we will see what happens!

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One thought on “Our First (and Maybe Last) Time to Climb Mount Fuji

  1. Pingback: My last 300 days in Japan | angela schnabel

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