In August I climbed Mt Fuji with Aki. Well, at least we attempted to.
We felt prepared; hiking shoes, rain jackets and thermal undies. We booked accommodation near the top so we could sleep and then rise early to see the goraikou (sunrise from Mt Fuji). As we ascended to the start of the walk by bus, the weather was foggy, but mild – it had been scorching hot and muggy in Japan for the previous couple of days.
We perused the shops at 5gome (the 5th station and start of the climb) and then headed off around midday with partial sun. Hikers coming from the opposite direction were of all ages; some super fit and others not so. But they all looked like zombies and struggled to muster a smile as we passed. We laughed about how it couldn’t be that bad.
As we headed on to the main path the fog grew thicker until is was hard to see the hikers coming from the other way. Small amounts of rain dropped and we gradually added layers onto our shorts and t-shirts, until we were in weather proof trousers and raincoats, beanies and gloves. The camera also had to put into the bag as the rain increased.
As we ascended the wind picked up and the higher we climbed the colder it became. Despite the conditions we were overtaken by a few oldies and lots of children. We were faster than most though, and the worsening conditions made as push on. The wind started to come in sideways, from the front, from the back. What I thought was a waterproof jacket proved almost useless. The water soaked in, ran down my waterproof pants and into my non-waterproof shoes and socks. From my socks the water made its way up to my thermal undies and the process of becoming completely and utterly saturated was complete. Every station we reached we were told the same thing: “About another 2hours to 8gome” [where we were staying].
The “path” was an icy hell; jagged slippery red rocks with streams of water and no rails. The trail leads pretty much straight up Mt Fuji; unlike Australian hikes which generally circle up around mountains. From the ground Mt Fuji doesn’t look overly steep, but the higher you climb the steeper it gets.
When we thought we couldn’t push against the wind and rain and steep climbs any longer we were passed by a 14 year American girl in hot pants and a light raincoat. In any case it was a long way back down.
We reached our lodge at 8gome at about 5.30. We were above the snow line, and the accommodation was filled with soaking wet, some almost hypothermia-affected guests. Until 8 o’clock we huddled around a small oil heater trying to dry our clothes and shoes (at which time it was turned off!![we were told its rare for them to use the heater]) – talking with American marines and students, South African’s who had come from Dubai and one or two Japanese people. The food was disgustingly bad; but any sustenance was much appreciated.
The beds were small and uncomfortable but the covers and sleeping bags were warm. We arose at 4am, our clothes still wet. The sunrise was beautiful. It removed the cold and discomfort, made the climb worth every step and more. The wind was still quite harsh, and the temperatures low. Had our clothes been dry I have no doubt we could have pushed on to the summit.
The descent was easy and fast, with awesome weather and views. The path itself we could see this time. It reminded me of a scene from a war movie – large man-made structures hold up the best parts of the track, the stations look like bunkers on the side of the slope and the rocks look like the land has been attacked by mortars and bullets; plants and animals weren’t anywhere to be seen until much lower down the path. Being morning, the hikers coming the other way were all energetic and friendly; we exchanged cheerful ohayou gozaimasu‘s countless times. As we descended, occasionally we were passed from behind by men running down. Crazy.
I will return to reach the summit one day. This is unfinished business.
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