“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” — Ed Viesturs
This crucial lesson was learned by our group of fifteen fearless climbers as we all made our best attempt to conquer Mount Fuji in a revitalized GAJET event, spearheaded by Valerie and Alex. Thinking back on those two long August days, we’ve made a collection of thoughts on the highs on lows. Read on to get an insider’s look into the trials and tribulations of Fuji-san!
Why did you want to climb Mount Fuji?
Devyn: It’s been my dream to climb Mt. Fuji (shrine to summit, along one of the old pilgrimage routes) since I read about it as a kid. It’s one of the things that got me really interested in Japan. Since I have arthritis in a bunch of my joints, and my mobility is likely to decrease with time…well, no time like the present, eh? Plus, GAJET organizing the event meant I had the opportunity to climb with many friends. 😀
Nate: I like hiking and climbing mountains.
Rachelle: I wanted to climb Mt. Fuji to challenge my mind and body’s perceived limits.
Valerie: The people asked for the return of the GAJET Fuji Hike, so we listened!
Jasmine: It had been on my Japan bucket list for a few years now. I always enjoyed looking at Mt. Fuji from afar, but I thought climbing it would be a memorable experience as well.
What kind of experience did you have before attempting the hike?
Jasmine: None whatsoever!
Valerie: Just novice hiking. I had climbed Haruna, Myogi, Arafune, and Kurofuyama, as well as other trails and hikes here and there.
Nate: I rock climb and hike a lot, but this was the most difficult hike I’ve done.
Devyn: I’m a moderately experienced hiker, having hiked stateside and in other parts of Japan and Southeast Asia. This is the tallest mountain I’ve ever climbed, though.
What was the most difficult part of the trip?
Valerie: Difficulty breathing at higher altitudes and hiking in the dark.
Ciara: The most difficult part was the final run between the ninth station and the top; the feeling that I was so close but also still so far.
Nate: I didn’t prepare well enough for how cold it would be at the top, and coming down was awful because I had no water and unlike going up there were no opportunities to buy more.
Rachelle: The most difficult part was going down the mountain on loose gravel. My whole body was screaming at me to quit but obviously that wasn’t an option.
Devyn: Descending was brutal, which most people don’t seem to mention in articles about climbing Fuji-san (probably with good reason). It might be TMI, but several of my toenails are still black from it.
What was your favorite part?
Jasmine: Getting to the bottom lol
Nate: The sunrise. I started crying a bit. I felt weird for tearing up at the top but it felt really oddly profound and beautiful.
Ciara: The moment I began descending the mountain, the feeling that I was going home.
Devyn: Seeing the remnants of huts and signs explaining what used to stand there in the past along the lower portions of the trail; seeing the sun rise above the sea of clouds and reaching the summit; making unforgettable memories with some of my best friends here.
Valerie: I actually enjoyed scrambling up/over rocks. And the descent was great; it was warm and bright out.
Rachelle: Reaching the top with one of my favorite people; being able to look at them and say, ‘We did it!’
Any funny or weird moments?
Ciara: When we reached the sixth station, and it dawned on us that it was almost all over, we ran to the fifth station. Where did all that energy come from?
Rachelle: None of the hand warmers we brought worked. Not a single one! It was an ice cold wait for the sunrise.
Devyn: Funny: Realizing that the Yoshida Trail 5th station and the place where the buses drop everyone off are two different 5th Stations (about 2 km apart) is hilarious in retrospect. Also, being warned by the owner of the bar beneath our hostel that I would: see no one along the trail until 5th station; likely get lost; and possibly be mauled by a bear—only to run into 50+ other hikers/trail runners/a group of scouts on a hiking trip on my way up to 5th station. (**Being aware of one’s surroundings while hiking and/or hiking with a buddy is important. The advice was appreciated, but likely more useful to people climbing outside of the high season.**) Weird: Thought it was real strange that I had cell service at the top! But it was cool to text people back home from the highest place in the country!
Valerie: Everyone laughed at me for bringing my Chromebook up Fuji, but I had to get work done for Gunma Orientation, and I was determined to have my cake and eat it too! The best part is that you can actually get service on Fuji, so I was able to hotspot from my phone and upload my files from the seventh station! 🤣🤣🤣 On the descent, at one point I was so sleepy I told my hiking partner that I had to stop to rest. We laid down on our backpacks on the gravelly red lava rock in the morning sun, and it was one of the best naps I’ve ever had.
Tell us about something especially interesting or memorable that you noticed.
Valerie: We saw fireworks happening below in one of the towns! From that altitude they looked so small! It was wild to see them from above like that.
Ciara: I was the dirtiest I’ve ever been in my life when I returned to the fifth station.
Jasmine: I forgot what station it was, but one of the walking stick stampers engaged us in conversation and gave us a present. He was so kind!
Rachelle: Being so high above the clouds was thrilling, humbling, and beautiful. Yet, there was a hint of unease because some part of me felt there was no reason for a person to be up that high. I would do it again for the view though. That Mt. Fuji sunrise was something magical!
Do you have any advice for future Fuji hikers?
Ciara: Don’t do it, and if you do, buy a Fuji stick. And bring wet wipes!
Nate: Pack enough food and water for the climb down because there are no rest stops!
Rachelle: Read the advice forums and bring proper gear. Respect the fact that while Mt. Fuji is a tourist attraction it’s still a mountain and hiking it comes with risks. Be careful and have fun!
Jasmine: Please prepare for the cold at the top of the mountain! Bring gloves, hand warmers, a few layers of socks, etc. Also, I highly recommend getting a walking stick. It helped me out so much.
Valerie: Listen to your body if you aren’t feeling well or need to rest. If you can’t make it to the summit as happened to a few of us, it’s ok! The sunrise will still be beautiful, and you can try again another time, better prepared (as I hope to do next year!).
Devyn: BRING POLES AND A HEADLAMP. You’ll be glad to have them. Keep moving during the pre-dawn hours, otherwise you’ll freeze. Have fun and be safe! You’ll never forget this adventure!