How Not to Climb Mt. Fuji

Perhaps we had taken too great a heed of the warnings. People cautioning us about the weather, the possible dangers along every path and most importantly, the sheer number of bloody people who attempt to reach the summit during O-bon.

It’s possible it was something else I suppose.

Maybe it was pre-altitude sickness, a little known condition that makes you giddy, foolish and liable to endanger your health while still at the approximate altitude of your sofa. Or might it be that we simply did not put all that much thought into the idea beyond, hey, it is right there, it’d be dumb not to, right?

It’s probably the latter but I’d be happy enough to blame the former if I can get away with it. Because while I’m sure the Internet is full of guides of How to Climb Mt. Fuji!

this, really isn’t that sort of manual.  

We didn’t under plan as such. I mean we certainly weren’t in any danger at any point, but we did vastly under plan compared to how the average Japanese person appears to approach this national-cum-world heritage ascent.

The average Japanese person scales Fuji-san, as the famous peak is known in Japan (and no it doesn’t mean they call him Mr. Fuji), with the full range of equipment one would associate with bearing the full brunt of the elements. Almost every single climber has the obligatory expensive coat, thermal trousers, hiking boots and at the very least a promotional Mt. Fuji climber’s walking stick if not two shiny, what I assume to be carbon fibre, walking sticks.

Now, should the weather take an appalling turn for the worse you might find yourself in need of approximately 50,000 yen’s worth of kit (about 350 pounds) but these people really aren’t the brave the elements type. Nope. These are tour group hikers who take the bus up to the fifth station on the easier trails and are up in about five hours and down in a couple by running down the ash path known as osunabashiri which gets them down to the new fifth station at Gotenba in under three hours easy. It’s mountain climbing for those who want the photograph and the stamp more than the actual experience. Achievement with the minimum of effort. Which makes sense I suppose, I mean you wouldn’t want to sweat in that new gear of yours would you?

Were my climbing partner and I of this ilk?

Ummmmm… not quite.

Were we of the other, conquer the world, abseil down the face of adversity and challenge a crocodile to a wrestle variety?

Definitely not.

We were the average, comparatively unprepared couple of guys who took the longest, steepest route not because it was there but because there would be less queuing and fewer tourists.   

We weren’t total idiots though. We did pop down to the local outdoor store to pick up a headlamp, which is of course necessary when starting the ascent at nine o’clock at night as we were. Though I imagine the whole route would be floodlit were it not for the requirements of World Heritage qualification. For those unaware of Japan’s religious predilections it’s worth noting that Shinto and Buddhism are actually Japan’s second and third most popular religions, Convenience coming in at number one at a Usain Bolt kind of canter.

We actually avoided one such shrine, 7-11 to be precise, but did make time to stop by a HAC Drug, or Health and Communication to give it’s full title. Because when I need to buy energy supplements and cereals bars to provide the power for scaling Fuji I clearly also need to consider my current household supply of slippers and notepads. So where else would I go?

So as you may have ascertained by this point we did indeed survive. Well armed with jelly, value mineral water and cereal bars how could we have failed?

The ascent from the Gotenba New Fifth station took approximately ten hours and another five on the way down as we didn’t go the whole way down via the impressively steep ash and sand flats. We were utterly exhausted, aching all over. We caught the sunrise from the eighth station and then struggled on an hour or so more to the summit. I marched ahead of my friend on the ascent and then was made to look the old man as he made the descent with an effortless cool that my wincing from the pain in my knees couldn’t convey.

Was it worth all the hours of pain? The sweat, the aching limbs, the fine coating of dirt and dust that we were showered in upon our descent?

Definitely.

But the reason was down to good fortune rather than anything we did. The weather was fine. The night sky almost totally clear and sunrise was truly beautiful; all the more so after eight hours of climbing.

But, without that reward for all our efforts?

In that case, I might have been more typically British in regard to the experience.

I believe it always rains on Fujisan. The people who maintain that they saw anything on or from the top of it are people I should like to have witnesses against me, if I were tried for my life, rather than for me. The man who goes up once may be excused, if in other matters he is an average fool, so that you don’t expect much from him; the man who goes up twice should be put out of the world immediately he arrives at the bottom again; and the man who will induce his confiding friend to accompany him up, on any prospect or understanding, is own brother to Judas Iscariot.”  

Eight Years in Japan 1873-1881 by E.G. Holtman. p.231.

Poor chap, all he needed really was a spot of sunshine.

Sunrise from the eighth station.

Sunrise from the eighth station.

Thanks to my good friend over at MonkeyBrainSushi for sending me the link to the wonderful Mr. Holtman’s musings. Check out his blog for some stunning Japan photography. 

2 responses to “How Not to Climb Mt. Fuji

  1. Thanks for link Matt.

    Nice post! I think you you quoted the best part of Holtham’s account. I love the Judas Iscariot line. Wonderful! At least you got to see a beautiful sunrise.

    • No problem at all mate. Need to put you on the blogroll too! I’m terrible at all this blog etiquette stuff.

      It was a great line and really stood out a mile didn’t it! Apparently he stood out amongst other foreign writers by not falling in love with an imaginary form of Japan.

      The sunrise was definitely spectacular.

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