Tuesday, September 29, 2015

24 Hours on Mount Fuji in a Typhoon Part 1

I shall not start off my account of climbing Mount Fuji with that famous Mount Fuji-related quote that seems to be in every website and blogs I encountered when researching the climb. But I'll start off by saying DO NOT CLIMB MOUNT FUJI IN A TYPHOON.

In all fairness, when I booked my flight to Tokyo, Mount Fuji wasn't even on my mind. It only grew on me later and when climbing season was announced, it coincided with my trip. Usually official climbing season for Mount Fuji is from July to August but for the official dates, you would need to check the Mount Fuji site here as it changes each year.

It also so happened that my hike which took place on 1 September, coincided with an approaching typhoon. That meant rain and rain and oh, god, so much rain. In the weeks prior to my trip, I monitored the weather and boy, it did not look good. Oddly enough, cancelling the entire hike never occurred to me and even when my hike mate suggested it the day before the hike, I shot it down. Fuck you, dumbass. I invested too much in this! (I really didn't, just loads of time on research and booking arrangements)

After spending a night in First Cabin, a capsule hotel at Haneda Domestic airport, we headed to Shinjuku Express Bus Terminal where we ditched our heavy luggages in lockers at the station and caught the direct 840am bus to Mount Fuji's 5th Station where the Yoshida trail started. There are four 5th Stations on Mount Fuji that were start points for its four trails but Yoshida is the most popular due to its accessibility and facilities up the mountain.

The bus ride took about two hours and a half and it rained the entire way slowing us down even more. Fortunately, I factored in an extra hour to allow us to acclimatize at the 5th station before the climb so when we got there, we still had time to freshen up, eat and do some last minute prepping.

The atmosphere at 5th station was....colourful to put it plainly despite the light drizzle that fell. Aside from the buses of tourists there for a day trip, there were other parties of hikers ready to hit the trail. With restaurants and shops aplenty at the station, we ran the risk of running out of money even before we started hiking.

After tucking down a bowl of ramen with a seaweed indicating Mount Fuji's height and purchasing some last minute snacks (as things tend to get more expensive towards the top), we were off!

Only to stop for about 10 minutes at the information counter to ask for their wifi and the weather. The staff there spoke good English and was able to advice us on the trail conditions. After that, we made a 1000 yen donation each to the upkeep of the mountain and off we went again at 1230pm!

Now, there were about 5 stations between the 5th station and the summit. When we reached the 6th station, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. We were optimistic of our chances of seeing the sunrise the next day. We even saw a rainbow on the way to the 7th station!

The trail started out fairly gentle as it zigzagged up the side of the mountain. As a dormant volcano, the ground was red with loose rocks and sand. A good pair of hiking boots or trail shoes was crucial. Having a hiking stick was an added advantage and a pretty cool souvenir as I could get it hot stamped at various mountain huts on the way up at 300 yen per stamp. Along the way, there were certain sections of rocks that required a bit of hands and legs coordination.

There are many mountain huts along the way which also sold food and drinks as well as hiking necessities like gloves and oxygen cans. But again, the higher you get, the more expensive things become, except maybe their food like ramen and curry rice.

I kept my pace consistent and steady while taking deep breaths throughout the hike as this helped my body acclimatized better and to keep moving. I had also taken altitude pills to prevent altitude sickness although I remained mindful of the symptoms of mountain sickness as it was said that the pills and even inhaling oxygen cans can mask the symptoms and that can be dangerous.

My initial plan was to stop at one mountain hut per station to rest and eat but after the 7th station, it started to drizzle hard. Then the drizzle turned to rain accompanied by directionless winds that nearly blew me off the mountain. At that point, we decided to just keep moving, stopping only to stamp my hiking stick now and then. Our goal was the highest mountain hut on Fuji, Goraikoukan where I had bookings for the night. It was at the 8.5 station about 20 minutes pass the 8th station and at this point, the trail were mostly rocks.

Our fingers were frozen from the cold and at one point, we even stopped in desperate need of a hot drink. Surprisingly, despite buying a drink each, the mountain hut didn't allow us into their confines. For fear of us remaining there too long I suppose. We ended up hurdling in a corner outside the hut, trying to escape the chilling wind as we sipped our hot chocolate with trembling hands.

As painful as the experience, the hot chocolate was the best decision ever as we suddenly found ourselves mildly warmed up and energized. We pushed on though the howling winds and pelting rain drops. We were literally soaked to the bone and freezing our asses off but never once did we call it quits.

At about 430pm with the rain beating at our backs, we arrived at Goraikoukan, our mountain hut for the night.

[Continue on to Part 2]

Tips and the How-to's of Mount Fuji coming soon.

Read about:
24 Hours on Mount Fuji in a Typhoon Part 1 and 2
First Cabin Capsule Hotel, Haneda Airport review
Khaosan Tokyo Origami, Asakusa review
Day 1 - Things to do and eat at Asakusa at Night link
Day 2 - Tokyo Imperial Palace and Ichiran Shibuya link 
Day 3 - Harajuku and Akihabara link
Day 4 - Last Day in Japan link
Daikokuya Tempura restaurant, Asakusa review
Artnia Square Enix cafe, Higashi-Shinjuku review

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