Have you always wanted to climb a famous mountain depicted in numerous artwork and poems? Well, I have so I decide the first mountain I want to conquer is Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is 3,776.24 meters (12,389 ft) high, and its peak rises above the cloud line. Not a small mountain indeed! Climbing a mountain like this takes work. Yes, there are folks out there that head straight up without much preparation or proper clothing but as for me I want to have a plan.
My first task is finding a climbing partner. Hiking up a big mountain by yourself is no fun and a little dangerous. There’s always a chance that something can happen to you and no one would be the wiser. I know the chances of meeting people interested in climbing Fuji in the hostels of Tokyo are slim so I log on to couchsurfing and post a message to see if anyone is interested. Surprisingly, I receive many responses but only one person named Claude comes through. Phew…I have found someone!
After much research and roaming around Tokyo searching for gloves and a water bottle, I am ready to begin my journey up the Yoshida trail. The sun is shining and the weather looks perfect so optimisim creeps in as I meet up with Claude. We make our way through the subway and try to buy bus tickets to the 5th station of the mountain. In an instant, my dream is almost dashed. The ticket lady says there are no more tickets except on the late afternoon bus. Only one lady’s seat is left. With frustration and disappointment, Claude insists I buy the ticket and go without him. I am not going to abandon my climbing partner that easily so I propose taking the train and then a shuttle bus to the 5th station although it is more expensive. Just like that, we are on the train heading to Fuji.
As we head to the mountain, nervousness starts creeping in and my stomach forms knots. I can feel the air getting thinner and colder, and I start to have doubts. Can I climb this? What if I get altitude sickness and don’t make it up? These negative thoughts seem to always enter my head when I am doing something difficult so I decide to cast them aside as I continue to stare out the window of the shuttle bus.
We arrive at the 5th station and are greeted by gray cloud mist and chilly air. After snapping some pictures, we finally begin our ascent. At first, there is loose volcanic gravel beneath our feet and lush vegitation surrounding the trail. As we ascend higher and higher the scenery changes; the vegitation becomes shorter until it disappears completely.
There are moments when I am huffing and puffing and trying to catch my breath. We have to take breaks or else our lungs feel as if they will explode as we continue to struggle for air. There are parts of the trail where we have to climb using all four of our limbs. The sun finally sets, and we continue the hike until we reach the 8.5th station, which is the last station before the mountain summit. When we get there, we are tired and our bodies are in dire need of a refuel. We have dinner and head to our bunks for some needed rest. I twist and turn and can’t fall asleep as I am sandwiched between two male climbers with one of them snoring so loudly he can wake up the dead. I am happy when I start hearing the rustling of hikers awakening and suiting up to finish the last leg of the climb.
Claude and I begin our hike in the darkness at about 2:30 AM. The air is cold and we must rely on our headlamps to guide us. After climbing for an hour, we reach the summit but we must wait as the sun still needs to rise. The icy wind blows and is very numbing to our bodies especially our poor extremities. I am in my winter parka but my feet have become frozen despite my best efforts to keep them warm. After waiting a few hours, the sun’s rays begin to penetrate and illuminate the dark sky. Its warm golden light envelopes the mountaintop. We are rewarded for our efforts by an incredible and beautiful sight. WE ARE ON TOP OF MT. FUJI!