As you leave central, bustling Tokyo and head Southwest the scenery gradually changes from urban to farmland. You go through a tunnel and on the other side all semblance of city is gone and you find yourself surrounded by low mountains.
Then you round a corner and realize that those ‘mountains’ pale in comparison to Fuji. You instantly see the appeal and awe that has symmoned hundreds of generations to it. Here was my first glance at around 6:15 in the evening.
On the Mountain –
The bus pulls into the mountain trailhead at 7pm. The Sun has set fast and it’s dark all around. I grab some last minute supplies, put my headlamp on and head for the trail – start time 7:30
7:50 – I meet some Germans, Finns, and a Chinese girl all hiking at about my pace. We stop at the first station to catch our breath. The stars are out in force and at this altitude we are above the clouds so we can see the lightning reflecting off of them.
FLASH FLASH FLASH.
The lightning looks like bombs exploding in the night. The thunder sounds off. 6 miles away. The fog and clouds are rolling in now.
8:30 – I’ve miraculously overtaken a guided tour thanks to the power of a downloaded Spotify Playlist containing the empowering song ‘Make A Man Out Of You’ from Mulan. Yes. I was that guy on the mountain but it helped me push through to the station. The clouds keep rising with me and I keep pushing above them. As long as I can see the stars I know that I’ll be fine. The thunder and lightening surround us on all sides. It’s a beautiful and worrying sight to see.
9:30 – I met a pair of guys from the UK and chatted with them while we all caught our breath. They are Astrophysicists working on a particle accelerator just outside of Oxford, they are here in Japan to see their accelerator. We feel the first sense of rain and decide to press on. A sign says only 3.2km remaining. The sign lies. On Fuji distance isn’t measured in Kilometers but in time. At least 4 hours to go at this pace. The fog has caught up so I must press on. Only 3.2km I lie to myself. Only 3.2km.
9:50 – The last rest station for about 30 minutes. Climbing up to it meant pushing through the fog and mist. Fog so thick you could barely see past your hands and feet. Thankfully the fog moves slower than I do. I meet up with Jim and Richard (the Brits) and we check the time to the next spot on the guidebook. The booklet advises against ‘Bullet Climbing’. Climbing up in a single go, without proper rest beforehand and without long enough breaks at each station. According to the booklet if you bullet climate you “Will get fatigued, get hurt, or may become susceptible to sickness”. I have been bullet climbing. I let Jim and Richard go on ahead. I’ll rest a bit longer.
10:40 – We make it to the next station after taking a break to gaze at the stars and a beautiful moon. I am now 3100m above sea level. Trickster gods must be about tonight because we pass a sign that reads 3.1km. Thankfully at the next stop it says 2.7km and about 3 more hours. I’m climbing so fast that I’ll beat the sunrise by a few hours. I decide to rest some more before pressing on.
Midnight – I took a 30 minute break and caught a 10 minute power nap before hoofing it up here and am now resting for a bit. I met some tech startup Americans who recommended some bars in Tokyo in exchange for knowledge about Oxford and Harry Potter. It’s now 12:30 and they say it will take 2hrs to reach the top. Sunrise is in 4:30 so I’m making great time and can afford longer breaks to catch my breath.
1:45 – I stopped for some dinner at the second to last stop 80 minutes from the summit. Turns out the friends from tech land also worked on political campaigns in the US so we spent dinner on Mt. Fuji discussing US politics. If that isn’t a sign from the gods of Fuji I don’t know what is. I also break into my apple supply and had a fuji apple, on Mt Fuji. Here is a pic.
2:45 – I’ve reached ‘Station 9’ the last stop before the summit – 30 minutes and 500m from the top. Either it hasn’t been built yet or it was destroyed recently because it isn’t much more than an open space where a lot of people can take one last break to breathe deeply and drink water. I thought the lighting storms would hit us but we have been lucky. Even better though, they are raging on below us and in amongst the surrounding area of Mt. Fuji. For whatever reason the lightening is orange and yellow, I’ve never seen that before. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. I’ll rest here and then continue on around 3.
4:00 – The last 30 minutes took 50 thanks to long lines of people. It definitely was the hardest part of the trek but I made it. In the last 150m my knee twisted and it made the going slow. Hopefully it’s fine after a rest on top where there are shops and restaurants and tired travellers all chatting and warming up in a long wooden hut.
4:40 – I’ve spent 30 in the hut getting coffee and curry rice and chatting with my neighbors. That’s how I met Jane (named changed) a Tokyo native who spent a few years in California and Indiana before just starting work as an analyst in Deloitte Consulting Tokyo. So here on the top of Fuji I meet a Deloitte employee just by striking up a conversation about the food.
4:50- The sun is peaking up above some of the clouds and I snap a few pictures. As I sit here waiting for some mist to clear up and the sun to rise higher I think about why I did this crazy feat and what I learned along the way.
I did it because it’s been on my list and waiting another year just means pushing it off. I did it because of the wisdom that generations of climbers have sought in the act. I did it because it was there. And I did it to have 8 hours thinking and pondering about my life and the future.
Am I walking away with profound answers? No, but I didn’t expect to. Am I walking away with the knowledge that I can push through the elements to achieve what is set my mind to? Yes. Have I gained any insight into myself? Yes – that even in a country where my grasp of the language is minimal and I know litteraly no one, I can make new friends, find coworkers, have political conversations as well as astrophysics ones. I can chat up the philosophy PhD from Indiana University and discuss Confucius, Sun Tzu, and Musashi, and I can do it all full of energy, pep, and a zest for life that is energized by nature and pushing myself to do and be more.
I’ve got a 4 hour climb down and then a bus before I can crash and sleep for a few more hours. But all in all Fuji has been everything I needed it to be, whether I knew it or not.