Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fuji-san Brings the Pain

We (myself, Husband o'Mine, and several other Americans) started out early and optimistic.

There are a number of stations, or resting spots, on the trail up the mountain. They're numbered, but there are more than you'd expect. 1 through 10, but with an Old 7 and New 7 and a 9.5. We ended up being damned grateful for every single one.

We drove up to Station 5, about halfway up the mountain. That sounds like cheating, but trust me, it was more than challenging enough to drag our asses up to the top and back again without starting from the very bottom. Plus we did this in one day, and if we'd started any lower we wouldn't have gotten back to the car before sunset.

Halfway up is still pretty high. This is actually at a different station 5 that was lower than where we ended up starting.

We drove up...
And up...
And up...

The GPS dutifully tracked our progress.
Then we started seeing cars parked on the side of the road.
Um...does this mean the parking lot is full?

One of the road curves with no trees in the way.

Yeah, I bet the parking lot is full.

Here's the fifth station! Or IS it?

It did have the parking lot, at any rate, and it was indeed full. Back down the mountain we went, looking for an open spot.

Beware of farting tires!

We finally found a spot, 2km (about a mile and a quarter) downhill from our starting point. The adventure begins.

The Climb Up

First observation: there are a lot of butterflies here. This one was the only one to cooperate with landing near me so I could take a picture.

It took a while, but we can see the station! Once we get there, we'll begin the real climb.

We've got our souvenir walking sticks - starts out empty, at each station you get another brand for it until it's full by the time you reach the top.

Right around here, my throat started to close up. Unexpected and a little alarming, but I drank some water and got the wheezing under control. And while I remained a bit out of breath, I didn't have more problems.
This 45-degree slope does not please me. Here, at least, the dirt is sort of packed, but for most of the climb it was loose volcanic pebbles and washed-out trail.

The fifth station has a store with souvenirs, but everything above that was little more than a few rooms to stay a night, a small restaurant, a shelf of convenience-store-type prepackaged foods, and the equipment for branding walking sticks. Everything gets covered in volcanic dust. Oh, and there were toilets. I know, not because I used any, but because you could smell them for a good distance off.

Our group had split up by now, the more athletic among us shooting along ahead with inhuman speed, myself and another girl slugging along behind, going as fast as we could but not nearly as fast as we wanted. The Mew hung back with us even though he could have hit the summit hours before we did, but couldn't resist rubbing it in a little that this climb, for whatever reason, was much easier for him than it was for us.

Vegetation becomes a little more sparse, and we found a bug!
Soon after that, there were very few plants.

I have no idea what station this was, they've all blurred together.

This video makes it look like it was really cold, but the sun was intense enough and we were working hard enough that every time I put a jacket on, I'd want to take it off again ten minutes later.

Stick branding progress! Mine is the green one.

Each station gives you two stamps. One might have the date and the other the altitude, but I'm not sure.

Over the roof of one of the stations...making progress. Huff, puff, huff, puff.

I'm not sure why these guys climbed Fuji-san in a kangaroo or tomato costume, but there it was.

I just don't have the words to describe how awful this climb was. We (us girls, at least, Husband o'Mine was still going strong and urging us along just a little farther before we sat down to rest again) couldn't wait to get to the next station. At every station.

According to the Fuji promo material, we were just a few minutes behind the projected schedule, but it felt like each step took forever. Every foot forward and weight shifted upward was a struggle. Like I said in that first video - I'm not in shape, but I didn't think I was so far out of shape to be hurting as much as I was. I simply could not make myself go any faster.

Rope and Stick were our best friends. They helped us pull ourselves up the mountain.

We made it above the clouds. Pant, pant...woo...pant, pant.

The walking stick is starting to look impressive...wait, is that a sheet of ice on the ground? Yes, yes it is. We're that high up.

Almost there...I think this is Station 9.5.
But it's still a long way from here to where we're going: dead center of the top of the photo below.
Did I mention that Rope and Walking Stick were our best friends?

Each station sold small cans of "Congratulations! Do It Now O2" which comes with a little thing to put over your mouth and nose and dose yourself with some oxygen. Made me feel less out of breath for a minute or two, but no real rush.

Make note of where this gate is, I couldn't figure out a way to note it in the video. That is our destination. It is the entrance to the station at the summit.

The Highest Point in Japan
We made it! In the name of all that is good and right, we finally made it.

This is over by the crater. The picture below is the very highest altitude, but at this point we were just done with "up" and were ready to head back. Now we had to worry about getting down before sunset, because there isn't much light on the pebbly terrain without the sun.

Operation: Walking Stick is complete! I know I've been very and uncharacteristically whiny, but it's been a tough day. It took a few hours to really be proud of this moment.

The view from the bench at the summit.

Ready for the trip back down? Good.


As it turns out, the trip down was pretty sweet. For me, anyway. A little hard on the knees, maybe, but I figured out techniques for using the walking stick like another foot and trotting down like a freaking billy goat.

My Other wasn't having such a good time with it, his knees took a real beating. We compared notes and determined that he wouldn't mind doing the trip up again if he didn't have to go back down, and I felt the opposite.

Sunset approaches.

We made it back to Station 5 just before sunset.

Unfortunately, we weren't on the right side of the mountain to get the full sunset, but I'll take what I can get.

At the end of the trip, we were all pretty beat. Half of us were nauseous, we were all exhausted and dirty and wanted nothing more than to take a shower and go to bed. Except one guy who was apparently feeling fine and ready to get up at 5am and go to the gym the next day, but I'm pretty sure he's not human.

The next day, I felt surprisingly good. I could even go up and down stairs without a problem (not so for the Other, he was walking like an old man for a day or two) and I felt just like I'd had a good workout at the gym. The rest of the group was in varying stages of "ouch" from Not Bad at All to Still Feeling Broken.

Would I do it again? Probably, but not until I forgot how hard that climb is. Knowing that it's just a rough six hours helps, but I think I'm all set for the rest of this year. If someone visits and really wants to make that trip, I might reconsider.


  1. If I hadn't just taken a nap, I think I might need a sympathy nap after reading this. Maybe I should start training to do it when I visit someday...

  2. Nice one Kim. 3250m above sea level.... Great job.