Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fuji-san Summit

We woke up early to a drizzly rain yesterday in Fujinomiya.  We ate a quick breakfast of things purchased from the near by conbini (convenience store, they are both prolific and handy in Japan and have more/better/fresher food than in the US) yogurt, pancakes and orange juice, since nothing in Japan seems to open before 9:00 AM which makes an early breakfast tough.  We grabbed our packs and headed off to the train station.  A 20 minute train ride took us to the bus station and a 1.5 hour bus ride got us to the fifth station (the highest reachable by car and the standard starting point) of the Fujinomiya trail up Mt. Fuji.

Here is the trail map with the stations so that you have a better idea what I'm talking about.

Happy hikers before we started on our way up.
You have to pass through the fifth station to get to the trail.  It was a little crazy with people all over the place, but a good warm up for future stations.  The only trees were between the 5th and 6th stations.  The rest of the hike was only small scrubby plants or just rock.  

Scrubby trees in the lava rocks.

It was a short and relatively easy hike to the 6th and 7th stations.  It got steeper, rockier and more difficult after the old 7th station.   The rain was pretty steady up to the old 7th station.  By this point it was getting cooler so we stopped and pulled on some more layers.  Despite wearing rain jackets, we were both soaked.  For me, it was 3 problems.  First, my jacket doesn't fit tight enough at the wrists to create a seal and since i was using hiking poles, the water was dripping down my hands and wrists and pooling in my elbows.  Second, sweat, nuff said.  Third, condensation.  When you have warm bodies in a car and its cold outside the windows fog, right?  The same thing happens when hiking in a rain jacket when its chilly.  The extra layers helped and the gloves I put on kept the water from running down my sleeves which was nice.  

Hikers in the fog just after the 7.5 station

Here is a station from above.  it is not showing all the chaos that is on the other side of the buildings where it is packed with people and smelled of food, cigarettes and diesel.  Jeff was just saying again that he was glad we did not sleep on the mountain.
Up to the 8th station the trail was much narrower and steeper.  Bottle necks became more frequent and we occasionally had to stop and wait for slower people.  We kept a good pace and a steady rhythm when possible.  

At the 9th station the rain finally stopped which was really nice.  I was feeling pretty good but the altitude was starting to get to Jeff a little.  He started getting a bit of a headache and became a little short of breath.  The trail just kept getting steeper.

Here the rain and fog thinned a little.  You can see how steep the trail is.
After the 9.5 station the fog cleared a little and we got occasional glimpses up the trail at the line of neon, waterproof people up ahead.

If you look really close you can see the zig zag of people on the trail up to the top.

We were pretty happy to get to the top.  At that point Jeff was really feeling the altitude.  A rest and some food helped restore him.  

Here are our top of Fuji pictures.

Happy Jeff at the summit.

Me at the summit

And some crater pics.

Snow at the bottom of the crater

Yep, it's huge!

There is a trail that goes all the way around the crater.  With Jeff feeling the altitude and me starting to feel it and the lack of visibility, we decided to skip it.  We walked a little of it to get to the highest peak and called it good and the found some ramen.  

Above the clouds.

If you look closely above the clouds there is a dark thing.  That is actually a peninsula out in to the ocean.

Yep, there was a ramen shop at the top of Fuji with bowls of hot noodles.  It was delicious!

Yum, noodles!

By the time we were done with noodles Jeff was feeling a little better and I was feeling quite a bit worse.  Time to go down.

As we hiked back down we re entered the clouds and the heavy fog.  There was almost a wall of it. 

This was really cool to watch, the fog was flowing down the slope in the distance.

The fog below us.

Near station 7 everyone coming up the trail below us simultaneously stopped and grabbed their cameras.  We turned and looked and the clouds parted and we had a good view up Fuji. 

Looking up the slope to the top of Fuji.  The buildings are the stations.

It was quickly swallowed by fog again and by the end of the hike the fog was so dense it would drip off my hat and visibility was reduced to just a few feet.  

We had a miserable wait in the wet for the bus but had a nice nap on the way back down.  Neither of us felt all that great so we had a simple dinner.  We woke up this morning feeling great with no ill effects of our high altitude adventures the day before.

You can see from the pictures that the trail is roped off in places and has painted arrows in others it would be very hard to get lost.  The trail had a huge amount of trafic, probable about 1,000 people a day on the Fujinomiya trail alone, yet there was no trash on the mountain and there were no trash cans.  You had to carry out all your trash.  In the US there would be a litter problem.  People also paid the 200 yen (roughly $2) to use the camp bathrooms to keep the mountain clean.  People were always polite and patient when the trail was crowded and you had to wait.  There are some nice things about hiking in Japan.

Yes, the weather was less than ideal, but we had the right clothing for it so no big deal.  Yes, it was stupidly steep and loose but we had gaitors to keep rocks out of our shoes and the hiking poles were a huge help.  I did have two little falls but neither were bad and I think neither would have happened if It wasn't for the altitude sickness.  The altitude sickness sucked but not much we could have done to avoid it with our limited time budget and living close to sea level.  I was concerned about it before the hike and got the closest/highest hotel I could which was unfortunately, only about 500 ft above sea level.  

Favorite people watching moments:
- the guy at station 9 alternately taking hits from a cigarette and a can of oxygen
- diversity in ages.  From little kids around 5 to people well in to their 80's
- hiking fashion.  Jeans and cotton flannel to full on plastic pants and jackets
- hiking abilities.  We saw full on mountain goats running down the trail to people weezingly taking 3 steps, stopping mid narrow trail, sitting taking a hit of oxygen before slowly starting all over again
- the chaos and spectacle of the stations, unfortunately they were so chaotic i don't have a good picture of it
- the endless konichi wa from other hikers

It was wet, steep and altitude sickness was not awesome but Jeff and I feel that the challenges were worth the experience, it was a great adventure, and something we will enjoy telling stories about for years!

Happy hiker.

Happy hiker.

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