Sunday, July 04, 2004

Rain + Night + Mt. Fuji = Bad Idea

Greetings readers! Sorry it's been so long since I've last updated this blog. What can I say? I've been busy.

Last Friday evening I attempted to climb Mt. Fuji. I had a great time, but it was rather difficult. Along with five German friends, I took the last bus 2 hours from Shinjuku station ($26 one way). We rode all the way to the 5th station, half way up the mountain, beginning our climb at 10:30pm. This is where most climbers begin as it's as far as the paved roads (and hence the buses) go. There was a light rain falling, but we forged ahead full of energy.

The mountain seemed quite quiet, with most of the other climbers foreigners like ourselves, picking out the path with flashlights. After an hour or so we reached the 6th station, and my friend Daniel was having second thoughts about the climb. The stations above the 5th were small buildings providing shelter ($10/hr during rainy nights) and simple food and supplies. The proprietors were none too hospitable, despite the lack of customers (drink your tea outside!). I should mention that I was the only one not wearing sneakers and blue jeans. Still, with my four layers of synthetic shirts under my rain coat, my long underwear, ski gloves, wool hat, and waterproof hiking boots, I quickly cooled down whenever we stopped to catch our breath.

The climb itself was not terribly exciting, as the hill was mostly bare of vegetation, the trail an endless series of switchbacks. Not that I could see any further than my feeble light with the full moon obscured by cloud. The ground was entirely made up of coarse pumice and I rather felt I was back in Iceland. After the 6th station the scrubby trees dropped off as far as I could tell. When we reached the 7th station Daniel had had enough, and Katrine turned back to accompany him to the 5th station. There they found everything closed and no transportation available, so they spent the night in a bathroom, we later learned.

The rest of us continued on with grim determination, our legs beginning to feel the burn, although the rain had lightened a bit. Once we reached the 8th station, we discussed turning back, but decided to go at least as far as the 9th station before making a decision. The trail had grown more difficult, forcing us onto our hands and knees to scale bare rock. At least the trail was well marked. Before we got to the 9th station though, we decided to take a break in one of the huts as we were ahead of schedule and we didn't want to arrive at the summit before dawn at 4:47am. We had been hiking for some four hours by this point.

The place we stopped at random at was really quite nice. It looked as if it had been built at least fifty years ago, featured a fire pit, snug-looking bunk beds, and ramen at $6 a bowl. It wasn't tasty but it was hot! Apart from the cost, it was the sort of place I wouldn't mind spending a weekend staying in, hiding out from civilization. Another small group of foreigners had been doing just that, we learned, although they had been instead hiding from the rain produced by the typhoon currently passing over Osaka.

We wrung out our damp clothes as we waited for our hour to be up. However, when we emerged from the hut we hadn't gone five steps from the shelter of the hut when we realized the wind had picked up strongly, flinging the rain with stinging force against our cheeks. We quickly turned back and spent the next hour hiding out in a different hut. We peeked out again as we really did want to reach the top, as we were only 1.5 hours away, but the weather hadn't improved, so we rested for one more hour ($30 spent on hut resting) until the sun came up and then descended. The weather had lifted a little so it was an easier climb down, but I wore all my clothes all the way back to the 5th station. I slept well that night but I'll be returning in a couple weeks, during the day, to try and summit one more time.

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