Friday, September 23, 2005

Mt. Fuji, take two

Note: The photos accompanying this post are viewable as a set at Flickr.

My second climb of Mt. Fuji on the night of August 27th, 2005. The previous time I tried to climb was a disaster, but this time went great. I went with my boss, my former roommate and his girlfriend, and another friend (Ken). Only three of our group had tried before, and only two had made it to the top. None had seen the sunrise from the top yet. The number of people climbing during the two months it is amenable to climbing is so great and the trails so narrow that you spend hours walking slowly in lines. Thus you can miss the sunrise if you don't start at the right time.

Accordingly we began climbing at 8 pm from the highest point accessible by bus, the 5th Station, at about 1,400 m. The weather was clear and warm, but naturally I had brought winter clothing for the summit. Our group started to spread out by the time we got to the 8th Station as some of us were slower than others. Eventually Ken and I, worried that we might not make it to the top before sunrise, separated from the rest of the group and pushed on as fast as we could go. This was helped by the fact that there were some enormous tour groups (hundreds of people) climbing in single file, and we were able to pass them where the path was wide enough. The terrain was alternately rocky and gravelly. Not much plant life to be seen above the 6th Station.

The view down the mountain in back of us was pretty interesting, although I couldn't capture it in a photo or a movie. The vast majority of climbers (ourselves included) were using headlamps that bobbed and weaved as they climbed. Thus looking down the hill we could see swarms of bouncing lights weaving their way up towards us. I overheard someone comment on the similarities to Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings, so I wasn't alone in thinking that.

We passed a number of the mountain huts on our way, clustered around the stations. We often stopped for rest before the higher 8th Station, but after that the numbers of people climbing were so great, that we could never proceed very quickly. It was a matter of take a step, wait, take another two steps, wait, repeat. At least this way we didn't over-exert ourselves in the thin air. Ken did still feel like he had a hangover from the high altitude though. I was glad we had started so early.

Finally we reached the summit around 4:30 am, after a good deal of work and sweating. The wind was high, whipping sand in our faces and bringing the windchill temperature to near zero. People packed the Eastern face of the summit, waiting patiently in the cold. The dawn crept on, revealing a huge plain of clouds below us, and finally disgorging the sun itself. It shown down on us with a great heat and I got a good sunburn while descending the series of sandy switch-backs that make up the descending path. We had originally planned to circumnavigate the crater itself, but Ken was feeling unwell, and I was plenty tired, so we left it for next time.

After a fair bit of slogging, we reached the 5th Station again around 9 am, and had enough time to let our boots air out and buy omiyage before our 11 am bus. No one else in our group made it back for our reserved seats, unfortunately. It wasn't the nicest terrain, and it was quite exhausting to climb all night (Many people spend the night "sleeping" in one of the huts on the way to acclimate to the low oxygen). All in all though, Mt. Fuji was a good time, and I'd do it again. Call me a fool if you will.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


Had a nice day down by the breezy seaside in Enoshima, south of Tokyo. It feels like it's been a very long time since I escaped from the clutches of Tokyo. I also picked up some houseplants from a person who placed a classified ad in the local English language free paper. Two Brits who were living East of Tokyo, in Chiba prefecture, and are moving on to New Zealand next. They gave me their condolences regarding the disaster in NOLA. I've been pouring over the news about it online. Unbelievable. You folks in the US must be getting nothing else on TV. I wish I was closer and could help out in some way, but I'll just have to settle for a donation to the Red Cross.

Another typhoon is on its way towards Japan, but it isn't expected to reach Tokyo with any power. Still, it's been raining buckets outside all evening.

Looking forward to taking time off from work next Wednesday through Friday. Finally am going on Summer vacation. The plan is to travel to the Noto Peninsula and stay for a couple nights there.