Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It Needs No Witty Introduction: Climbing Mt. Fuji

((written on August 26, 2013))

I figured I would write this before I forgot anything.

Haha, like I would be able to forget any part of that…adventure. If you could call it that. Good God, I now understand why all of my friends’ would say “it was a great experience, but I would never do it again” when I asked them about their Fuji experience. Damn.

Let’s start at the very beginning.  [A very good place to start]

So the original plan: So as to not accidentally go the wrong way, my friend Carter and I would take the train to Mishima to meet with the person in charge of the hike, Anthony. We would go with that group of people on the bus to Mt. Fuji’s 5th station, where most (sane/out of shape) people start the climb from. (If you were to start from the bottom of the mountain, which people do, it would be over a 22 hour climb.) We would start around 7, hike all of Saturday night, and arrive at the top of the mountain to see the beautiful sunrise. Then, after exploring and taking a zillion pictures of the stuff on top, we would climb back down the mountain (which of course) will be easier, buy some souvenirs, and get on the bus home by 9. Sounds nifty right?


So, in order to meet Carter on the train (we could look at the train times and actually meet ON the train, super cool), I needed to leave my house at 2 to walk to the JR station. (You don’t know this yet becaue no internet, but there is a train station literally at the base of my apartment complex. However, it is a local train station, so if I ever want to leave the Shizuoka area, I need to walk about 15-20 minutes or bike 5 minutes over to Higashi Shizuoka, my JR station.) The night before, it was brought to our attention that there was a chance of rain for our climb tomorrow. Happily, someone on facebook wrote that the conbini (convenience store) sells plastic pants you can put over your own to stay dry. So I figured in the morning I would just stop over at my local conbini and pick some up and relax a bit before I walked to the station.

Welllll my local conbini didn’t have any. No big deal, that just meant I needed to get some track pants, also waterproof. And my friends and I happened to see some at a store downtown. Although downtown was farther away than the sports store in the mall by my house, I didn’t want to waste time going there when I was certain that the downtown store had them. So I go downtown. They only have shorts. Hell. So I stop at a mall downtown, where there is a sports store, thinking I can get some there anyway. They don’t have any either. So by now I’ve wasted an hour, and I really haven’t eaten breakfast yet, so I have to hurry up and get myself together so I can leave on time. I hurry up and get home and bike over to the mall by my house, where of course they had track pants the whole time. Sigh. I knew it would be wise to look in the Men’s section for a good, comfy fitting pair of track pants, but in my stress I just ran over to the ladies section and looked there (it’s a big store). I wanted a bigger size so if it rained, I could put these on over my jeans and still be able to move. So I grabbed a LL to be safe (because seriously, fitting women’s pants here is impossible, but these looked plenty big) and it was a very good thing I did. They barely fit. Ridiculously snug around the hips and thighs, so if I would end up needing to put on my jeans it would have to be over top of them. But no matter, they were good enough. So we were waterproof, yay! With about a half hour until I had to leave, I ate breakfast, finished packing, and got dressed. (Mind you, before I even left the house I was wearing HeatTeach [Japanese underarmour] leggings and long sleeve shirt, yoga pants, the track pants, a T shirt, hiking socks, and sturdy boots. I had packed jeans, extra socks, hat, ear muffthings, a zippie, my waterproof jacket, and more jeans. I was ready. I also had my predecessor’s Fuji stick that she left me, and a friends that I was bringing for Carter. You can get a special stick when you go to Mt. Fuji to help you climb. When you reach a station, you can pay for them to burn a special stamp into the stick, saying you made it to that station. (Said stamps get more expensive as you go up of course). I thought it was cool to have a generational Fuji stick, and of course it already had some stamps too, so win. So I am walking to the station (in the heat) in this gear, with my backpack full of food and clothes, with two Fuji sticks. The sticks also jingle, because they have bells to ward off bears (the terrain on our trail up Fuji definitely did not support bears btw). So I looked quite a sight. But hey, I’ve done worse in public and I get stared at when I’m doing nothing, so hell with it. We get on the train, we get to Mishima, we buy bus tickets, we get on the bus that will take us up to Fuji 5th station, yay! At this point, Anthony warns us that the return bus ticket we got only works for the 9 o clock bus, so we have to be careful to make it down the mountain in time. I thought this was weird because the ticket didn’t have a time printed on it or anything, but I thought then it must be a weird Fuji thing or something, so I didn’t question it.

We get up to Fuji 5th and meet the rest of the foreigners who took different buses to the 5th. People buy their own Fuji sticks and eat something light for dinner (Sandwich!) and get ready to go. There was also oxygen to buy to fend off altitude sickness, and I had no idea how my body was going to react to the climb, so I bought some just in case. I had gotten a headache on the bus ride up and taken some Aleve, and it went away, but you never know. We wait a while at the 5th station to acclimate to the altitude, while the superfast group (led by Anthony) take off early to make it up the mountain with time to spare to see the sunrise (obviously, there was no way in hell I was going in that group lol). We had plenty of time to make it up the mountain before sunrise, around 5 o clock. We were aiming to make it to the summit around 4, because any time after that it can be so crowded you are basically climbing in a queue line to get to the top. No one wants that.

The following occurs on our journey up, from 7:30pm-4:30am Sunday morning:

We knew we were going to be the slow people of the group, but we were the absolute last people to start. Our friend in the group of people from Shizuoka area, Oziel, didn’t realize his headlamp (a super important piece of gear, as it was already dark) didn’t have any batteries. So as we waited for him to buy some, the main group set off. We left soon after, no big deal, but we weren’t quite sure where the up path was. So we walked in a circle, but then we soon found it and started up.

Mind you, it’s pitch black, and pretty cold. I already had put my zippie on. We climb up some steps, and see the bathroom, which has doors leading from both sides. So we assume the path goes through it, because that happens, why wouldn’t it? Well it didn’t. We were supposed to turn the other way, so when we walked out the bathroom on the other side, we had zero idea where to go. So we start going up this super steep, super ashy part and we’re thinking holy shit, this climb cannot be this steep! The path we were taking, the Fujinomiya trail, is the shortest path to take up Fuji, but it’s the steepest.

And this was steep. So we make it up to the top of it, and lo and behold, there are the ropes that delineate the actual, less steep path! Yay! Gold star for us.  So within ten minutes, we make it to the 6th station and catch up to the main foreigner group. My stick already has the 6th station stamp, so I didn’t bother. We stopped and snacked while acclimating at this new altitude. I also took off my zippie, because with it while we were walking I was waaay too hot. I’d put it on again later. I knew that here is where it was going to get difficult. The hike between the 6th and 7th stations was long. So long, in fact, that they built another 7th station, New 7th station, in between the two of them so you could rest on the way.


So we start out in one big group and spread out only a little bit. Carter, Oziel, and a few other of our in-shape friends take the lead, staying in the lead but still relatively together. We stop for breaks when we feel like we’re about to fall over, and it’s pretty fun so far. It was cloudy, but not much, so we could see the pretty city lights beneath us.


We hear, and everyone immediately is like ohhh no, here comes the rain. But we had asked about it at the 6th, and apparently there is a military base in Gotemba nearby that does maneuvers at this time. So nothing to worry about, just artillery. Not thunder. Good.

We make it to New 7th as a group. We stop to acclimate, eat something (I had a rice ball, yum!) It was also at this point I promise myself I can have a Snickers bar at the 8th station. However, we didn’t want to rest too long, because if we rested too long it got very cold very quickly. It was at this point and put my jacket back on; it was only getting colder. While the main group rested, the Shizuoka City group of us and a couple more people decided that we wanted to get a move on. So we started out ahead of the group, and we quickly separated amongst our little group as well. Carter, Oziel, and a few others were faster (in shape) people, so they took off ahead of me, Ronnie, and Vesper, who took our sweet time getting to old 7th station. We would walk in spurts, stopping every 5-7 minutes (we got better towards the end and made it 10 and even 20) to sit for a moment. We even labelled our stops, 7.a, 7.b, just to you know, be entertained. At this point the weather was clear and beautiful; we could see where the side of the mountain gave way to the clouds and the city. Thankfully, I took some pictures of the moon and sky. I was doing good, except my right leg (hip socket area) was starting to complain, but not that badly. That Fuji stick was a freaking godsend. Almost the entire time I held onto it with two hands, using like a rowboat oar to find safe places for my feet, and to propel myself up the damn mountain. So very slowly and surely, we make it up to Old 7th, where we find our Mirkwood Friends (as I had lovingly nicknamed the inshape people: in LOTR Legolas is like, skipping above the snow with ease while everyone else is drowning in it because he is an elf and awesome; therefore, I likened them akin to elves with their awesomeness). They had been there for about 10 minutes or so before us. Now it was pretty late, and there were people sleeping inside the station, so we had to be very quiet. There was no stamps or bathroom, so it was a pretty shitty station. (I am fairly certain there is a new and old 7th stamp, but it was late and the dude was mean, so I didn’t care to push it). The more we climbed, the later it got, so I really didn’t give a damn about the stamps because it was late and the stamp places were closed. On the way down, I really didn’t give a damn about the stamps and didn’t even bother to stop to check to get them.


So our Mirkwood Friends leave first, and we stop for a few minutes to just sit, acclimate, and get ready to go to 8th, which will hopefully be a happier place than old 7th. (I know it will be for me, I get to eat Snickers xD). We don’t acclimate long, because like I said, old 7th sucked, so we start going toward 8.

::Insert slow moving, break taking, and climbing here::

Now, the whole time we have been climbing it has obviously been steep. You had to watch for rocks and be careful. But just before we made it to 8th it started getting hilariously steep, like what-the-hell-is-this-shit steep. Mercifully, we make it to 8th. Surprisingly, we find our Mirkwood Friends huddled there, resting. They’d already been there over a half hour. So we sit next to them and I eat my Snickers (wo0t!) and my friends use the restroom, take oxygen, and we generally get situated. At this point, we also see some other foreigners from our group that I didn’t even know had taken off ahead. He and his friend had been there a while, because one of them had altitude sickness. I let him use my oxygen to hopefully help. (I thankfully did not get altitude sickness at all).  As our Mirkwood Friends are getting ready to leave, the door we were sitting in front of opens and climbers want to come out, so we all have to move. Ronnie, Vesper, and I move over to the side of the station to huddle there for a few more minutes. We didn’t stay there very long because without the station to block the wind, it was ridiculously windy and cold.

So we get up and start climbing the now ridiculously steep path up to 9. We definitely ran into our Mirkwood Friends there, because 9 had a restaurant in it! A warm restaurant, with food and places to sit! Yay! So we wrestle to find seats and I get the most expensive cup noodle ever. (600 yen for what at home would be less than 100). Who cares, warm food. I wasn’t particularly hungry for it, but I figured I should eat it anyway. And you needed to buy something to sit inside. Warm food it is. Weirdly, there were people sleeping on the side of the tables, in the light, with all the people talking. Amazing.

So our friends leave for station 9.5 and the summit at 10, while we wait, eat, and warm up. But then we got a move on, sloooowly making our way to station 9.5. We run into a little mountain queue-ing, but it wasn’t bad. When we make it there it’s crowded and just not a happy place to be, so we don’t bother to stop and we decide to get a little past 9.5 before taking our rest. The nice dude who runs station 9.5 told us to be careful, that it was dangerous. (It was kinda fun on the way up we would tell random people good luck and things, and they would do the same). But we had done good so far, we got this.

So we find a rock to stop on that isn’t as steep as the others, (still steep) and run into Bryan, who we had met at station 8; his friend had altitude sickness and had went back down, so he was continuing alone. We welcomed him to join us, but he was waaay to fast for us and eventually he disappeared. No big deal, we’re almost there! We get up to make the final journey to 10, the summit, the top, let’sdothis~

This is a point where we literally turn a damn corner, and all the shit hits the fan.

As we got higher, it was getting foggier and foggier, and around station 9 the fog started to look like it was condensed and thinking about raining, because now that I think about it, we were probably literally in a cloud. So we turn this corner and fog/cloud decides that yes, it does want to rain, and it wants to now.

So the fog mist turns into a ridiculously windy, hellishly cold rainstorm. We immediately stop and start digging for the remainder of our waterproof gear. I whip my jacket out and open it up, and it is so windy that I can’t see it properly to find where the arms went. It was in the air like a kite as I battled to put the damn thing on. If I were to have lost my grip on it and let go, I would have never seen it again. So with an almighty spin of the thing I manage to get it on and zip it up. We can no longer see more than 3 feet in front of us. It’s freezing, windy, and rainy. My gloves have soaked and have become a part of my skin, slowly numbing my fingers.

We reach the 200 meter mark for the summit, thank God. We are almost there. When we saw the other 200m marks we saw we soon reached that station. But this one wouldn’t come; we kept walking and walking without being able to see, and there was no damn summit. And then finally, finally, I saw a torii gate. There it was, a puddle of summit. The clouds were slowly lightening! We made it, just in time for sunrise.

Just in time to see absolutely nothing. We could see rain. We could see clouds. And puddles. So as the sun rose, we literally huddled in a circle and played 20 questions in front of the not-yet-open station building, trying to take our mind off our numb hands. When the building finally opened we dove in, and got stupidly small 500yen gross things of coffee to warm our hands with. I drank it; I didn’t care at this point.

Now there are many fun things to do on the Fuji summit. You can get the Fuji stick stamp for the summit, there’s a shrine, you can get a keychain with the date engraved, you can even send a postcard from the Fuji summit post office.

But there was construction. And rain. And cold. But after warming up and finishing the gross coffee, I put on a double layer of dry gloves and went out with a friend to the shrine to get that summit stamp. I was getting this one. And when I say ‘went out,’ I mean ‘fought our way out of the station that was literally filled to the brim with people.’

We get over to the shrine and get the stamp. Hell yes. Now next to the stamp is the goshuuin station. Do you remember my nifty stamp book that I took with me to every shrine and temple to get awesome stamps from each one? They had one here. I did not know this, and was super pissed I didn’t have my book. I told the man exactly that, ‘I forgot my stamp book.’ Luckily they just had some on spare pieces of paper, so I could buy one and stick it in my book. Hoo.

At this point, I had no idea about the keychain engraving thing, and even if I did I had no idea where it would be. I still have no idea where it would be, there was like nothing up there. We had trouble finding the post office as it was. After asking two people, we determined it was over another hill and down a ways. At this point, it was after 6, and we needed to get a move on down the mountain to make that 9 bus. I really didn’t want to climb another hill, and if I did there was no way I’d have made it down by 9. My friend who wanted to go was from the superfast group, and would have no trouble catching up/ passing by. So I’m sorry friends, I could not send you a post card from the top of Mt. Fuji. I didn’t have the strength or the time to get over there, determined as I was to make it down by 9.

The following occurs from 6:30 to 3pm Sunday:

I really, really wanted to make it down by 9. I really did, for that stupid bus. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I started out okay, but after we got to station 9 I started slowing down. It was still raining. (It rained all the way down the mountain, btw.) My backpack that was supposed to be lighter was almost doubled in weight, it was so weighed down from the rain. My new gloves were now soaked. I was soaked through, in all layers. Even my hiking boots, which had been doing so well, at this point were soaked through. I couldn’t make it down by 9.

The icing on the cake? Around this time, stumbling down the super steepness that occurs from 8 upward, I was battling. I kept using my soaked gloves (that I would routinely have to drain by making a fist) to keep my glasses semi-able to be seen through. I would wipe both the outside and the inside, and it worked pretty fine, until I took a step and oh hey, there was my glasses lens on the ground. I hurriedly picked it up, but there was nothing I could do about it. All the rubbing had loosened the screw of my right eye lens that periodically gets loose on its own, and it had fallen out. So I put it away, hoping it would stay in one piece as I continued down the mountain.

So for the rest of this story, the following occurs with one lens in my glasses:

I manage to make it down the steep and treacherous rocky area from where we were to just after the 8th station by routinely closing one eye. At this point, I was still trying to be speedy, and slowly me and Katie (who climbed up with the Mirkwood people) pulled away from everyone else, making it down the mountain. Together, we made it past New 7th. It was past 9 at this point, and I didn’t care. I just wanted off this GD mountain. I was half-blind. My neck felt stiff as a block of wood from constantly looking down. I was soaked. My knees were screaming. And I’m pretty sure I was dehydrated based on the fact that I couldn’t spit, it hurt to swallow, and I didn’t use the restroom the entire time we were on the mountain. The path from New 7th to 6 never ended; this was the final hard part before we got to 6, because 6 and 5 were close to each other. Katie needed the facilities of 6, so she sped ahead and I planned to meet her there. I was getting a bit delirious, stumbling down the rocks; I lost count of how many times I tripped/fell down. I do remember one spectacular fall though, because I tried to get back up and ended up spinning and simply landing hard on the ground again.

Landing hard on my left knee, in the exact spot of the scar from when I fell the last time I was in Japan. Irony abounds. There’s nothing but a teeny scab there, but it ripped a hole in my gym shorts and even my leggings (which pisses me off cuz I want to wear those to school, grr). So yeah. Not fun times going down the mountain. Definitely not easier going down the mountain.

But mercifully I make it to 6th, and Katie and I take the correct path down to 5. Hallelujah. We stumble down the stairs (stairs! Real stairs!) to the bus ticket place. At this point, I am pretty sure that I can use that bus ticket on any bus I freaking want, and even if it was only for the 9 o clock bus, I can talk to the ticket person and figure it out, because I look so water-weary and hellishly beat up that I am getting on a bus. It is 10:15. Katie’s ticket was in her pocket, and is basically tissue. It is thankfully legible tissue, and we show it to the man asking when we can use this. He points to a bus, and says that it leaves at 10:30. I show him my ticket, and he says it is also fine. Hallelujah again. But I want a souvenir dammit (besides the rocks Katie and I picked up lol), so I painfully make my way up the stairs to the souvenir shop and get a keychain and a little Fuji that you can change the numbers to tell the date, and painfully make my way down the stairs back to the bus.

::Insert long bus ride down the mountain::

Before the bus left, my friend Daltonise (who was with the Mirkwood people) also made it on the bus. Together, her and I got off at Shin-Fuji station (I was hoping to get off at Fuji station, but unfortunately the bus didn’t go there). Then, we had to walk 20 minutes over to Fuji station. Kill me now.

Then, once we got to Fuji station, there were stairs. It also about killed me.

Now, we are in normal residential areas, and I look a fright. I did not remove my hood or jacket, because my hair and zippie looked even more horrible. So I looked like I was climbing a mountain until I made it home.

While waiting for the train, the very nice old couple next to use asked us if we just climbed Fuji. Case in point. (They also got on the train with us, and the gentleman showed us awesome pictures of Fuji he took when he climbed it. Probably climbed it faster than us lol)

Also with us on the train was another foreigner from the UK; I don’t even know his name. We talked with him for the duration; he was getting off at my station to meet up with a friend to start his vacation from his job in Tokyo. So it was nice to talk to people on the way home and pass the time.

Then, I had to walk again the 20 minute walk home from the JR station. Dragging my Fuji stick along. Just in case anyone couldn’t figure out why I was bedecked in soaking raingear.

I walked in my door around 3, threw all the wet stuff outside, and passed out from exhaustion until 8.

So there you have it, my one of a kind journey on the mountain. I celebrate by taking a day off today, Monday. Maybe I can even walk tomorrow, who knows?


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