Mount Fuji (JAPAN)

22-Jul-07

By: George Wysup

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Leader Roxana Lewis, assistant Dottie Sandford, and 13 participants toured Japan on a scheduled Sierra Club Angeles Chapter trip. The highlight of the trip for me was the climb of Mount Fuji, at 12,387' the highest point in Japan.

We had spent the previous week in Kyoto, a very beautiful and historic city, with interesting side trips by rail to Nara, Hiroshima, and Lake Biwa. Another highlight was my 71" birthday, for which artist Elaine Baldwin water colored a card for me, which all signed.

On July 21 we took a bullet train to Shin Fuji, then a long bus ride to the Fuji 5 Lakes area to an upscale hotel in Kawaguchi-ko (-ko means lake). We were not to enjoy sleeping the night in this hotel because we were to take the 7:45 put bus to the 5' station on the north slope of Fuji-son.

The tradition is to start the hike at night and get to the crater rim in time to see the sunrise. Who were we gaijin to defy centuries of honorable tradition? 12 of us boarded the bus for a ride through the gloomy fog and rain. Scattered thunderstorms were predicted and it was drizzling as we departed Kawaguchi-ko (elev; about 2700'). I didn't think we had much of a chance to attain the summit, figuring there would be heavy rain and lightning on the mountain.

My a priori information was that the hike was equivalent to climbing Mt San Jacinto and that there is a trail all the way to the summit, and a separate trail for the descent. There is an opportunity to take a wrong trail on the return and end up on the wrong side of the mountain which, being a typical volcano, looks pretty much the same from any direction, especially at night.

Studying a guide that Roxana provided told me that the trailhead elevation at 5'h station is about 7550', so the elevation gained would be about 4900'. This is a rather serious hike. There are a number of huts (with food and drink service), shrines, and outhouses (100 yen donation) along the way. We started hiking at 9 pm. A popular tourist diversion is to purchase a pine hiking stick and get stamps burned into the wood at the various stations en route. I just used my Leki pole, which doesn't burn.

For the first 2 miles the 12 of us hiked slowly along a road through the mist. It was not at all cold. The road ended and we began ascending a steep trail. There were a lot of hikers besides us and staying together was difficult. 1 soon found myself well behind Bruce Hale, Hassan Kilany, and DPS veterans David and Elaine Baldwin.

The light drizzle had stopped and we could see several stars above us. The clouds were obviously a low altitude phenomenon and 1 saw hope that we might actually do this thing. I was ascending with an ever-increasing crowd of climbers (mostly Japanese) and occasionally hiked with Tina Rozsa and Hacsoon Yoon. Tina was handicapped by hiking in a pair of S15 sneakers that she purchased at the trailhead. Ouch.

I was carrying only 2 liters of water, which I expected to last the entire climb. I didn't want to have to spend the 500 yen that the vendors were getting for V2 liter of water. I had a mocha triple shot which I consumed at about 2 am to ward off drowsiness.

As expected, the temperature diminished and the wind increased with elevation and it was quite chilly above 10,000'. There were areas of the "trail" that might be considered class 2, with hands required. The path was marked with chains here. At about 11,000' a large number of hikers caught up with me and there was quite a mass of humanity going for the peak. Hiking fast was now impossible. To the credit of the Japanese hikers, they were all quite polite, not at all pushy. I estimate that there were 3000 hikers going for the summit that night. That's a lot of headlamps!

I reached the crater rim, with its but and store, just after 4 am and just before the rather ordinary sunrise, to find Bruce, Hassan, and the Baldwins. Shortly after, Haesoon arrived there and the 2 of us elected to go together to the true summit. To get to this point we had to undulate about 2/3 of the way around the rim, about 30 minutes hike each way. There is a plaque near the true summit- in Japanese, naturally- that says the point is at 3775.63 meters above sea level. On the way we passed a shrine, either Buddhist or Shinto (I was too ignorant to determine which) and- a post office! Had 1 known I could have mailed letters, which would have received a Mt. Fuji post mark.

It was now 5 am and I had lost track of the rest of the group. 1 found the descent trail- steep with loose graveland headed for the 5"' Station bus terminal. 1 managed to avoid wandering off on the wrong trail and eventually found more of our group. Most had not bothered with the true summit and just wanted to get back and take a long nap, I suppose. 1 learned that 10 of our group had made it to the crater rim. Dottie had gotten sick- probably the altitude - and Gerry Cox stayed with her overnight in a hut. The cost for this stay is 7000 yen including meals. The accommodations are rather third world and perhaps not as sparkling clean as is everything else in Japan. But it is good to take along an extra 7000 yen as insurance.

By 6:30 am the sun was up with a fury and it was very warm. There's another reason to make this hike at night. My 2 liters of water was almost gone and I partly refilled from a snow bank. I bummed a bit of water from Elaine to avoid paying that 1000 yen per liter- about twice the price of Japanese gasoline.

After what seemed an interminable hike I reached the bus terminal at about 9 am. Total time up and back was 12 hours, far from a record time. I bought a coffee from a machine and finished off my trail food for breakfast. Tina was there, waiting for the 9:35 bus. I learned that Roxana, George Rendell, and Reyna Beyale all made it to the rim and caught the 835 bus.

Back at the Route Inn hotel in Kawaguchi-ko I tried to nap, but that cup of coffee was a mistake. This was an unforgettable adventure. Another great international trip led by Roxana. She plans a reprise of this 10 day excursion in July 2008. Contact her at Roxtlewis@aol.com.


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