Some time ago I had one of the best experiences of my life: climbing Mt. Fuji.
The climb entails making the effort of hiking for seven hours, resting for six, climbing for another two hours and finally, making the descent in five hours. Even though the mountain is very touristic and safe (you can find toilets, stores, and vending machines along the way), it is nevertheless a considerable effort.
Preparing for the climb
Every year more than 250,000 people make the climb, and I often wondered why. Why the effort? Why the fascination? I imagine that every person has different motives in seeking out the experience. As for me, I wanted to experience the magic of mountains that are told in books, like the one in the stories of Thomas Mann and Bram Stoker. I wanted to seek out that magic and live the metaphor.
So, what does the mountain symbolize? Why does it call to us? I think the answer is in the process of transformation.
I started preparing for the climb three months before by doing cardio and resistance exercises. I rented the necessary equipment for climbing the mountain and booked the tour.
The hiking trails
The iconic mountain has five different paths with different difficulty levels that climbers can choose according to their climbing experiences and fitness levels.
We chose the easiest path called Yoshida.
We started the climb at noon from the fifth station and from that moment on, the surreal experience began. If the weather permits, you will see the clouds at the same height as you. You have to be prepared because the weather changes are sudden and unpredictable – from sunny skies to pouring rain, it is almost as if the mountain itself was blurring the boundaries between reality and imagination.
At 7 p.m., we arrived at the 8.5 station, the last stop before reaching the summit. We slept in a small cabin, each team member side by side in a sleeping bag. We could hear the storm outside.
Reaching the summit
We woke up at 2:40 a.m. to hike the last part of the trail. This was the hardest part, mainly because it was too cold and we couldn’t see the top, and when you don’t have a clear goal everything is more difficult. There was a moment when I thought we would never reach the summit. We were really tired and were having difficulties in breathing, but step by step and almost without realizing it, we reached the top.
All this effort might seem extreme just to see the sunrise. However, it is perhaps the best sunrise that I have ever seen in my life, or at least it is the one that I worked the hardest to see.
In some books, mountains are portrayed as the home of the gods and when you are on top of Mt. Fuji, it makes complete sense. The views are so magical that it is almost hard to believe that you are indeed witnessing the glory. If the gods have these views all the time, I think I understand why they rarely respond to our prayers.
At the summit, you feel invincible and at the same time very fragile. I think the mountain transforms you because it gives you the opportunity to be with your thoughts and reflections. You are a different person when you go down.
After having breakfast and resting a little, we started the descent. The path is easy but your ankles are going to hurt because of the slope.
24 hours later, we were back at the spot where we had started, but were we the same?
Life is challenging, but the mountain is always there to give clarity.
Mt. Fuji information
Kitayama, Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, 418-0112
- From Tokyo area, there are several bus services to Kawaguchiko Station and Fujisan Station that leave from Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station and Shibuya Station.
- You can also take the train on the Fujikyu Railway to Kawaguchiko Station.
- From Kawaguchiko Station and Fujisan Station, you can take the bus to the fifth station of each trail.
Mt. Fuji can only be climbed between early July and early September. The specific dates are announced every year.
While the hikes are free of charge, the climbers are asked to give a small amount of donation to help conserve the environment and enhance safety measures.
- You need equipment to climb the mountain; otherwise, you might put your life at risk. We rented our equipment from Yamarent. We made a reservation online and picked the things up at the base of Mt. Fuji.
- You can do the climb by yourself or with a group. I chose to do it in a group with a tour.
- The expenditure for the climb was about ¥32,000.