fitness

Tips for hiking up Mount Fuji

The day before we climbed Mount Fuji, there was a typhoon and an earthquake. I was worried the trails would be closed, but thankfully the storm blew out of the way before we arrived at the starting point. The first day we climbed Mount Fuji, there was sun and scattered thunderstorms. The second day we climbed Mount Fuji, there was fog and rain. I’d say the weather is never perfect for a climb, so don’t make plans based on that. If the trails are open and it isn’t during a typhoon (although, I did see videos online of someone climbing during the typhoon!), then I’d say just go for it 🙂

Getting to the fifth station for the Yoshida Trail: We were coming from Tokyo and took the chuo line from Shinjuku using the JR pass. All of the seats were reserved on the part of the train that went to Fuji, and I was worried they wouldn’t let us board, but thankfully they allow standing room passengers. The train had 8 cars and at the Otsuki station split in two. The first five cars went on somewhere else and the last three continued to Fuji. We sat in the first five cars where there were empty seats before the split. After the split, I squated by the bathrooms and tried to nap on my backpack. I didn’t get any sleep the night before because of the earthquake and was banking on napping on my seat on the train. Had I known about the reservation system ahead of time, I would have reserved some free seats at the station. After the split, the train turned into the Fuji express and was no longer part of the JR system – they charged all of us 1750 yen per person ($17 USD) to continue on board. The trip thus far took about 2 hours. After arriving at the final station, we transferred to the Fuji Subaru line bus which took us up to the fifth station. The bus cost 2300 ($22 USD) per person for the round trip and took about an hour.

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The fifth station was at 2,400 meters / 7,874 feet elevation. This was over a mile up and so I took some time for our group to acclimate to the oxygen levels before going up another 800 meters / 2,296 feet to the Taishikan mountain hut at 3,100 meters / 10,170 feet high where we would spend the night before attempting the summit at 3,776 meters / 12,389 feet high. I hoped to start hiking by noon or 1pm, but by the time we changed our clothes, ate, and used the bathrooms, it was already 2pm and I was getting nervous. It was advised to get to the mountain huts before 6pm so they could prepare your dinner and so that you can go to sleep on time in order to wake up at 2am to go up to the summit for the sunrise.

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We set out at 2pm and got on the Yoshida trail. At first, it was deceivingly flat. We walked without breaking a sweat until about the 6th station. At the 6th station, the incline became somewhat steeper and the terrain changed from sloping walkways to stairs, it was still very manageable. At the 7th station, the terrain changed to rocks / lava, and we all found our walking sticks / hiking poles incredibly useful. It was also nice having a glove on my free hand so that I could use it on the lava without worrying about cutting myself on the sharp rocks. The incline here was much steeper, but it doesn’t change too much until the summit.

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We arrived at Taishikan at exactly 6pm. We started getting worried when we were nearing 6pm and didn’t know how far we were. When we checked Google maps, it said there was 150 meters to go until the hut, and that it would be a 4 minute walk. We had a great laugh at that one, as Google had no idea about the terrain and incline difficulty. Once we started getting near the huts, and once it started getting later in the day, the trail started filling up. At most points, only one person could pass through the trail at a time so there was a bit of a line. I wouldn’t say there was too much traffic, or that the slow pace was boring. In fact, it was a welcome break that gave us a chance to look down at the thunderstorms below. We were well above the clouds at this point.

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When we arrived at Taishikan, I checked in and paid cash for our stay. When making the reservation, I paid a $10 USD online fee to hold the reservation. The rest, 8,500 yen / $80 USD per person for the stay, was due in cash at check-in. Though we could have done the climb all in one day (bullet climb), it was completely worth it to enjoy the mountain hut and our stay was a very nice experience. In the hut, there was a small changing room where I changed out of my completely soaked clothes and into my next day’s hiking outfit which I slept in. Dinner took about an hour or so for them to prepare and came with a water bottle and unlimited hot green tea which made me really happy. I loved all the complimentary unlimited hot green tea in Japan. They also gave us our breakfast for the next morning so that we could eat it whenever we wanted – it was rice and pumpkin bread. We ate sitting on the floor at low traditional tables in the common area and then headed back to our sleeping bags.

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The staff at the mountain huts arranged there to be an extra sleeping bag between each party so that no one has to sleeping too close to / cuddled up with a stranger. I went to use the bathroom before bed, which was outside, and was able to see the city lights and sunset colors in the distance. It really was beautiful. The sleeping bags were really warm and came with little pillow. Bring your own sleep mask and earplugs though, because the other hikers would come and go during all times during the night and did not shy from turning all the lights on (and never turning them off when they left) or having full voice conversations (why can’t you whisper?). This culminated in yet another sleepless night for our group.

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I made the executive decision to sleep in until 3:30am instead of the recommended 2am. We really needed the sleep, and we could watch the sunrise from anywhere on the trail – didn’t need to be at the summit. During our trip, the sunrise was at 4:50am and the sunrise colors began at 4am. Thankfully, we did not miss a thing. The sun looked magestic as it rose in the distance, and really did look like the red sphere in the Japanese flag.

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But, man were we in rough shape from the stress of getting to the mountain and 2 nights of poor sleep. The sun rose rather quickly after its initial peak through, and by the time we reached station 8.5, it was all the way up. We sat down to take a long rest and eat some breakfast. Somehow, I was so tired that I fell asleep sitting on the bench!

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Because of the nap, and our late start, and our long breaks, we didn’t make it to the summit until 10:30am. I was pretty worried because I had wanted us to already be heading back down by 9am. We didn’t have time to walk around the crater at the top, but I made sure to send myself a postcard from the summit. I knew I was delirious because I had written complete nonsense on it and spelled out my state instead of my city and all sorts of other issues. My cousin bought a keychain which the vendor etched that day’s date into. We took some pictures then headed down.

If you think you will need oxygen at the top, make sure you buy it at the 8th station. There is no oxygen for sale at the summit.

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The trail down was soft, red dirt and switchbacks all the way. That, with the constant cloud cover, did not give much reward in terms of scenery. The incline was uncomfortably steep and some people chose to run down it while others slipped and fell. Again, the hiking poles / walking sticks really came in handy.

I was getting really tired of the switchbacks by the time we reached the 7th station. Thankfully, after that, it was back to the relatively flat and walkable trail that we took on the way up. The trails diverge at the 6th station. We got back at 3:30pm, which was way later than I had anticipated.

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We still had to go back to Tokyo to get our luggage from the hotel and then make it down to Hiroshima to our next hotel that night. We took the bus down to the train station and then the train (this time it wasn’t express so it was 1,140 yen per person) to shinjuku station. This was the last day of our JR pass and I really wanted to use it to get to Hiroshima instead of having to pay out of pocket. To my horror, I saw that not only were we not going to make the last bullet train to Hiroshima that night, but that it wasn’t even one that was covered by the JR pass! The only bullet train from Tokyo to Hiroshima covered by the JR pass is in the very morning, just one time per day. It was nearing nighttime and we had no way of getting to the other side of the country where our hotel was! (to be continued in the Hiroshima post…)

Tips:

Bring cash!

In case you want to buy snacks or use toilets on the mountain. The payment for the toilets is not mandatory, but the toilets were so nice that we always paid so that they could continue their upkeep. Some people buy the wooden walking stick and get it stamped at each station, that requires cash as well. There are also souviners at the summit.

Bring a walking stick

Just one was good enough for each of us. They sell hiking poles and walking sticks at the fifth station, where the buses arrive. I chose the hiking poles for our group because they were collapsible and we could keep them after. Also, I thought they would be more comfortable than the walking sticks. Many people chose the walking sticks because you can get stamps on them and they make great souviners. If you wan’t neither, you can also buy a tiny piece of the walking stick to get stamped.

Bring your own water

We didn’t all have water packs, so I put two giant 2 liters in my backpack with a very long straw. I still had to take my backpack off to drink, but at least I didn’t have to take the 2 liter bottle out of my pack each time and rearrange everything. It is hard to know how much water you will need. I ended up only needing 2 liters, but another person in out group needed more than he brought so I gave him my extra bottle on the way down.

Bring a sleep mask and ear plugs

If you choose to sleep in one of the mountain huts.

Bring a rain cover for you and your bag

A giant platic bag will do.

Have fun!

This is a relatively simple mountain to walk up and you do not need much to do it. Just remember to listen to your body and have a great time!

Subscribe to my blog and join us for our journey to Hiroshima in my next post!
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