He who climbs Mount Fuji is a wise man; he who climbs twice is a fool.
Like all self-respecting expats living in Japan, Mark and I decided shortly after our arrival two years ago to climb Mount Fuji at some point. This year an excellent opportunity presented itself: the chance to climb with friends who have done it before.
The official climbing season runs from July to mid-September. During this period restaurants, shops, and sleeping huts line the various climbing routes. Our climb this Saturday takes place after the season officially ends, so that means no amenities like the chance to buy water or a steaming bowl of ramen. But hopefully that also means smaller crowds!
Climbing on Saturday means preps on Friday. Since we are completing the climb in one, long day, that simplifies packing considerably.
But first, here’s a little background on Mount Fuji.
At 3776 meters (12,389 feet), Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest peak. Practitioners of the Shinto religion consider it sacred, and its likeness has appeared in literature and art throughout Japan’s history. Still classified an active volcano, Mount Fuji last erupted in 1707 and rained volcanic ash on Tokyo 94 km away.
Every year 300,000 to 400,000 people flock to Fuji to climb. 300,000 people. Now you see why we opted for an off-season climb. It’s often called the most visited mountain in the world.
Most peaks in Japan use yama (mountain in Japanese) in their names, such as Asama-yama. But not Fuji; Japanese called it Fuji-san instead. I first assumed that this use of -san is the same as the honorific -san used in names, such as Watanabe-san (Mr. or Mrs. Watanabe). But Wikipedia tells me that this -san is actually a Sino-Japanese reading of the kanji for mountain, 山. What Wikipedia neglects to mention is why every other Japanese mountain out there reads 山 as yama–but there you have it. Just don’t call it Fujiyama–or worse, Mount Fujiyama–or you’ll look like a rube.
The current weather forecast for Fuji-san shows temperatures around 11 C (51 F) at our starting point at Fujinomiya Trail Station 5 (2400 m elevation), and 3 C (37 F) at the summit. The winds are expected at around 40 kph (25 mph), so pretty brisk for an extended hike. That means lots of layers, including rain gear, gloves and hats, and lightweight, stuffable down jackets.
Due to my sporty nature I already owned most gear that I needed, but I decided to add a new pair of long pants to my wardrobe in honor the occasion. I went to the Navy Exchange on base hoping to find something canvas-y and fitted but still loose enough to move comfortably. That’s how I ended up buying these Tactical Pants by 5.11. “It’s fashion for FBI agents,” quipped Mark. He was joking, but a quick Google search showed that 5.11 in fact started out solely to outfit law enforcement, military, and other public safety types. They were even chosen as the official pant of the FBI Training Academy in 1992! So that explains their large assortment of clothing for sale on military bases.
The tag on my nifty new pants boasted deep pockets for smart phones and extra magazines, so I decided to give the pockets a test run.
OK, so not those kinds of magazines.
[A note for you non-native English speakers: a magazine is a clip for ammunition that you slide into a firearm. Magazyn in Polish, cartouche in French.]
If you look closely, you’ll notice that said magazine is the latest issue of Town and Country, which somehow starting arriving in my name this past month. I have never read this magazine before, ever. So how I ended up with a year-long subscription remains a mystery. It’s not terrible–sort of an off-brand Vanity Fair magazine, which I pick up from time to time. At least it’s better than Better Homes and Gardens, which arrives monthly in Mark’s name. But I digress.
So back to Fuji-san preps!
Since all comfort huts along the hiking route are already closed for the season, we have to bring our own food. In general I eat pretty healthfully, but there’s something about hiking and camping that brings out my basest, most-food-additive-y cravings. And that’s how I ended up buying highly nutritious snacks like nasty Pringles, mini cinnamon rolls, Oreos, M&Ms, and cracker and jalapeno cheese sandwiches. Mmmmmm. I’ll also pack boring/healthy stuff like dried apricots, nuts, egg salad sandwiches, and apples.
Weeks ago my friend Debra urged me to carry oxygen. When she climbed, three out of six in her group ended up using it. Initially I balked. Normally I’m an At Least I’m Out There sort of person, as proven by my highly mediocre yet tenacious triathlon career. When she mentioned oxygen I immediately imagined the SCUBA-like rigs used by Everest climbers, and even I had too much pride to consider it for Fuji-san. Then I learned of the nifty, tiny oxygen bottles sold in Japanese outdoors stores, not much bigger than an asthma inhaler. I secured a bottle from previous friends who climbed–and we’ll see if I’ll use it or not.
But the most important item? This bottle of Moet to celebrate our successful ascent. Most of our climbing team hails from France, so bringing along a bottle or two of bubbly goes without saying. Sure, we’ll spread two bottles over 14 people–in plastic cups, because we’re not barbarians, and there’s no need to chug directly from the bottle as if we were summiting Everest or something. We’ll gamely enjoy a gulp each. Because honestly, who wants to drink more alcohol than that at 3776 m/12,289 feet, anyway?
We are climbing with a group of fourteen people, many who have done this exact route before. I would never attempt a first-time, out-of-season climb by myself, so I am grateful for the support. We are meeting at that classic meeting point before mountaineering expeditions: the 7-11 in Gotemba, at 5:15AM. Stay tuned.
Crucial, 8:31PM on Friday update: I wrote this post this afternoon, fully expecting to climb on Saturday. Right now it’s pouring biblical/monsoonal rain. Our group leader Vincent optimistically points out that the rain should stop shortly before our designated climbing departure time–but I don’t know. Mark and I see it as a 50-50 chance that we’ll go. But considering that the little mammals (children and dog) have been farmed out to various friends’ houses…worst case scenario, we eat Oreos and drink Moet by ourselves for breakfast. And that’s not so bad.