It’s 1am, freezing cold and I’m lying like a mummy on my back with my arms tightly packed to my sides in a sleeping bag. I’m sharing this position with about thirty other people lined up side by side in a kind of sardine-bed row. Wide awake but painfully exhausted, my mind is wired from the hard climb here. And although the bottom of my sleeping bag is met with a curtain giving us some shade from the brightly lit corridor, it’s still stupidly bright.
We crawled into this uncomfortable sardine situation three hours ago, following a dinner of rice, hot dog and curry sauce and I’ve been lying in this ‘mummified’ state for the duration. I can’t wait to get out of here but I’m also not looking forward to my next challenge – the final push – a climb of 1000m in elevation starting at 2am to reach the summit by sunrise. It took almost five hours to reach here and we only hiked half that.
Climbing Fujisan, or Mount Fuji to many, has been on my ‘bucket list’ for years. I was desperate to experience one of the first sunrises the world sees from the summit of one of the most famous mountains in the world. So we decide to go for it on a backpacker’s budget after travelling around Asia for almost a year.
Here I am, right now, ticking off my ‘bucket list’ item and I’m finding it tough. But, boy, I can’t wait to see that sunrise.
Clambering out of bed and giving myself a quick wash (spray with deodorant) and brush of my teeth (squirting toothpaste in my mouth), I pack my backpack and am ready to face the ascent. Pulling on my bobble hat, gloves and head torch I set off into the night. As soon as I walk out of the mountain hut I am stunned by the night sky – pure darkness and thousands of stars as far as I can see. It’s mesmerising and helps forget the last three hours of sardine-gate. But, putting aside my desire to lie down and stare at the sky for the next few hours, I push on up the first few steps and onto the mountain path. After 100m or so we join what looks like a queue of zombie ants, all traipsing together one after the other up the mountain. The ensemble of head torches form a line of light that snakes up into the night sky informing us of how far we have to climb.
My legs constantly tell me they hate me and I do my best to ignore them as we play ridiculous alphabet games over and over again as a distraction.
An hour and a half of ant work and alphabets, as we near the summit, I get a new sense of motivation and we start picking past the masses, overtaking the weak – a decent spot for sunrise is going to be ours. And then all of a sudden it appears. We pass under the final Torii gate and reach a plateau – we made it!
Bee-lining for an empty space next to a fence overlooking what I’m convinced is the whole of Japan (when the sun rises), we hug and plonk ourselves on the floor in exhaustion. All my Christmases come at once as I spot a beautiful sign – hot sake, 500 yen – and send Byron off in the direction of it.
With our celebration sake at a ridiculously cold 3776m above sea level and huddling together for warmth, we revel in reaching the summit of Mount Fuji. It’s not long before more people join us to watch the impending sunrise and the sky begins to brighten. The dark blue hue slowly becomes lighter and tinges with burning orange at the horizon. It’s a stunning sunrise and we can’t take our eyes off of it.
It’s stunning, isn’t it?
When the sun fully breaks, any concerns about altitude sickness dissipate and we begin a leisurely explore of the summit, revelling in our glory and feeling on top of the world, literally.
A question for you: What’s the ONE thing you’d choose to have on the top of a mountain?? Answers on a postcard please…
Answer: A post office!
Of course there’s a post office at the top of Mount Fuji.
Luckily we’d heard about this necessity and had packed our post accordingly. In actual fact it was weirdly cool to experience posting a postcard at Japan’s highest post office.
We take an hour or so to explore the summit and walk around the crater, stopping frequently to admire the spectacular view. The achievement feels incredible and all I want to do is post more cards to tell the world!
And so comes the descent. With aching legs and stinking armpits, at 7am we decide to head down the mountain. We still have a task on our hands but this time I’m excited for it – I much prefer down to up.
Our smiles say it all.
We take a different route to reach the bottom. The volcanic ground beneath our feet is burnt orange, shingly and very moveable so we find it much easier to go with the momentum of the steep slopes and run down the declines. It also means we can get to our ryokan and, more importantly, the onsen a whole lot quicker! But with speed we acquire stones…that get everywhere! Which annoyingly keep needing to be emptied out.
The tough ascent and cramped mountain hut is far from our minds as we run down the slopes of Mount Fuji. It’s so much fun! They don’t tell you about this part in the guidebooks. Overtaking slow hikers with sticks, we blast down that mountain in just two hours. It took six and a half hours to get up the thing!
As we reach the plateau near the 5th station we join a familiar trail. The feeling of knowing what we’d achieved since walking the same path 17 hours earlier is indescribable and we can’t stop smiling.
Rolling into the 5th station at 9am calls for a beer and another sake while we wait for the bus back to Lake Kawaguchiko and that all important ryokan.
What an incredible experience.
We didn’t expect or plan to backpack around Japan let alone climb Mount Fuji when we left England almost a year before. As our extreme budgeting started to pay off, the adventure in us grew and a thirst to achieve greater things prevailed.
Is it up there with one of the best things we’ve ever done? Easily.
We hope you manage to climb Mount Fuji too and love it as much as we did – let us know if you do!