Climbing Mt. Fuji

At a height of 3,776m (12,388 feet) Mt. Fuji is the highest and the most well known mountain in Japan. It is visible from the capital city of Tokyo, which is about 100km (62 miles) away. Mt. Fuji is known for an enormous quantity of ancient myths regarding its origins. The peak has been said to be the home of a fire god, the dwelling of a goddess of trees, and the abode of Buddha and his illuminating wisdom.

The climb up Mt. Fuji is unlike any alpine hike one will find in North America or Europe. To climb the sacred mountain, you must hike in the footsteps with thousands of other hikers and tap into a field of great devotion and holiness that is only unique to Mt. Fuji. Mountain Guides will help you meet the incredible challenges to reach the summit and to appreciate the deep history that has made it an icon.

According to early myths, Mt. Fuji was first climbed by a sage called En no Gyoja around 663 AD in a region that is now densely populated and inactive since its last eruption in 1707.

CLIMBING

Depending on the trail to ascend Mt. Fuji, the climb could take anywhere between 5-10 hours. The majority of climbers will begin from the Kawaguchiko 5th station, which is a 5-6 hour climb to the summit. The average time does not take break periods along the way into consideration.

It should reflect a relaxed pace to the summit. When time is not limited, spreading the climb out over two days is highly recommended. Climbing at a calm, steady pace helps avoid altitude sickness and allows for a much more enjoyable climb.

The descent of Mt. Fuji is between 3-4 hours. Although descending Mt. Fuji is twice as fast as climbing up, it is twice as fast to get exhausted. The trail leading down is made up of loose rocks and pebbles which is a hazard for slipping and falling flat on your back or face. Your legs will be put to the test as the steep slopes create uncomfortable momentum on your knees and toes. It is helpful to remember when climbing a mountain to reach the summit, the climb is only half way done.

TRAILS

There are 4 main trails leading up to the summit of Mt. Fuji: the Yoshida, Fujinomiya, Subashiri and Gotenba trail. Each trail consists of a 5th station, at which point cars will no longer pass. The largest station on Mt. Fuji is the Kawaguchiko 5th station. Since the road leading to this 5th station is open all year round and is easily accessible from Tokyo, most climbers will choose to begin their climb from here. Don’t be mistaken, there is more than one 5th station on Mt. Fuji.

As Fuji Mountain Guides are everywhere, many choose to mingle with visitors, so it would be best to hire a guide in advance, stay away from the crowds, and climb at your own pace using the Subashiri trail. There are separate ascending and descending trails for the Yoshida, Fujinomiya, Subashiri and Gotenba trails. Every year, foreign climbers will find themselves on the opposite side of the mountain from where they started off, so it’s imperative to be attentive to your surroundings when coming down, as it is a long distance from one 5th station to another. Keep in mind there are more than one way up and down Mt. Fuji.

ACCOMMODATIONS

To me, accommodation on Mt. Fuji is quite basic to say the least. Don’t expect hotel or luxury conditions. The mountain huts are similar in shape and size. For a night, you’re sleeping in a large dormitory style room with bunk beds or a flat futon and/or blankets and sleeping bags. Some huts provide heat, but my hut provided enough body heat to keep me toasty.

If you don’t wish to sleep shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other climbers, avoid climbing on the weekend and Obon, the second week of August. In an attempt to avoid extremely crowded conditions, schedule a 2 day tour strictly on weekdays as tours are not conducted the week of Obon.

Mountain huts on Mt. Fuji are a unique experience, but come with their own set of rules which foreigners can break unknowingly if they’re not careful. Familiarize yourself with mountain hut etiquette on Mt. Fuji before embarking on your climb.

​DIFFICULTY

This is not a climb that you want to attempt without adequate eating, drinking, resting, and preparation. While it is true that some people climb Mt. Fuji in sneakers, jeans, and a sweatshirt, they are taking serious risks that should never be recommended. Although I saw many young children and old adults climbing Mt. Fuji, you need to remember that those people on the mountain have been preparing to do this their whole life. Those of them who are in great shape are generally the exception and not the norm. Despite all of this, do not be frightened. With proper equipment and physical conditioning, Mt. Fuji is an exciting and challenging climb worthy of being one of the many things to do before you die.

Do not believe anyone that say Mt. Fuji is an easy climb. Make no mistake that things get difficult at 3776m (12,388ft), when  the climb up Mt. Fuji is characterized by its serious elevation gain, rapidly changing extreme weather, steep inclines, and long trails.

CONDITIONS

Mt. Fuji will experience serious changes in weather. Even during the middle of the summer when temperatures in Tokyo is hot and humid, the summit of Mt. Fuji can very well be below freezing with a chili breeze. With windchill taken into account, the weather often feels like winter in the predawn darkness to the summit.

The weather on Mt. Fuji is sometimes unpredictable and despite weather forecasts across Japan, it can’t be predicted most of the time. This means that there could be unexpected thunderstorms, rain downpours, snow storms, hails storms, etc. These conditions are common and should be properly prepared for with proper mountain climbing equipment.

Suffice to say, Mt. Fuji is serious alpine terrain and is not to be underestimated. The oxygen on the summit has two-thirds the density of normal oxygen at sea level which can cause altitude sickness or hyperventilation.

In order to avoid altitude sickness, set a slow, steady pace to help you acclimate to the ascend and to enjoy your climb more. Due to the exposed nature of this volcanic mountain, the weather can sometimes be extremely dangerous. In extreme conditions, high gusts have been known to knock people to the ground and hail has been known to break holes into rooftops with a diameter of one centimeter.

A combination of unpredictable weather and lack of oxygen can cause people injury and even death in some cases. If you have the proper mountain climbing gear and you are climbing with an experienced guide, this kind of extreme is an exciting experience that is enjoyable. However, if you have any medical conditions that may put you at risk or impede your performance, please consult a physician before considering climbing Mt. Fuji to a higher altitude or in cold conditions.

SEASONS

The peak climbing season on Mt. Fuji are during the months of July and August.  The period in which mountain huts are in operation are around this time. In recent years, many huts will stay open to mid September. Mountain Guides operate tours to the summit of Mt. Fuji to mid October or until the first snowfall, whichever comes first.

There are no restrictions or regulations regarding the ability to climb Mt. Fuji outside the peak season, contrary to popular belief. Upon reaching a trail in the off-season, one will encounter signposts that say the trail is closed. These signs are a direct message for you to climb Mt. Fuji at your own risk.

Peak season climbing is relatively safe with plenty of emergency evacuation vehicles as well as rescue personnel available in the event of an emergency. This, alongside with the many mountain huts that are in operation, help to minimize risk when climbing Mt. Fuji.

Assuming each climber comes prepared with the proper equipment, there aren’t many casualties during the peak season. In contrast, from mid September on, most mountain huts will close, rescue personnel will not be readily available, and help is further away in the event of an emergency.

For those attempting a climb outside of the climbing season, especially during the winter or early spring months, the prefecture police department requests that you fill out a form and submit it in case of an emergency.

 

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