You don’t climb Mount Fuji for personal contemplation in an unspoilt landscape. Instead it’s an endurance challenge, enacted each night in the climbing season (mid July through to mid September) by thousands of Japanese.
We decided to embrace the excited crowds, young and old, many wearing new hiking anoraks and boots, some with wooden hiking sticks which will be stamped at each of the mountain huts up the mountain.
But this is no Sunday afternoon stroll. For much of the way up the steep side, the terrain is rough lava rock requiring commitment and stamina.
There are four routes up, and we were taking the most popular one. We set off at 11.45am in partial cloud, but this was good, it kept the temperatures lower.
By 5pm we were above the clouds and arriving at our booked mountain hut. After basic food was industrially served, we chatted to a small group, before heading off to our beds around 8.30pm. Now bed isn’t really the right word. Better to imagine how slaves would have slept in the late 18th century on the ships crossing to America, but without the chains. 200 people crammed into double-decker sleeping pens.
Not surprisingly, we hardly slept at all, which actually made getting up at 2.30am to continue the climb a lot easier than you might imagine.
Under a starry, clear sky, and a near full moon, a continuous procession of headlamps moved slowly up the mountain. This is the M25 of mountain climbing, complete with hold-ups from weight of traffic. However, at 5.15am, just after sunrise, we reached the highest point of the ‘land of the rising sun’.
But one more thing needs to be mentioned. Given this is a sacred mountain, also a Japanese icon, and climbing it is a Japanese rite of passage, we were surprised by the generally shabby facilities. Also, the poor service and inflated prices in the hut. We expected more from Japan.
If you plan to do this It’s best to do more of the climb in the evening, by booking a higher hut, even though they tend to be more expensive. That way, after summiting, you’ll have more energy for the gruelling, three hour walk down the mountain. And in our opinion, walking poles are a must.