Don't mess with Mother Nature on Mt, Fuji

Photos by James O’Leary
Photos by James O’Leary

Don't mess with Mother Nature on Mt, Fuji

by James O’Leary
Yokota High School 11th-Grader

Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, a perfect cone-shaped volcano, famously recognized all over the world. Mt. Fuji is climbed by millions of people each year, including many Americans from military bases scattered around Tokyo and the rest of Japan.  However, this does not change the fact that it is a tall mountain, where varied weather and the high altitude can make it quite a challenge.  Even climbing the “easy” Yoshida trail can be difficult, especially if a surprise storm comes.

I climbed Mt. Fuji with my family on the Yoshida trail, which is the most popular and easiest route. It was a nice sunny day, as the weather forecasts predicted, and as we had just come back from a trip to the states, we were already used to getting up early.  We woke up at 6 a.m. and got to the 5th station by 9 a.m.  It was the 3rd of July, very early in the climbing season (which starts on July 1st), so it was still relatively uncrowded. The day of our ascent could not have been better.

The first hour of the hike was quite easy, literally a walk in the park. Up until the 6th station there is a forest, which shaded us from the sun, which is especially nice when it‘s 80F˚outside. From the 6th station, there was a gravel path about 10-15 ft wide that switchbacked up the mountain, with a few steps every now and then. It was an average hike, good exercise, but nothing technical. From the 7th to 8th stations, it gradually got more difficult, with steps replacing the gravel path. My parents had their first gulps of pure O2 (from canisters bought at 7-11) here after we had been hiking around three hours. Not many people were hiking up that day, just a few Marines from Camp Fuji, and some Australian tourists.

We ate lunch around noon, at the 8th station. As most of the huts were not open yet for the season, and our family wanted to eat a more balanced, filling, and less expensive lunch, we packed burritos and fruit.  After our lunch, and some more O2 for my parents, we kept on hiking upwards.  Past the 8th station, the trail got much more technical, with parts of it looking more like rock climbing than hiking.  As this section of the hike was much more difficult than the first, it took us four hours to get from the 8th station to our hotel, which was at the so-called “Original 8th station”. I’m not sure why they have more than one 8th station, as it makes it seem like you aren’t making progress, they should call one of them the “9th station”. In between these two stations, I started to get more and more out of breath and had a headache for a little while, but before the hike began, I had challenged myself to climb Fuji without using any O2 canisters, so I had a snack and kept on hiking.

The final stretch to the top was painful. Every step forward was a challenge in itself. “Putting one foot in front of the other” was not as easy as it sounded. There were times when I felt like turning back, but we were almost there. We were scared for a second when my 14-year-old brother fell and his hurt his back. Thank goodness he was not injured too badly! A few minutes later he stood back up, took some O2 and continued up the mountain.

When we finally reached the top of Mt. Fuji, we felt like celebrating, however, the huts at the very top were still not open for the season. At the top of Fuji, it was 41F˚, and windy. We put windbreakers over the light jackets we had been wearing since the 8th station. The cold was not our biggest worry though. The hut where we were going to stay the night was back at the “original” 8th station. We had about an hour until sunset. On the way back, my brother and I went ahead of our parents, sliding through the gravel like we were skiing through snow. It was pretty fun, and we got down in around 45 min.  Our parents followed about 25 min behind, and by the time they reached the hut, (after 7 p.m.) it was already dark.

Dinner at the hut consisted of curry with rice and a hot dog-like sausage. The portions were quite small, especially after a long hike. After getting ready for bed, lights went out in a room half filled with about 20 hikers. The headaches I had from the last part of the ascent came back, and it was really hard to sleep. Eventually around 11 p.m., I couldn’t take it anymore, so I inhaled some precious O2. This really helped, and I fell asleep.

The next morning, a man woke us up at 3:45 a.m., telling us we could not climb to the summit to see the sunrise because “there was a typhoon outside today”. Indeed, what greeted me outside the door of our hut was a storm in full force. Weather forecasts had predicted that Typhoon Prapiroon would pass hundreds of kilometers off Japan’s coast in the afternoon of the 4th of July. I figured that we would get down the mountain by midmorning, and the typhoon would be far enough away not to affect the weather at Mt. Fuji anyway. I could not have been more wrong. There were 80 km/h winds (according to updated mountain weather reports), with clouds swirling above and below us.  When the sun began to rise, there was actually a small break in the clouds, so the result was really cool, picture the sun in the eye of a storm.

As we descended the mountain, the wind threatened to roll us down, and since the path is made of gravel, small rocks were flying in all directions at us. Our “windbreakers” were flapping wildly, it appeared that they were being broken by the wind, not the other way around. The descent took us only three hours, but it was a scary three hours. When we reached the bottom, we were soaked, tired, ready to take showers and get some rest, but there was still a two-hour drive home. Both my parents’ phones were soaked through the pockets of their “waterproof” jackets and had to be repaired. At least my phone survived, with the pictures on it. Our adventure on Mt. Fuji was over, and we were glad that God kept us safe during the storm.

Though our hike was quite an adventure, this was during a typhoon, so to make your hike safer, easier, and less stressful, do not hike if any impending weather is forecasted. There are a few more lessons that can be learned from our trip to Mt. Fuji. For example, I ran track and cross country that year at Yokota High School, so while I wasn’t planning on running up the mountain, I figured it would be fairly easy for me. It was not easy. Before you go, make sure you are in good physical condition. Also, take O2 canisters and use them. As I realized that night at the hut, altitude sickness is a serious issue. For a full list of things to carry, (including O2 canisters) check Outdoor Recreation’s “Mt. Fuji Supply Checklist”. Climbing Mt. Fuji early in the season does have the benefit of reduced crowds, however weather may be more unpredictable, and many huts, including those at the summit, are still closed.

Should you stay the night?  It depends. For advanced, athletic hikers, one day is very doable, as long as you start hiking VERY EARLY. However, spending the night is great, because you can see the sunrise, and you have more time to ascend and descend. Even if you are a great hiker, you could always try one of the more difficult routes, like the Gotemba trail, and stay the night there.

Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!

Follow us on social media!

Facebook: Stars and Stripes Pacific
Flipboard: Stars and Stripes Community Sites

Looking to travel while stationed abroad? Check out our other Pacific community sites!
Stripes Okinawa
Stripes Korea
Stripes Guam

Related Content

Recommended Content

Around the Web