Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Grand Fuji-san Expedition

Louise here,

This a rather belated and rather long blog of a very important event I took part in straight after the Wado-Kai Nationals (drum roll please): the international assault of Fuji-san. Our team consisted of Carl (holding the banner for England), Chris Heinmiller, our Canadian friend, and myself (from the land of the long white cloud). For better or worse, we decided to climb through the night in order to catch the sunrise from the top. We caught a bus from Shinjuku station, arriving at Fuji-san's Kawaguchi-ko-guchi Hachi-gome (Eighth Station). After mucking around for a bit, doing important things like buying walking sticks and taking photos, we set off into the unknown at 9 p.m.

The Culprits at Base Camp (L-R: Carl, Louise, Chris)

As it was dark by then, we were relying on our trusty head torches for guidance. It wasn't too difficult however, as we could've driven a car down the track, it was so wide. Nonetheless, my fellow team-mates began to cast aspersions on my route-finding skills, as the track went down the mountain for a little way. They shouldn't have worried: the path soon began climbing, and didn't stop climbing until the top.

Chris and one smart salesperson

We had fun at every hut we passed, persuading Chris to spend money on getting his walking stick branded (each hut had a different brand to prove that you'd reached it). Sometimes we were helped in our persuasion by a hut attendant.

Does this mean they sell hot water along with something else unspecified?

After midnight, we began to be joined on the trail by all the people who'd stayed in the huts spread up the mountain. We spent a lot of time trying to get in front of groups who were moving slower than the pace we wanted to go. By about two or three in the morning, the trail was one mass of people, with a slow queue on the inside, a slightly faster queue in the middle and the people like us who were overtaking on the outside. I must say it was one of the most surreal experiences I've had climbing a mountain, doing it at the same time as the population of a small town. Looking back down the trail, there was just one long line of lights zig-zagging up the slope, broken up by the bigger lights of the huts.

We arrived at the top at 4 a.m., and sat for an hour watching the dawn develop and the sun rise. It was quite cold by that time.

The sun appears

Superman strikes again

I think that we probably climbed too fast, and with the high altitude and lack of sleep, I wasn't feeling too well at the top. We had intended to walk most of the way around the crater rim to the track we were going to take down, but we decided it'd be best to lose some altitude as soon as possible. So we took the short way round, and after getting diverted a little by rocks and taking photos, we started down the Gotemba-guchi track.

Cool rocks + Carl

Over the edge

Now, why weren't we going back down the track we came up, along with the rest of Japan, and why had we chosen the longest track down? Well, the attraction of the Gotemba-guchi track was the sunabashiri, a giant sand slide that stretches maybe five kilometres down the lower slopes of the volcano. Besides falling, this is the fastest way down the mountain.

After taking two hours to cover one and a half kilometres, stumbling over loose rocks, I was beginning to worry that it would take all day to get to the bottom. But then …. we reached the sunabashiri.

Scree walkers' heaven

Imagine gliding smoothly down over an ankle-deep bed of small stones, the cool wind in your face and dust in your eyes, a barren landscape stretching on either side, and in front of you the track disappearing over the edge and into the clouds. Then imagine getting to the bottom and being covered in dust (yes, literally), with sore knees and stones in your shoes (if you didn't wear gaiters). That was the sunabashiri. We covered five kilometres in one and a half hours. Grand total: seven hours up, three hours at the top, three and a half hours down, zero hours sleep. Woo!

Climbing Fuji-san was certainly an experience of a lifetime. We probably did it the hard way, climbing when normal people are asleep, and I don't think I'd do it that way again. However, we saw the sun rise from the top of the tallest mountain in Japan, and had a lot of fun on the way.

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