Sunday, September 5, 2010

Climbing Fuji: Fujiyama, 16-17th August

Peter Here;

As mentioned in the Wado World Cup blog post, I had to make an early exit from watching the championships to ascend Mount Fuji with Setsuko-san, an English Student of mine. We were climbing as part of a tour group - Big Holiday - with about 30 other people! Before now, the largest group I had been hiking with was 15, so this was very new.

Leaving Shinjuku at 7am (and the apartment much, much earlier- eurgh), we arrived at the 5th Station hotel at about 10am, and were forced to wait until the previous day’s climbers had rested before we could change and prepare ourselves for the climb. Even by that point the temperature was soaring and I could tell that the sunlight would not be our friend today- although it did make for good photography conditions.

We got into our hiking gear, and after a lecture from the group guide, we started the ascent. The plan was that we walked up to the 8th station, rested until after nightfall and then make the rest of the climb by torchlight, so that we'd reach the summit before daybreak.

At the beginning the track was clearly carved out for large groups, however this narrowed to bare rock the higher we went, which slowed the group down a bit more than I would have liked.

After about 4 hours of steep hiking we finally arrived at the 8th Station, where we would eat, rest and wait for nightfall before tackling the rest of the mountain. I must say that the views from here were somewhat amazing. It was something special to see a city gradually become smaller and lower just by walking- the only time I’ve seen recently something similar was through a window of a plane.

After a somewhat uncomfortable rest in my hiking gear, we stirred, including Setsuko, and we prepped ourselves for the long night ahead. We again received a talk from from the guide, warning of the dangers of night hiking up Fuji-san etc. Setsuko willingly for me, but now I am happy to say that I am starting to understand conversation just by myself. We all donned our headtorches and set off and upwards.

As we ascended more and more could be seen, and on a perfectly clear night too. When resting to allow less experienced people catch breath, I was mainly looking up at the clearest sky I've ever seen.

With the dawn threatening to break imminently, we broke for the highest point on Fuji (that was reachable by foot anyway) to meet the sun. I caught a quick glimpse down to the paths again; people were still climbing up- the Mountain was full to capacity!

The sun rose at 4:32. You can capture the light all you want on a camera, as many of us on the top did- but you will never be able to capture the power of witnessing the sunrise when it happens. We all stayed put and marveled at both the sun and our individual efforts for a good while, the cold suddenly disappearing with the morning fire.

Another phenomenon that not many people take notice of though is the ‘Fuji shadow’; that is, the shadow of Fuji which spans hundreds of kilometers onto the foothills behind. Almost as impressive as the light is, so was the shadow- a very zen moment, if I do say so myself.

The Mt. Fuji shadow!

Afterward we walked round the crater peak, and rested at a cafe until 6:30, when we began the descent. After feeling slightly restricted on the ascent (and possibly fueled by lack of sleep), it was good to be allowed to descend at one's own pace.

Time to go up Fuji: 11 hours; time to go down Fuji; 3 hours and 10 minutes. Halfway down I did stop to consider that I should take care - I did have a tournament in 4 days after all - but the gravelly shill was starting to make my legs ache and I wanted to be at the bottom again.

While waiting for the rest of the group, I caught up on some sleep. Travelers and walkers were surrounding me, getting ready for the day’s challenge as we were the day before. My eyes closed… and opened about an hour and a half later, making me one of the last people to meet up with the group. Oops.

Before home, we were treated to a nearby onsen. My first experience with Onsen was at the Shiramizu Gasshuku, and that was very nice. But let me tell you this: The very best time for Onsen, the time you will think you have died and gone to watery-spa heaven, is after a 12 hour long walk. I felt rejuvenated and relaxed in a way people would charge you thousands for. Afterwards, Setsuko and I had ice cream, the icing on the cake!

Eventually, the group returned to Shinjuku bus station, and the group of strangers departed, the rope of Fuji which bound us slowly burnt away by fatigue and memory and train timetables. Setsuko and I headed back to Sugito, half-dazed, half happy and discussing our adventure.

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