Climbing Mt. Fuji
Your trip to Japan might include ramen and sushi, kimonos and sakura festivals and the occasional getting lost in the maze of lines that is the Tokyo metro system. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji on the shinkansen or (on a very clear day) even from Tokyo itself.
What if I told you you don’t need to be an experienced hiker to reach the top of Mount Fuji? Imagine coming back home and being able to say you conquered Japan’s highest mountain at 3776m and witnessed views like this:
When to climb
Technically speaking, it is open for climbing year-round but you need special permission to climb it off-season since it can be very dangerous. The official hiking season is from July- September. I recommend doing it at the end of July if you can.
What to take
- Trekking shoes. Not sneakers.
- Layers. It will get colder as you reach the top
- Thick socks
- GORE-TEX (or equivalent) jacket and pants
- Winter hat and cap
- Gloves. Not only for protection against the cold weather but also to protect against scraping
- 2L Water. I know I know. Sounds excessive. But trust me you don’t want to be paying 500 yen for a 500ml bottle of water that you can’t refill and have to carry with you. It will be heavy at the beginning but it will get easier as you climb up.
- 100 yen coins for bathrooms
- 4 Protein bars at least. These saved my life during breaks and made me feel a lot better
- Oxygen cannister. Now there’s a chance you’ll get altitude sickness up there. The only way for you to feel better is to go down or take some oxygen with you. You can buy them beforehand or at the 5th station for around 800 yen
- Plastic bags. There won’t be any garbage cans along the way and, of course, littering is strictly prohibited. You’ll have to take it with you.
- Camera. I took my phone only since I didn’t want the extra weight of my camera but up to you!
- Portable charger. There won’t be any sockets in the cabins and if you’re only taking your phone then you don’t want to be running out of battery with the glorious sunrise in front of you, right?
How to get there
The easiest way for me was to go on a tour. It won’t be ridiculously expensive like most other tour agencies, they’ll prepare and book everything and you’ll get a chance to meet similar-minded people. I recommend Tokyo Gaijins for a 19900 Yen package. You can find them on Facebook or directly on their website. If not, you can take the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to the 5th station.
Most hikers start at the 5th station which is at around 2000m. From there there are several routes you can take, the most common one being the Yoshida-guchi route. This one is recommended since there are a lot of resting huts along the way. You don’t have to sleep in one of the huts but if you want to then bear in mind you have to reserve in advance. They also sell food and water but at high prices.
The climb up lasts around 6-8 hours in total. The recommended is to hike 4 hours then sleep for a few hours in one of the cabins to get used to the altitude sickness and rest a bit. Start again at midnight so you can reach the summit in time for the sunrise.
There’s a post office at the top and a cabin where you can get food and drinks and get shelter from the cold wind. Take up a good spot and wait for the magical moment of “goraiko”.
While going down takes half the time (around 4 hours) it can be quite painful even with the right shoes. The dirt path can be quite tricky and you can slip and fall so make sure to wear your gloves even if it the temperature is getting warmer. Try to go down on at an angle which will be easier on your toes.
Once you reach the 5th station again: Congratulations! You’ve made it! You’ve climbed Mount Fuji and survived to tell the tale. My legs and back ached for around 2 full days afterwards and my hangover feeling from the altitude sickness didn’t disappear until 2 days later so take it easy on yourself after climbing.
Now you can say you’ve climbed Mount Fuji! And as the Japanese proverb goes: “A wise person will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice”.