This is an excerpt from a 2010 blog post about when we did the Mt Fuji Sea to Summit. Anybody wanting to do the ultimate Japanese Mt Fuji experience, we encourage you to take a little read. Here's the link.
This is what they say. And we now know without a doubt which category we idiotically fall into – with all good intents and purposes. We climbed Fuji last year. On a whim, on a clear Friday night we suddenly got inspired to head down the road and wander up the hill. From the 5th station it was a magical fairyland as Kanto twinkled far below. The fog rolled in by the 6th station. The rain rocked up at the 7th, then it started snowing by the 8th. It was freezing beyond words, in July. We made it to the top for the dullest sunrise ever, from black to gray, in dense fog. We found shelter in a deserted mountain hut not yet open for the summer season. Feet wrapped in plastic bags, because the socks were just so saturated before miserably heading down, delirious and done, determined never to get that spontaneous again. But that was a year ago and we are certainly much sillier 12 months on.
Our summit pic from ’09:
And now this year’s story starts… here we are, August 2010. We are easily amused and love a good challenge, often inspired by the people we meet and the journeys they take. Life’s an adventure and all that. When we heard of a group planning to take on Fuji from the Sea to the Summit we were intrigued. The idea was appealing, there was an element of lunacy and there were bragging rights – this is really mounting Fuji – all of it. From 0 meters to 3776 – Japan’s highest peak. Designed by fellow trailwalkers, Joe and Linton, they planned the assault to also raise awareness for the work of Oxfam. We were busy with photos the weekend of their big hike. But with Facebook updates wefollowed their sweaty progress and success 22 exhausting hours later as they made it to the top. It was impressive. We had to try. One more foolish foray, here we come.
Forget that we are not strapping young boys with youth on our side… or that we have decided to document the entire experience with cameras, tripods and all kinds of gear… and that the last convenience store is just 2 hours into the 50+km trek. Ignorance is bliss. With Trace addicted to anything that sounds remotely adventurous and setting seemingly impossible tasks, she got us training. A few runs around the block at lunchtime coupled with the stair master at Megalos. I took on getting us there and logistics. With Linton and Joey’s google maps we had a starting point, we knew where vending machines were supposed to be along the 48km to the 5th station and we basically knew where we were heading. That big iconic mountain miles away. It had crossed my mind, based on previous experiences, that this may all come to a horrific end at any point. A calamity in the making. And of course it almost did. Before we had even started.
Our route prior to the Garmin losing battery power near the summit:
We set off Friday afternoon, farewelling Tokyo’s hotness and humidity. Either oblivious of what was to come, or completely aware – take your pick. Fuji was nowhere to be seen, shrouded in summer haze. The car was packed for every contingency. Hot packs for the top, spare shoes, layers, tape for the legs, the iPad, lipstick, sunblock, t-shirts for maximum tan exposure and a bean-bag. We drove to the 5th station of The Fujinomiya Trail. There are 4 Fuji climbing routes. Last year we took the popular Yoshida Track, this year the Sea to Summit course culminates with taking on the Fujinomiya trail.
This is the shortest route to the top with, naturally the trailhead at a high altitude. Not that that mattered to us. Climbing all 3776m meant that all trails covered the same distance. But had we been starting from the 5th station like the all the sane hikers, this information seems much more relevant. Well above the clouds when we arrived. It was dreamy. Fujiomiya has been the traditional entrance to Mt Fuji since ancient times and in the middle of this trail, located on the east side of Fuji, you can see the crater of the last eruption in 1707. Not that long ago really. We were delighted to discover on the informative Mt Fuji Guide website that this “is the route that allows you to enjoy comfortable mountain climbing”.
Our plan was to park our car at Go-Gome (the 5th station), take the bus down to Shin-Fuji check into the glamorous Super Hotel Inter, then start the walk early Saturday. We drove so we would have a place to rest once we arrived at, hopefully, the Fuji 5th station sometime early Saturday night. So our first challenge was to find a car park. As time whittled away with the last bus departure rapidly approaching car park battle was oh, so, on. It was a zoo. We had been warned… and actually during the peak of summer several of the car parks are closed due to the enormous volume of travelers.
But this weekend it was open. We had 2 run-ins in 5 mins with hikers jumping out of cars just as we spotted a park and standing in them to save them. Things got a bit heated. But we took the high road, I was the moral compass for about another 20 mins, before too jumping out of the car to stalk any kind of space. Made lots of friends along the way who were all too eager to help if a spot became available. Finally with 10mins before the last bus, and after doing blockies in the clouds for almost an hour we got a place, without the showdown we expected. Auspicious signs. We had a park now, we were committed.
We were silent for most of the drive to the 5th station as we both pondered the enormity of this undertaking. We were really going to be able to make it? What were we thinking? We were mad. By the time we reached the 13km stretch of steepness to just get to the 5th station we were truly nervous and slightly terrified. We knew it was steep, but not this steep. And we weren’t even at the 5th station yet, the start of the climb to the summit. Once the car was parked and we were settled on the bus, the ride down was one of shock and awe. I personally couldn’t imagine going up what we were now hurtling down, so I decided to sleep. Deal with it tomorrow.
We arrived at Shin Fuji, grabbed some dinner, and caught a taxi to the Super hotel. The staff looked at us incredulously. We had no bags, we were dressed in our gear for tomorrow and… what were we doing? Oh, yes climbing Mt Fuji from the sea to the top.
Thankfully Super Hotel Inter had incredible amenities – (we could choose 5) and the machine where you pay your nightly rate was a nice divergence for a bit. Restless hours later we gave up on sleep and got up ready for what was ahead.
By 4.45am we were in a taxi, alone on the road, Fuji still asleep. We arrived at Tagonoura beach, meeting only early morning fishermen, and a flotilla of boats racing to the next catch. The dark waves relentlessly pounding the rock beach. Inspired by the boys, we had our pet bottle to fill up with sea water, to carry to the top and deposit, in the knowledge that it would someday eventually find its’ way back to where we started. It was my job to fill the water bottle. And not an easy task. As I tentatively stuck out the bottle to collect water a rogue wave dumped and I was completely drenched before we had started.
But we had the water.
Quick dry off, sock change and we were off. We just started walking. A very faint Fuji outline barely perceptible. We knew she was somewhere in front of us. Perhaps it was better we couldn’t see, it may have well been too much. So we walked and walked. It was flat for sometime, we had our first misdirect about an hour in, but soon found our way again.
Locals greeted us happily with good mornings and wondered where we were going. When we told them, there was utter confusion, then amazement. Where? One old man, still in his pyjamas, has probably not fully recovered from the sight of us yet in our Lorna Jane singlets with motivational slogans, sweating at 7am, going where? Yes, he finally heard right. He was still shaking his head when we finally said goodbye. We walked and walked and 10km in stopped for supplies at the last 7-11. The road was up now. We walked on the shoulder of the road for most of the day, following routes; 380, 167, 76, 24, 469, the Evergreen Skyline, then 152. It was Mt Fuji reality bingo.
Trace’s garmin watch kept us updated as the kms clicked by. Lunch was somewhere near Children’s World, in a pretty park where gardeners were grass-cutting and baffled by our endeavor. We slogged along in the midday sun, with the ipods on and hellos and heartfelt gambatte’s from hard-core cyclists keeping our spirits up.
It was up all the way, relentless and a bit mind-numbing. Nothing to think about but one foot in front of the other. Somewhere just before the turn-off to the charming pensions near Fuji Safari Park we had our first truck honk of appreciation in Japan. The road snakes up and teases you with the promise of a theme park bonanza, Grinpa Land, Yeti Land, Sylvannia Families, all part of the Fujiyama Resort. We kept plodding along. Silent mental meltdowns. Constructions workers just shook their heads and laughed.
But you know what? We were doing this.
35km to the 5th station and we stopped at the large rest stop for a big break. Massive blisters were discovered. The morning dunking by the sea fully to blame. We kept going. Little Fuji on view but big Fuji still in the natsu smog. 2km later and we were at the 13km to go mark. The big push to the trailhead starts here, endless switchbacks, steep inclines. We arrived to heavy traffic, a sudden departure from the quiet roads and country lanes we’d spent most of the day on. Police officers were directing the pilgrimage up. The sign said there was a 9km traffic jam… we’d probably get there quicker on foot anyway.
As we rounded the corner to start, a shuttle bus stopped beside us. The driver leaned out the window and asked if we wanted a lift. No, thanks. We’re walking. The packed bus of Japanese hikers, with packs, poles and bucket hats cheered and waved as we huffed and puffed onward. The police smiled, shook their heads and told us to be careful. We will. There was barely a shoulder to walk on. The road is marked every 200 meters with the distance to the top. It was an irritating countdown. And psychologically torturous. Somewhere around 7km to go, two cars came to a dead halt ahead, not caring to stop traffic, just wanting to check on us and offer us a lift to the top. We barely had the energy to explain. Random kindness a companion on this amble.
With only 2km to go we saw the 5th station looming and visible for the first time. But it looked so impossibly far away. Just keepmoving. Heads down. We finally arrived without fanfare, high in the clouds, some 50km from our start at Suruga Bay. We were spent, legs of jelly, joint aches and pains, shattered. It was about 7pm. We found the car, re-fueled, rested, changed. What we had done, still not quite realized. We had walked a symbol. But there was still the summit to go.
We layered up and set off in the night, meeting the hoards. From children to seniors it seemed everyone was summit bound. From the 6th station the zigzag of sparkling headlights is a sight I will never forget. It was breathtaking. Hiking fireflies. From where we had come and what we had done it would have been easy to underestimate this final 4 ½ hours to the top.
The sandy ground, volcanic rock, people and mist made it slow going. And whether itwas fatigue, extreme sun-exposure, the altitude or dehydration by the time we got to the top, we were not in the best shape. Trace was nauseous, my feet were killer. We made the decision due to the number of people to head down straight away and take in sunrise either on the way down or at the 5th. A magical kaleidoscope of colour and clouds.
We showered Fuji with the sea water, wearily documenting it all. We did it. We climbed from sea to summit. Asmorgasbord of stupidity. Morning came, less than 24 hours had passed since we started. I truly didn’t think I was capable, but once moving it was just a natural progression. Inertia perhaps, but certainly a challenge that anyone is capable of. Especially if you have expert maps detailing every drink machine in Shizuoka.
Physically we recovered easily. Mentally we still can’t quite fathom what we did or that we even tried. Last year after climbing Fuji, we sent away for our official certificates. This year we’re so making our own. And they’re going to be HUGE. (Last year’s rewards…) :
Going into this we thought it might be a fabulous idea to make the ‘Sea to Summit’ an annual event, a little sojourn our friends and acquaintances may like to join us on. A rite of passage here in our adopted homeland. As of right now however… it’s a never, never, ever again deal. A once in a lifetime experience.
But give us a year, you never know how foolish we’ll be by then.
(email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in finding out more information about planning your own Mt Fuji : Sea to Summit adventure…)
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