I had climbed to the top of Mt Fuji twice before, but always from the 5th Station around 2300 meters in elevation like everyone else, not from the ocean. When my fitness-nut friend Andy came to visit Japan, for some reason that still escapes me, I thought it was the perfect time to up the ante. Instead of hiking from the 5th Station, we decided we couldn’t be happy climbing Fuji unless we hiked every one of its 3,776 meters. Of course, this meant our start line had to be at an altitude of zero meters, and zero meters meant the ocean. Together, Andy, our friend Axel, and myself Axel planned to start at Taganoura beach, the closest point of ocean to Mt.Fuji.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that we had no idea what we were doing. When you picture a “hardcore hiker,” none of us even comes close to this image. Andy is an avid runner and likes to rock-climb, but Axel enjoys playing Pokemon on his Nintendo DS and I am a professional graphic designer. But what we lacked in experience we made up for in enthusiasm as we arrived at Taganoura beach around 11 p.m. Our plan was to hike the entire next day, finishing the ascent on the Fujinomiya trail. Hopefully we would arrive at the summit of Fuji to catch the following sunrise before shuffling down the other side of the mountain on the Yoshida trail.
According to the Internet, when climbing Fuji sea to summit, it’s traditional to fill a water bottle with sea water and dump it out when you reach the top. Perhaps this is just an Internet legend designed to add more weight and pain to an already grueling trek, but we did it too. In the process of trying to dip his bottle in the fringe of a receding wave, Axel managed to completely soak both of his sneakers. This would make every step of his hike more uncomfortable. Not a great omen for the rest of the journey. Regardless, at 11:15 p.m., with water bottles full of undrinkable sea brine, we turned our backs to the ocean and started walking uphill.
For the first couple of hours, Google Maps was our guide as we plodded along deserted roads through the dead of night. Being the middle of August, it was around 28 degrees Celsius and so humid that our shirts were quickly soaked with sweat. Even my camera developed a layer of condensation inside the lens. Around 2 a.m., only three hours into the trip, we arrived at the final convenience store of the trek. This was our last chance to buy food until we arrived at the parking lot of Mizugazuka Park 10 hours later. With the constant calorie burn of walking uphill for hours, we were already starving and knew it would only get worse. Needless to say, we bought as much as we could eat right there and also filled our packs with high calorie items. There are few moments more luxurious on a hike than sitting down and eating a chocolate bar.
Following a route posted online by another sea to summit hiker, around 8 a.m. we had completed the road portion of the journey and dipped into the forest to walk on some very lovely nature trails. I think that at one point these trails were very clearly marked. However, within an hour we discovered that we were no longer going uphill. Somehow, we had managed to find a power line maintenance trail. After a brief discussion, instead of trying to forge ahead and find an alternate route, we made the safe decision to backtrack and correct our mistake. On a trek that would most likely require every ounce of energy, taking the wrong path hopefully could potentially end up costing the success of the trip. Fortunately, it only took us about 20 minutes to get back on the correct trail.
At around noon, we emerged from the forest at a large parking lot. We had arrived at Mizugazuka Park which roughly marks the half-way point of our sea to summit adventure. We didn’t explore the park at all, but definitely made use of the snack shop and picnic tables at the parking lot entrance as we took a much needed sit. While Andy and I spent all our lunch money cleaning out the shop’s complete stock of chocolate bars, Axel bought an item called a “French Dog” which ended up being an over-sized corn dog. As we sat there, contentedly consuming calories at this welcome oasis, we heard the one sound we most dreaded.
Somewhere off in the distance came the echo of distant thunder. It sounded far away, but this thunderstorm was moving faster than we could’ve guessed. Over the course of the 10 minutes however, the dark clouds rolled in and a heavy downpour was upon us. Thankfully we were under the protection of the snack shop awning, but if the rain didn’t stop, it could seriously jeopardize the rest of the hike. Wet trails meant muddy paths, slippery surfaces, and potentially serious issues like hypothermia when we got higher in elevation.
We waited about an hour, Axel and Andy dozing while I obsessively reloaded my weather radar app. Finally, the clouds lifted and we were able to start walking again. From Mizugazuka Park we walked through the enchanted forests of Gotenniwa Nature Park until leaving the tree line behind and arriving at the Fujinomiya 5th Station. Finally, after 20 hours we had made it to where everyone else starts hiking Mt Fuji. Spirits low, we ate a quick instant noodle dinner and desperate prayers for strength, we set off with the peak in our sights.
From the 5th station, our hike was a fairly typical Fuji night hike experience, stumbling uphill in the dark, stopping every hour or so at the mountain huts, and regretting how quickly we ate our supply of chocolate bars. After clearing 3,000 meters in elevation at midnight, Andy showed signs of altitude sickness and all our energy levels were dangerously low, having not slept since the morning of the previous day. Despite having donned our cold weather gear, if we stopped walking for long, the near freezing temperatures made us shake. Most of the final push for the summit is a blur, but I know somehow we stumbled upward for another few hours and finally made it. It took 27 hours of hiking over 50 km raising 3,776 meters in elevation, but we had done it. Dumping my water bottle out at the peak on the monument that marks the highest point in Japan, I expected to feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Honestly, though, although I was glad to have made it, at that point in time and mental state, the strongest feeling I had was the incredible desire to go to sleep. We shuffled back down, around the crater, and watched the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen before stumbling down the Yoshida trail to the bus that would take us to a hotel.
Looking back, it’s easy to forget all the pain, sweat, and weariness and only remember the awesome adventure I took with two of my best friends. But I can easily say it was the most physically demanding 27 hours of my life, and I’m fortunate I did not do any permanent damage to my body. I would definitely recommend others considering attempting this trip to train beforehand, hike with friends, and bring a backpack full of chocolate bars and warm clothes.© Japan Today