Just a climbing fool

They say everyone should climb Mt. Fuji one, but only a fool would do it twice. Before we climbed I quipped that this was ok because, “We are not the same people we were 26 years ago.”

We started the day with a Japanese breakfast at the hotel. One of the women who worked there spoke a little English and she arranged for a taxi to take us to the Fujinomiya 5th station. If you have never climbed Fuji before you should know that there are several different trails up and down the mountain. My sister and I learned this the hard way when we climbed past our parents to reach the summit and then came down the wrong trail. We had a fun time contacting them once we got down, but we made it home eventually. Before I went up with my family I made sure everyone knew we were on the Fuginomiya trail and I even wrote down the Kanji for the trail name. This might have been a little excessive, especially since the trail name was in Romanji on most of the signs that we saw.

We decided to relieve the kids of backpacks and only took two with us. One had warm clothing in it and rain jackets. The other had food and water. We had quite a bit of food and most of it got consumed. There was trail mix, cliff bars, granola bars, Japanese cookies, Japanese candy, Japanese crackers and a loaf of French bread that we bought at the patisserie near our hotel.

The cab ride up the mountain to the 5th station was well over an hour and even though it was meant for 5 people it little tight. As we turned back and forth on the winding road, Michael could not avoid squishing into the driver. We decided to take a taxi so we could get there earlier than the bus and also because five bus tickets was about the same as the cab fare. Our taxi driver stopped at one spot on the way up so we could get a picture of Fujisan. We opted not to bring our large camera and relied on the kids cameras/iPhone. I felt a little bad because I sort of commandeered Sarah’s new camera, but there was so many things to capture. Plus she didn’t have pockets.

We took our time at the 5th station getting a few souvenirs and the kids all got Fuji walking sticks. We all used the restroom because we were not sure about getting western bathrooms higher up the mountain – also it is the only free bathroom.

Then we started our climb. The trip from the 5th station to the 6th station was close to what I remembered from my first experience. The trail was not overly steep and fairly wide. We were all in good spirits at this point. The kids all got their walking sticks branded and we had a snack and some water before continuing on. Michael was able to get a Ramune soda here and sine we have seen it as often as we had anticipated we bought one.

The climb from station 6 to new station 7 is supposed to be the hardest. Honestly I didn’t think so. The rest of the climb all seemed equally difficult. The Fujinomiya trail is the steepest of the trails and was quite different than the trail I remember climbing (or the one I descended). We made it up to the new station 7 tired, but still in good spirits. Michael was starting to fade already and to his credit he was one of the youngest people I saw while climbing. I bought three bottles of water at 500 yen each. We had brought water, but knew we could not carry enough so wanted to save that for the between the stations.

The climb between new 7 and old 7 was just as hard as the last leg and it took some convincing to keep Michael going. The girls and I climbed ahead and waited for them with both backpacks. Melanie carried the second one for just this part. When Kira and Michael reached us at the old seven station we split the supplies from the backpacks so that Sarah, Melanie and I could keep going. I found out later that Michael and Kira climbed up to 8.

They estimates we got on climbing times were about 6 hours to climb up and only three to climb down. With is in mind I gave the girls a cutoff time of 4:30 to turn around so that we should have enough daylight to get back.

We continued up the mountain taking water breaks and occasionally stopping just to take pictures and appreciate the amazing view. The landscape was mostly just volcanic rock at this point, but we could see the clouds below us on one side and the green forests and fields surrounding the mountain as well.

Melanie was convinced form the beginning that we would get to the top and would have continued climbing without Sarah and I in a heartbeat. When we reached station 9 it was already a little after three o’clock. In theory we had an hour of climbing ahead of us. We decided we could make it with just enough time even if we were slower than the estimate. One disappointing thing about station 9 and higher was that they were closed. These stations are only fully open during the official season which didn’t start until the next day. We were able to get one water here, but the girls could not get their Fugi sticks branded.

The climb from 9 to 9.5 was pretty grueling. We met a gaijin family there and they encouraged us to keep going and make it to the top. It is weird how having a conversation in your native language feels so good after so much time speaking in one word sentences. We plugged on ahead but the rest only refreshed us for a few steps before the weariness and sore muscles returned. There was a brief moment when Sarah and I thought about calling it quits. She looked up at the summit still a half an hour away and said, “I can’t do it.” I told her that we have to know our limits, but she i think deep down she wanted to reach the top or at least not let her sister be the only one who made it. She quickly changed her mind and said, “We can do this.”

We dug deep and with a few stops along the way we made it to the top. With the shops being closed it was a different feeling than I remembered as a teenager. We couldn’t get the sticks branded with the summit stamp. Because of the time of day it was very quiet up there. We only saw a handful of people and a wild dog begging food from us. Mel and I looked over a couple of ridges and around a opulent bends to see if there were any other shops open. An American sailor was coming down just as we got to the top and he said that there was a shop on one of the other trails just 5 minutes away. I think he was able to travel a lot further than us in 5 minutes because we did not find it.

We had a snack drank the rest of our water thinking we could get more on the way down and got one of the few people there to take our picture under the Tori gate at the top. It felt good to reach the top, but now we had to start back down.

To be continued…

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