Have you ever climbed Mt. Fuji?

By Andre Amorim, pics by Yuri Yuhara and Tiffany Lee

If someone invite you to visit a potentially active volcano, knowing that the ascent could take 8 hours, and that you could face endless queues and unfavorable weather conditions such as rain, snow, or even storms, what would you think about the invitation? Here in Yamanashi people ask "Did you climb Mount Fuji already? Would not you like to go?" so many times that, for a moment, you forget all the risks and automatically answer "Of course I want to go!"

After all, it is there, omnipresent in the south of the Yamanashi Prefecture. Recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Mt. Fuji is the symbol of Japan, and its summit, at 3776 meters above sea level, can be seen from Tokyo on a clear day. The scenery itself is an invitation. Mt. Fuji is a recurring theme in Japanese arts, especially in the paintings of Katsushisa Hokusai, and if its sight is a delight, the idea of seeing Japan from the summit makes the challenge sounds good. But what about the difficulties? If watching a fire festival in Fujiyoshida from close went fine, what could go wrong in this adventure?

Everything! Mount Fuji is not considered a difficult climb by the experts, but requires a specific preparation. It is a volcano considered active, although the last eruption occurred only three centuries ago, so the paths are full of small volcanic rocks. The trails are divided into nine stops, or stations, but most people usually take a bus to the fifth station and begin the adventure from there. This station is about halfway between the foot and the top of the mountain. It is also common to wait around one and two hours in the fifth season to get used with the altitude and then start climbing.

If you fell any discomfort, headache, strong pressure in the ears, it is better not to even start! Sometimes during the ascent, we can spot first-time sailors that underestimated the effects of low atmospheric pressure stopping many times because of fatigue. This is also a problem for those who work in the huts, where people usually stay overnight to continue the ascent during the dawn to see the sunrise at the summit. It requires previous reservation to stay at the huts and there is no additional space to welcome everyone who climbs and decide to stop in the last minute. Finally, the weather is not reliable at the mountain, and sudden storms are not uncommon.

Warnings can be seen everywhere and is up to the tourist to ensure, at least, the appropriated clothing, equipment, food, water and money. A collection of advises can be accessed here. Well informed and prepared, we, a group of a dozen foreigners, started our adventure in the last weekend of this year's climbing season (climbing Mt. Fuji is only possible during the summer, due to the weather conditions).

We started at noon, expecting to arrive at station 8.5 (that's right, station eight and a half) in about six hours. At first, we all felt a little bit tired, but along the way we got used to the rhythm. In some places there were so many people that there was no way to keep a fast pace. Besides the wonderful view that I was already expecting, this massive amount of people was what impressed me the most.

            (Pictures by Tiffany Lee)

After the seventh station, during the nightfall, started to get colder and colder (and we went on a good and sunny day, imagine with rain ...). But we had to get to the 8.5 station, resisting the effects of the altitude, to have dinner and rest a bit... Sleep? No way! We were in a hut on Mount Fuji, not on a hotel! The guides' warnings to get ready quickly made us wake up and get back to our goal - to reach the summit and see the sunrise.

The crowd and the rain made us change our initial plan and instead of resuming the climb at 3:30, we left a little bit before 3:00 p.m., and ended up reaching the summit around 4:30, half an hour earlier than we expected. But the most important thing is that we saw, lived and recorded the sunrise and the crater of the Fuji. It was an amazing experience to have people from all over the world by my side on this journey.

Time to go back down. The descent route ... who said it would be easier? It seemed like it would never end. Took us half of the time comparing to the climbing time, but at this point all I wanted was to get back soon to the fifth station and enjoy a bit more the attractions there (shops, restaurants, temple). In total, from the fifth station to the peak, eight hours to go up, less than five to go down. A tip for descent: come back without hurry, stop, enjoy the landscape, take photos, drink water. But this tips can be used only on the next season, because from now on it is possible to go only until the sixth station. 
Body recovered, I can tel for sure that it was worth it, and the question from now will be "How many times did you climb Mount Fuji?".

For more information, check the Official Website for Mt. Fuji Climbing http://www.fujisan-climb.jp/en/index.html.

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