"" Writer's Wanderings: So You Want To Climb Mount Fuji

Monday, September 19, 2016

So You Want To Climb Mount Fuji

Are you crazy? But seriously, though it was something I'd never do again, I'm glad I did it. I tried to research as much as I could before we went. The trouble with the results was that it was age and experience dependent. The younger and more experienced the information giver the less time it took for them to climb. The less it seemed a challenge. And while I heard a lot about obaasans (grandmothers or old ladies) climbing no one said how difficult it might be for them.

Still those who say it only took them four hours to reach the top are either exaggerating or the altitude affected their watch. For one thing you need to adjust to the changes in altitude as you go. One of the best explanations our guide gave was that your lungs are sort of like a potato chip bag that you take on an airplane. As your plane gains altitude the bag inflates. He said to make a point of breathing out in long breaths to make room for the intake of the next one bearing oxygen. The slower your adjustment to the altitude the less chance there is of altitude sickness which includes nausea, dizziness and headaches.

While you may feel in great shape, it will still challenge your physical limitations beyond your imagination. Mountain climbers who take on even greater challenges must have to train very hard.

And if I haven't talked you out of it yet, let me give you some ideas about what to take.

Gear rental.
Backpack - We only had our regular travel backpacks with us. Mine got a little damp because my granddaughter carried it and I had nothing to cover it with. I had planned on just putting my poncho over it. My son purchased a really nice backpack that conformed to his back more and actually had a little open space that allowed air to circulate some between the pack and his back. It also had a rain guard you could easily pull up to cover the pack. On our way up to Station 5 we stopped at a gear rental place where I saw the same backpacks for rent along with shoes and other gear. That might be the way to go if you don't want to invest in a backpack you may not use again.

Trekking boots/shoes - This was the best investment we made. You need something with a good sole that will not slip on the wet rocks (you will have some precipitation, guaranteed).

Rain gear - DO NOT USE A PONCHO! Our biggest mistake. You couldn't see your feet when the slightest breeze whips up the poncho. Get pants and a jacket. Make sure the pants are big enough at the ankle to be able to slip them over your boots. You may not be in a place where you can sit down and take shoes off to put on rain gear.

Layers of clothes:
Light weight clothes -At the start of your climb it will be warm at the very least. If the sun is shining brightly, you will be hot and sweaty five minutes into the climb. The air is humid because you are nearing the cloud base and at times passing through it. The humidity coupled with the effort of climbing will have you sweating. Use the light weight clothes as your first layer.

Heavier clothes - We were comfortable with heavy sweatshirts with hoods. Again, the effort of climbing will help to keep you warm as well. I took jeans which usually keep me warmer and I actually changed into them to sleep in during the night since my light weight clothes were damp and sweaty. I also had a long sleeved T shirt I wore at night and for the climb down. The morning started out chilly but warmed quickly.

Change of clothes - There are lockers at Station 5 and I would suggest putting a change of clothes and shoes in a small bag and leaving them at the station to change into upon your return or to take to the onsen if you choose to brave the public bath.

Gloves - A pair of work gloves would do. I would not take any good gloves as you will be using them when you climb the rocks. You might even take two pair in case one gets too wet.

Head lamp - You will need both your hands for climbing so don't count on holding a flashlight. The predawn climb according to Bob was very dark and except for the lighted area at your feet, it was hard to see anything else.

Walking Stick -  I was really glad I bought a walking stick that was collapsible. It helped to be able to make it smaller during the rocky climb. The big wooden stick you can purchase at the souvenir shop at Station 5 is okay if you want to get it stamped all the way up (stamps cost from $3-5 and by the time you are done could total $50). It was a bit cumbersome but better than nothing.

Water - While the suggestion to carry a lot of water with you is prevalent, I would offer this: Water is available at the huts as you climb. Of course the higher you go the more expensive it gets. I believe near the top it was up to $5 for a 12 oz bottle. Weigh the cost against the weight of the water you want to carry. You may decide to buy as you go.

Snack shack at one of the huts.
Small Change -  The toilets cost between 100 yen and 300 yen. You need to carry coins for this as each one has a box to deposit them in as you use them.

Hand Sanitizer - There is no water to wash with on the mountain. Some of the huts have sanitizer and others do not.

Snacks - Again many lists tell you to bring protein bars. I did. They tasted awful. It would have been better to take along some mixed nuts and raisins. Each hut had a little refreshment stand. Many with hot soup and noodles. You don't have a lot of time when you stop to rest but at least something is available--again, the higher you go, the more things cost.

Extra batteries - Your phone and your camera will drain the batteries more quickly at a higher altitude. (I don't know why. Haven't researched that yet). Take an extra set of batteries. You can also get an extra battery for your phone that will recharge it if necessary. We turned our phones completely off when not in use. I still managed to get the pictures and internet time I needed by doing that.

Small Trash Bag - You have to bring down all the trash you accumulate with you. Nothing stays up there.
Bob's dinner at the hut.

Those would be the bare essentials. You might find a few other things that you absolutely need depending upon your personal requirements but remember, anything extra gets carried up the mountain on your back and comes down the same way. That backpack can get heavy.

Here is a link to a good site which might be helpful as well: Japan Guide

I would suggest getting a tour or at the very least a guide to go with you. You can climb on your own but if you do, make sure you have a reservation at one of the huts. During heavy climbing times, they can fill up quickly. I was lucky to have found a spot when I was forced to quit my climb. Just days before was the end of Obon holiday when climbers filled the trails. It was estimated that 5,000 a day climbed to the top.

I leave you with a Japanese saying I found: If you come to Japan and don't climb Mount Fuji, you're a fool but if you climb it more than once you are a bigger fool. I leave it to your discretion.

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