Climbing Mount Fuji photos and story

I climbed Mount Fuji for the 4th time Thursday night. I took a couple of exchange students from Taiwan who showed up completely unprepared. They were wearing fashionable shoes and carrying light jackets. I had some extra gear in the car, but they came late. I had to quickly decide whether to cancel or catch the train. I’m sure they could hear the frustration in my voice as I threatened to call it off, but their desire to go won me over. I called my wife who ran to the station turnstyles with some gloves, hats, and scarves, and we departed.

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Climbers outside one of the mountain huts on the way up Mount Fuji

I realized later it was completely my fault. Mostly. I had assumed they would have a clue about hiking and mountains, so I had given them quick instructions over the phone: bring jackets (cold on top), wear sturdy shoes, bring food and water (very expensive to buy on the mountain), and put it all in a backpack. Nothing connected, and the listener didn’t understand the word “backpack” (in English or Japanese).  I should have given them a packing list in advance, and had them meet at my apartment 45 minutes early to make sure everything was in order.

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Inside a mountain hut on Mount Fuji

At least they had rain coats, purchased at the 100 yen shop, and food and water. One of them had a leather backpack, and the other carried a small handbag plus a plastic grocery bag. I didn’t feel bad for them, though, because I had at least 20 pounds on my back, including my camera, coat, pants, and lots of extra food and water. I decided early on that I wouldn’t wear the coat. If it was cold enough to need it, then I would loan it to someone else. If we got desperate, we could always seek shelter inside one of the mountain huts for a price. I’ve never been inside one, so I don’t know what that price is. (I think it’s at least 5000 yen (about $50) if you want to sleep, and less to sit in the warmth and have some instant coffee (about $5 a cup).

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Outside a mountain hut

We were lucky in a way. It turned out to be a relatively warm night. I never took my coat out of the pack. I wore shorts and a short sleeve shirt most of the way, even though most climbers looked like they were dressed for a blizzard. As long as we kept walking, we didn’t get cold. I eventually put on nylon sweat pants and a polypropolene shirt over my t-shirt.

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4:15am on the top of Mount Fuji

We made it to the top in time for sunrise. The only trouble is that the summit was covered in clouds. All we saw was gray mist becoming brighter. We can probably thank the clouds, and the related lack of wind, for keeping us warmer than usual. I can say from experience that the top gets quite cold even in August.

Check out how the people in the photo are dressed.

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Fuji Sticks

At least half the people climbing Mount Fuji use Fuji Sticks. You can buy them at the beginning of the climb (most people start at one of the “5th Station” sites encircling the base). They are also for sale at mountain huts along the way and on the summit. You pay a base price for the stick, which I didn’t check this time. At each station, you can have the stick “branded” with the station name and elevation. Of course, most people have their sticks marked when the reach the top, where I took the photo above. Each marking costs 200 or 300 yen ($2 or $3 dollars).

I had my first Fuji Stick branded at the summit. The next year my father-in-law turned that stick into a door stop (to “lock” the sliding front door of their home). I discovered my stick in this condition later. My second Fuji Stick I left in the car, because I was bringing a tripod and didn’t want to deal with it.

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Climbers arriving at the top of Mount Fuji
(Can you spot the foreigner?)

During August the last section of trail is extremely crowded just prior to sunrise. We climbed during a holiday, so it was even more packed than I’ve seen it before. It was stop and go before we reached the second of the huts that comprise the 8th Station, and I was convinced we’d never make it on time for the sunrise.

The trails up Mount Fuji are one-way. There is an “up” trail and a “down” trail. On my 2nd ascent, I swore I saw lights going UP the “down” trail. This time I had my eyes open. The trails briefly converge at a couple of points along the 8th Station. This time I clearly saw lights on the “down” trail, so I took an opportunity and switched over. It turned out that several large groups, led by guides, were using that trail. We passed them one by one, and eventually made it to the top in good time — lesson learned!

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Beer, or a bottle of beer for your pet?

The hardest part of climbing Mount Fuji is coming down. Well, that’s how it is for me. I’ve seem some totally wiped out people on top, and I don’t know what became of them. There is no easy way down. I saw a man half carrying his friend, who appeared to be unconscious. A kid puked right next to me, and his father casually remarked “altitude sickness.” I wonder how much of this “sickness” is psychological, or due to being physically unfit and staying up all night, but regardless you have to get yourself down somehow.

My experience was painful and slow. I realized my shoes are too small. My toes hurt, and it seemed to take forever. Actually, the Taiwanese students with their fashionable shoes were descending in baby steps. It took us at least 5 hours. We finished in a drizzling rain under a gray sky. I just wanted it to end. I started to ask one of the students: “Do you believe in hell?” But I thought my sarcasm would be lost, so I kept the thought to myself. I started composing poems about how horrible it was. I resolved never to climb Mount Fuji again, but I know I’ll have to break that vow some day to take my wife and kids.

For a more positive, uplifting, and detailed guide, read this: Climbing Mount Fuji in August, My Story and Tips 

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About the Author

About the Author: Andy Gray is a writer and photographer living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and working with Alongsiders International. You can find him puttering around the streets of Phnom Penh on his Suzuki Viva 125, running stoplights and driving on the wrong side of the road or on the sidewalks like a local. If you see him in a coffee shop, he'll be the one typing and deleting the same line over and over again. .

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  • Eric

    This story of your recent Fuji ascent, accompanied by the photos, pushed climbing Mt. Fuji way down on my bucket list. The desire to be in the natural world itself was washed out by a city of people. Good thing there are plenty of other options out there for moving “into thin air”.

  • If you are looking for natural beauty and the wonder of being at high elevation, then I think there are many better options than Fuji. I climb Mount Fuji because I enjoy watching people. Sometimes I like to be part of a crowd.

    You CAN climb Mount Fuji without a crowd. The “climbing season” is the month of August. If you go in July or September, then you’ll see very few people, and all the huts and businesses (and toilets) are closed.

    For natural beauty and a much bigger challenge, climb Mount Whitney. What an amazing experience that was.

  • Mary

    Not all the huts are closed in Septemeber, most of them stay open until about middle of September, and the buses from Shinjuku still run daily to 5th station through middle of September.

    My question is: how can one be sure to pick the right trail down the mountain to 5th station that is near Kawaguchiko station? I have also heard other people say they ended up at the wrong station. I heard there is no sign that tells you the correct way down to Kawaguchiko.

  • There are definitely signs. I saw them and almost took a photo of a large one. They are in both English and Japanese, but you have to keep your eyes open. When you’re going down it’s easy to get in a zone and walk by things, I guess.

    One thing that I realized is that some signs don’t reference “Kawaguchiko” but point to “Subaru line.” The name of the trail is Yoshida.

    There are two main forks in the trail to watch for. Somewhat near the top, fork left toward Subaru Line on Yoshida Trail (there is one old, small sign you may see that says Kawaguchiko). Then much nearer to the bottom as you ascend, almost at the end, fork left toward Subaru Line 5th Station (leaving the Yoshida Trail, which passes the 5th Station).

    Basically, when in doubt fork left, and there WILL be signs.

  • Lynda Timothy

    Hello, I am trying to track down a clearly completed Mount Fuji walking stick. I am planning on doing a personal project of art with the stamps from the different stations. I was wondering if you happen to have a picture of yours that you could share with me. My grandfather tells me stories about the time that he climbed that mountain back in WWII. He showed me his stick and it has been severely worn down over the years, and all of the brands are faded. I would like to help him re-live “The Good Old Days” with a family celebration before he passes on. I know that I am asking for a personal picture, so I do understand if you would not want to share your experience. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Sincerely,

    Lynda Timothy

  • James Bockhaus

    TO: Lynda Timothy
    I have a Fuji walking stick with all the stations and sunrise brands on it. It is from my climb in 1960. Let me know if I can help.
    James Bockhaus

  • Hello, I received a fully branded walking stick yesterday and made a film about it. You can view the film and pictures here on my blog.I can send more pics if you like Lynda but I know it has been many months since you asked.
    http://lifeartmastery.com
    Thank you to the lovely man who gave it to me. Thank you to whoever walked and gathered the brands. Thank you Andy Gray for these great photos, i shared two of them on my blog page too. Be well and Dance Freely, momo butoh

  • Thanks for such insightful information. I’m planning to climb Fuji this August and unfortunately all the huts are full. I wasn’t sure if an average female with no climbing experience can make it to the summit without staying at the hut. But I’ll probably give it a try 🙂

  • You should be okay. Even though you can’t get a bed in a hut, you can go inside by the fire to warm up and rest if needed (for a fee).

  • Great story, Andy. I’ve linked to your nice write-up from my “Climbing Mt. Fuji” page: http://www.garyjwolff.com/climbing-mt-fuji.html

    Thanks again,
    Gary Wolff

  • Glad you liked my article. Have you read the earlier ones? All the best…

  • Yes, this page is also listed on my Climbing Mt. Fuji page: http://www.globalcompassion.com/climbing-fuji.htm

    If there are more stories, pls. send the URLs and I’ll add them. Or you can share your Mt. Fuji story (or abbreviated version thereof) to the “Got a great story?” section @ the bottom of that page.

    You can add up to 4 pics, your story will be given a dedicated webpage with its own URL, gives others a chance to comment, plus you can link back to your blog or any other webpage of your choosing.

    SO very impressed with your Cambodia mission…

    Cheers,
    Gary

  • george rosenblatt

    to james bockhaus..i also climbed fuji in 1960 while on R&R from korea..climbed it in my uniform , no civvies and slept on the mountain to arrive at the top at dawns early light….my fuji stick has been lost and i have been trying to buy a fully stamped stick w/flag..can any one help???? thanks

  • James Bockhaus

    TO: George Rosenblatt
    My walking stick is in three pieces (had to saw it into three to get it into my duffel bag. Where were you in Korea and what unit? I was with the 44th Engineers in Ascom City and Kunsan and Uijongbu. James Bockhaus

  • Joyce Wilkens

    enjoyed the stories and comments. My dad climbed Mt. Fuji in 1954. Took a black and white photo of himself at the top. My newly married parents lived in Japan while my dad was in the air force. I was “made in Japan” 🙂 My dad cut his stamped walking stick into 4 pieces and made it into a picture frame to frame the photo of himself at the summit. He still has it. Now I’m working on a book about walking sticks. My husband and I have collected them for about 30 years from all over. But would sure love to have a whole completed stamped stick for our collection. I’ll use a photo of his framed picture in the book. But maybe I’ll have to add a Mt. Fuji climb to my bucket list someday. But I’m not getting any younger.

  • Hi Andy, I’m not sure what happened, but I was just reading Joyce’s nice story and noticed that someone changed the URL to my “Climbing Mt. Fuji” page for people who wish to share their stories and photos about climbing Japan’s highest peak. The correct address is: http://www.garyjwolff.com/climbing-mt-fuji.html

    Sorry to trouble you this way. Hope things are going well for you and your family in Cambodia.

    Cheers,
    Gary

  • Great site! Lots of useful info! I’m climbing Fuji-san next Friday to celebrate my 40th b-day. I’m very excited, but also very nervous!!! Your climb stories have been very helpful.

  • Question how long did it take you to climb to the top of Mt Fuji? I plan to try to climb in May or July.

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