Climbing Mount Fuji - AKA Most Creative Way to Torture Yourself.

For those who know me well they’ll tell you that I’m an amazingly over prepared person; boy scouts got nothin’ on me – if I can’t MacGyver myself out of some situation or reach into any of my Mary Poppins-esque bags and materialize just what I need at that moment then chances are I didn’t really need it anyway. It was with this lifelong sense of absolute faith in my own abilities that I departed for Mount Fuji. I was ready to take on the mountain.

Headlamp; check. Rain gear; check. Reflective survival blanket; check. Boots, quick clot, camel pack, and survival tool with knife, flint striker, and whistle; check. In a bag the size of purse  I had someone managed the superhuman feat of packing 3 liters of water and everything that I thought I might need to keep me alive given a worst case scenario on the mountain. I even had a baggie of energy jelly beans.

Like many others before me I headed out for the mountain in the evening; the idea being that you started hiking up from the 5th station around six in the evening and continued up to the 7th or 8th station, there to take a rest, then get back up around 2:00AM and continue on to the summit just in time for sunrise…or so that’s the general idea.

As I got off of the bus at 5th station though, it hit me like a bag of rocks.

 “You really think you’re about to do this?” whispered a small voice in my head. “You’ve never done night climbing before in your life, especially up a 3776 meter mountain. You’re about to kill yourself.”

“Shut it, you,” I grumbled to my inner critic. “I said I’m doing it and I’m going to do it.” I had made it all this way to Japan, couldn’t chicken out now.

For those who have seen it 5t station has a very mountain tourist ambiance – sort of like a miniature Vail or Aspen. There are lodges and souvenir shops; each one touting their wares and trying to get you to buy everything from Fuji shaped cookies ( I caved in and bought some) to novelty underpants with Fuji printed on them (a Japanese girl that saw me laughing at this last item was kind enough to inform me that the translation on the packaging ran something along the lines of, “So that she can climb Mt Fuji anytime she wants!”, or something similarly provocative). We shared am informed female laugh together, both perfectly aware that such a ridiculous proposition was not likely to conclude with “summiting”.

Ahem, I digress though, back to the trail. The first few thousand meters were pleasant enough, even with it being overcast and cloudy. I could just make out Lake Kawaguchiko below me. The trail was almost level, even with a slight decline as I made my way around the first bend.

“See?” I told my inner doubting Thomas. “It’s not all that bad, is it?”

"Just give it time, Ducky."

An hour into it though, and my mostly positive outlook had diminished somewhat noticeable - as my inner critic had predicted. Every hiker will tell you the same thing; for the first few kilometers everything is new and breathtaking and beautiful. Even the clouds with their ever morphing shapes and their smell of wet atmosphere seemed charming.  I must have stopped to take pictures of sixteen different flowers before I’d made it even 1 kilometer. By the 5th kilometer, and now mostly in the dark, I couldn’t have cared if an entire botanical garden had been sprouting from the ground right in front of me.

By then the pleasant strolling path had turned into a steep rocky incline which had deceptively slippery patches of volcanic gravel – not to be outdone, the rocks and boulders were equally slippery with heavy mist. The path occasionally veered sharply up and a series of very unleveled but very high steps would require my full attention to navigate successfully – I say steps, but in all honesty a feature stops being a step and becomes a rock climbing obstacle once it requires me to raise my foot more than the length of my shins.

The weather hadn’t made up its mind about becoming outright rain or simply continuing on as an endless mizzle. I wasn’t sure of the time, but at a guess it was around 8:30PM when I looked up from a rather difficult rock outcropping in the path and suddenly realized that I couldn’t see. In a moment of annoyance I thought that my glasses had fogged over again so badly that I couldn’t see, but it was worse. In the few meters since I’d come around the last switchback the fog had settled into a deep and thick cloud that wrapped itself around me and engulfed my part of the trail even as I stood there staring down at the rocks disappearing under my feet – also watching my feet disappear below the knee.


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