i now understand why people say 'you've got a mountain to climb!' when there's a lot of work to be done. fuck me. the past 24 hours have been the most physically intense i've ever known.
we got up yesterday at 5:45am and got straight on a few trains to fuji-san. we had made a bold decision not to start climbing from the halfway point, where most people begin, but from the nearest village away from the base of the mountain. this pretty much doubled the climb. its got to be at least a 40km trek up and back down again (even though we were going back down again (even though we were going to get a bus back from the halfway point. after trekking for about 18 hours the last thing i wanted was 6 hours of forest at 80% humidity).
we were at the town, fujiyoshida, by 10am and were told to walk to the shrine where the trail starts as it was only 2km away. hell, what was another couple of km on top of the rest.
we were pretty well equipped: jacket, zip-up, scarf, russian hat, rainproof mac, high energy food, water, altitude sickness tablets, victory cigars for the top of the mountain, camera & tripod. muzz however was a little too prepared. his bag had 8 litres of water in it, with 2 litres of 'rehydration salts', he had a huge first aid kit, suncream, and for some reason baby lotion (?!). who knows what he was planning for up the mountain.
we got to the sengen shrine and picked up a couple of carved wood walking sticks, these would be branded at wood walking sticks, these would be branded at the mountain huts up the mountain. a great souvenir, yes, but i'm not sure how i'll take it back on a plane without them classing it as a dangerous weapon.
the start was fairly level forests, full of bugs and lush green, but with barely any incline at all. the weather by now had reached 30 degrees though, and the humidity was intense. we were all soaked, muzz most of all with his 20kg bag.
we got up to the 1st station to find a crowd of buddhists chanting and praying as they made their way up to the tori gate (the symbol of the start of the fuji accent), we stopped to watch and didn't realise our luck. it was the 1st of july, technically the very first day of climbing season. this was a ceremony to bless the mountain and its climbers. they began burning hundreds of incense sticks which were stuck in a mound of salt, whilst all chanting cross-legged in front of the gate. one of them came to me and said 'are you interested in this? if so, stay until the end and we will bless you for your climb.' i was there.
the end of the ceremony came as one of the buddhists broke the string in front of the gate with his hand to open the walkway. then the incense and the salts were wrapped up together in a cloth and bashed on the stone until it was all mixed together. then they began blessing each other by beating the mound of hot salt on the backs of each other and they knelt down. after they had finished we were all invited to kneel to receive the same treatment. it was very surreal, but we were lucky to be walking by at that exact time, because it wont be happening again for another year. we thanked them all and continued walking up through the forest.
each station we got to seemed to be an abandoned wreck. we were dying to see something worth stopping for but each time it was another 20 minutes, then nothing, then another 40 minutes, then nothing there again. it was tough going, plus the incline had seriously picked up now and midday heat and humidity was just unbearable. this was the easy part.
by 4pm, after about six hours, we reached fifth station. the first manned station on the mountain. here we saw a few more new faces as well as others we had passed on the way up. our legs were already so heavy. we had to take a break. my guide tells me that usually people climb this bottom half on one day, sleep, then climb the second half the next day. but not us. we were either foolish or... i dont know what. we were probably just foolish.
i ate some cake and chocolate as well as a couple of rice balls. some good solid energy to burn off over the next few hours. we got our sticks branded for the first time (muzz had managed to snap his already, so he was getting half branded, much to the amusement of the woman at the hut). we took an hour at the station and dried the sweat off in front of the stove where the branding iron had been heated.
at about 5:10pm we continued up. this was apparently where it really started getting tough, and they weren't wrong. our legs felt like lead, none of us were talking anymore, the terrain was now a loose volcanic sand that made each tiny step twice as hard. it was agony already twice as hard. it was agony already. we made it to sixth station 30/40 minutes later. it was a medics hut, so there was no branding or stopping here.
as we left sixth up the loose zig-zagging trail, we caught our first glimpse of the peak and the long trail up it. the cloud lifted for just a few minutes before rolling in up the moutain again like smoke off a fire. it was a long, long way up. it would only get steeper too. our original plan of getting to the top for sunset, coming back down for a sleep, then returning for sunrise had gone out of the window. daylight would be gone in 2 hours. all we could do now was try to push on ahead and get to our rest point as early as possible. none of us had torches and the mountain would not be friendly to accend in darkness. we all knew that it was unavoidable though. our 8th station bed was at least four hours away on good legs.
we ploughed on as the light began to lessen. the air was getting noticably thinner now, and my heart was constantly racing like i'd just run my heart was constantly racing like i'd just sprinted around a track. we got a couple of brandings at about 2700m before carring on up to the seventh station.
we met a group of americans and europeans at a hut a few hundred metres above the seventh. we had around 10 minutes of light left and at least a two hour climb ahead. it was all least a two hour climb ahead. they were debating whether carry on now or not. it was all rocky from now on too, so navigating through that would be far from ideal in darkness. we could've bought a torch, but risked not having enough money to pay to sleep for the night. if we didnt keep going, we'd have a tough four hour climb to the summit in the morning anyway, still in darkness. it had to be done. i could barely see my feet below me but we steadily made our way up the rocks.
the air was thin, my head hurt and my legs and feet hurt even more, but the saving grace of the high altitude was the temperature had cooled. it was nice to feel a cool breeze again.
by about 8pm we were at the 3000m mark. our bed was somewhere around 3400m. we still couldnt even see it ahead of us. muzz was struggling with the weight of his bag and trundled behind us with a glow stick around his neck, he had gone through about 8 litres of water, but his bag was still far too heavy for this. the altitude was obviously affecting him most too.
we desperately hoped that every hut we went past would be the last on the mountain and our place to stay, but it never was. it was just as before, 20 never was. it was just as before, 30 minutes, then nothing, 45 minutes then no luck again. it was all rocks now as well, as tough terrain as we had come across. the muscles in my legs just burnt each time i took a step.
at about 9:15pm, after nearly twelve hours of climbing we got to a hut to get branded and asked how long it was until the last resting point on the mountain. '30 minutes' he answered. i couldnt even imagine it at this point. a bed would just feel so good. we pushed on with the last bit of energy we had, now having to stop every two minutes to catch breath as the air thinned even more.
just as we were told, by 9:45pm, we were there. we paid a steep 5500yen for a cramped bed, with aaron and i sharing a duvet. still, i didnt care, it took me about ten seconds and i was asleep for a glorious five hours.
it wasnt nearly over yet though, at 3am we got up and begain again. i tried to walk behind another person who had a flashlight for a bit just so i could stop falling over, but after 30 minutes it didnt matter. light started coming in slowly. i could see the top. it spurred me on so much. sunrise was at 4:30am, and i knew i'd make it.
by 4:20am i was there. a combined 13 hours to the top. i watched the sunrise and checked out the volcanic crater. it was amazing. maybe it was the altitude or the lack of sleep and exhaustion, but i felt a little emotional. i was very of sleep and exhaustion, but i felt a little emotional. i was very proud of myself. 3776m up.
after an hour or so at the summit we made our way down, which was thankfully much easier than the accent.
by 10am i was back down at 5th. up and down in 24 hours. the hardest thing i have ever, and probably will ever do.
we slept all 3 hours on the bus back, then slept until 11pm this evening, another 8 hours in the hostel. i still ache, but i did it.
the japanese say that a brave man climbs fuji once, but a fool climbs it twice. now i totally understand what they mean, because there's no fucking chance you'd get me climbing that mountain again, my lovely legs just don't deserve that kind of treatment.