I remember exactly years ago when I decided that I would climb Mt Fuji. Of course, it was after a romantic break up…
I had been dating my Japanese boyfriend for a year, and the relationship ended rather abruptly and badly. In typical post- breakup fashion, I resolved to step out of my shell. Some women cut their hair; others go on diets. On a true rebound, I decided to climb a mountain.
Each summer, scores of visitors flock to Mt Fuji, a perfectly shaped dormant volcano and sacred symbol in Japan. At 3,776 meters, Fuji is very accessible to hikers, provided that you come prepared.
My first attempt to climb Fuji was a complete utter failure. In short, I ended up lost on the Japanese railway for an entire day, taking the wrong trains and missing my stop. Needless to say, it didn’t work out that time.
But I made a promise to myself to climb it one day.
The second time I tried Mt Fuji was last year as a happily married person. No, not to the Japanese guy, and yes, this time was a success. With miserable weather and altitude sickness, I made it to the summit.
This past week, I visited Mt Fuji a third time, and was finally rewarded with an amazing day.
What to Expect on the Mountain
The summer months of June, July, and August are the recommended time of year to climb Mt Fuji. Given the icy wintry conditions and closure of support huts other times of year, hiking Fuji outside the summer season is at your own risk.
Many people prefer to climb Fuji during the night, spending a few hours in a hut on the mountain,and then climbing to the summit for sunrise. In my case, I climbed at 5:00 am in the morning and returned in the afternoon.
There are 5 trails on the mountain, but many climb the Yoshida Trail starting at Station 5 Gogoen Resthouse. From there, hikers climb to stations 6, 7, 8, 9, and the summit stopping on the way for well-deserved stamps on their Fuji wooden walking sticks. The trail begins as a slight incline and then becomes steep boulders and volcanic rocks. At the summit, hikers can walk around the rim and peer into the volcano. It takes on average about 5-6 hours to reach the summit.
The descent trail is mostly dusty switchback. Many believe the descent is worse than the climb, as it can be slippery and does put pressure on one’s knees and ankles. In my mind, however, I appreciate working with gravity rather than against it!
In some cases, hikers do take the wrong trail down and end up on the other side of Fuji, far from Station 5 starting point. This happens because the Yoshida descent trail splits just below Station 8. Look for signs to follow the yellow Yoshida trail on the left side. If you do descend the wrong path, you’ll have to take a taxi to Station 5 (costing about $200 US).
What to Pack
Given my experience with hiking Mt Fuji during a thunderstorm, I recommend being prepared for any kind of weather. My list includes:
jeans or cotton pants
*lightweight down jacket (in the event of extreme cold)
high carb snacks
plenty of water (though you can buy drinks from huts on the mountain)
yen to purchase the Fuji stamps
I also recommend bringing a change of clothes and leaving it in a Station 5 locker.
How to Get There
Since I had difficulty reaching Fuji by train, I recommend bus transport. Direct Buses leave from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo at regular times during the summer climbing season. For a general idea, refer to the timetable. During weekend in the summer, it’s recommend to have a reservation.