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Friday, 17 June 2016

#132 Preparing to Climb Mt Fuji 2016

EDIT: To read about my climbing experience and for details on the Fujinomiya trail please check out my most current post here.


I currently live in Shizuoka Prefecture, which is the “Home of Mt Fuji” (although part of Fuji also lives in Yamanashi Prefecture too!). Since it’s nearby, I decided I had no excuse not to climb Fuji before I leave this summer.


Getting There

Firstly, there are English language tours for around 20,000yen departing regularly from Tokyo, so if you are a tourist I would probably recommend booking one of those for a totally hassle free climb. However, it’s not difficult to do it yourself, as there are daily buses to/from Tokyo all through the climbing season (check out Willer for bus information)
You can also reach the mountain by getting a Shinkansen to Shin-Fuji station, and from there a 2 hour bus.


When to climb

Fuji is only open from around mid July to early September. This short climbing period means it’s always busy. Weekends and basically most of August (from around 10th to 20th maybe) are particularly crowded, and it’s possible to wait in line to get to the summit, especially at sunrise when lines can become quite long. I’ll be climbing on a Sunday-Monday because of work restrictions, but ideally I’d have liked to climb mid-week.


Night Hiking or Sleeping Over?

l  Many people choose to hike through the night and reach the summit at sunrise. This is officially not recommended as it can cause more accidents since people are tired and sleepy, and also climbing quickly increases the likelihood of altitude sickness. Despite this, thousands climb at night every year and experience absolutely no problems, and it is a cheaper, easier and faster alternative to sleeping over.

l  I will be sleeping over, mostly because I am worried about altitude sickness and the detrimental effects on my poor fitness level. You need to reserve your space in the hut well in advance of your climb, especially at weekends and the middle of August. Unfortunately many huts still only take phone reservations, and only some speak English. This website lists all the huts on the Fujinomiya route, including information like prices and availability, as usual it’s just in Japanese but is very easy to Google translate. You can also find more basic information on all the routes on the JNTO website.

My mountain hut in 2016
So, you just reserve your place in good faith and pay cash when you arrive. The prices are around 5,500yen for sleeping and 7,500 including breakfast and dinner. Dinner is usually something basic and filling like curry rice, but I have no idea what to expect from breakfast (EDIT; It was bread and not worth the 1,000yen). Dinner is served until around 6pm, since many climbers sleep early and wake up around midnight and in the early hours to climb again in order to reach the summit for sunrise at around 5am.

The huts are in no way glamorous – you will be in a big room in a sleeping bag with 250 people on either side of you. There doesn’t appear to be much personal space and I’m a little concerned about the smell after everyone hiking all day – but I’m sure it’s all an experience! 


I booked the 8th station (Ikeda Kan) on the Fujinomiya route online via their website – it was in Japanese but I translated it and their confirmation email was in English, presumably because they saw my foreign name. This also leads me to believe that even huts that officially have no English are probably so used to foreigners that they can communicate at least a little.



Fitness Level

Everyone hears stories about children and little old ladies climbing Fuji every year. However, there’s a reason why the Japanese live so long – they are very active into old age, and these little old ladies are probably out doing calisthenics at 6am in the local park every day so it would be foolish to underestimate their fitness level and compare them to the average old ladies in your country.
Now, from what I hear Fuji is not a difficult climb – you don’t need specialist climbing equipment or a Sherpa to help guide you. However, it’s still a mountain and should be treated as such. Taking your time, sleeping over and carrying the appropriate clothing and supplies will make it much easier.


Route

There are five routes total, but to be realistic and save time I’ll only tell you about the two popular routes.
l  Yo shi da – This is the most popular route, probably due to ease of access from Tokyo. It is also the most crowded but has a large amount of facilities such as toilets, huts and stores. It starts from quite low down but the incline is reasonably gentle (for a mountain anyway).
l  Fuji no miya – This is the route I will be climbing (just because it’s nearest my house), and is accessed by Shin-Fuji station. It is the shortest climb to the summit, but it is steeper than Yoshida. My friends said that it took them about 8 hours climbing all night, taking long breaks too. The estimate is about 4-7 hours to climb up and half that to descend.



Equipment and Gear

You need to be prepared for cold weather; although it may be 30 degrees Celsius outside, by the time the bus drops you to the 5th station it's quite high up and already you'll feel a slight chill. If climbing at night be prepared for it to be especially cold. The weather is also said to be very changeable so raingear and a change of clothes is also advisable.
l  Renting: I found Kobe Outdoor (mtfujirental .com) was very useful – their website is modern, fully in English and they deliver to hotels/AirBnBs from 3 days before your climbing date so you have time to change sizes etc, and you can return them within 24 hours of climbing at a convenience store. I have ordered hiking boots from them, so I will update and let you know if they are as good as they seem! (EDIT; They are! Even delivered a day earlier. Great service).
l  Walking Stick – This costs about 1,000 yen and is available at all the stations. You can get it stamped for 200yen at each station on the way up and is a popular souvenir (although awkward to fit in a suitcase coming home perhaps…)
Here's a few other things you should definitely take with you;
l  Hiking boots + thick socks
l  Oxygen cans (available at the base stations but very expensive so buy in advance)
l  Sunscreen
l  Sunglasses + hat
l  Rain coat and pants
l  Thick coat
l  Thermal top + leggings
l  Hat + gloves
l  Headlamp (night hiking)
l  Eye mask + Ear plugs (if sleeping over)
l  As much water as you can carry - prices get to 500yen for 500ml from the 7th station...


Last summer I met a guy with incredible sunburn – turns out he was recently climbing Fuji at night and was so busy preparing his gloves and coat that he forgot that he would be climbing down the mountain in daytime in the height of Japanese summer….needless to say I learned from his mistake and sunscreen and a hat are top of my list!


More Useful Links

The famous sunrise - actually seen from the 8th station

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