Saturday, July 18, 2009

No Longer a Fool

So I totally climbed Mt. Fuji. And it kicked my ass.

There is a saying that he is a fool who never climbs Mt. Fuji but a fool who climbs it more than once; which I never really understood until now. Green forests and mountain vistas (which, more than anything else here, remind me of New Hampshire) abound on the drive up to the Fifth Station, but the foot trail is nothing but coarse volcanic rock ranging in color from a dull gray to a dull red. As the mountain is so picturesquely conical, for convenience's sake the trail winds up back and forth like a set of stairs with only the occasional change in angle to break the monotony. Add to this the long lines of Tokyoites and gaijin on bus tours herded up the mountain by professional guides with neon flashlights, and the trek feels more like waiting in line for Star Wars tickets than anything resembling real hiking.

We also picked a bad night to go. About halfway up the mountain it started raining; first a dull mist, then full-blown torrents blown in our faces by unforgiving wind by the time we reached the summit. My glasses were so wet I could barely see, and I actually made the entire descent without them. We started at about 9:15 intending to catch the sunrise (which, needless to say, we did not see when we reached the top seven and a half hours later) and guided by our headlamps, which, sadly, became nearly useless in the rain and clouds of the upper levels. I'm not in the best physical shape (that's putting it mildly), and also discovered that I am especially prone to oxygen sickness, and would stop to take great comforting gasps of canned oxygen or deep gulps of oxygen water at the mountain huts endlessly planted along the way. For stamina, Toyakazu had brought some of those fruity Japanese energy drinks that come in Capri-sun pouches, and two small bottle of energy drink that we both downed before the climb. The combination was enough to keep me up all night; but also provoked explosive, frighteningly sudden and frequent urges to urinate in the provided restrooms along the trail where hikers were encouraged in both English and Japanese to "Keep Mt. Fuji Beautiful" and leave a 100 yen tip (a routine that got old after my second frantic rush to the toilet).

I will not attempt to describe the trip down along the return trail (which was really more of a path for small pieces of construction equipment) in the cold rain, slipping on small rocks, exhausted and with more sore muscles than I could count, with no sunrise or top views to reward our efforts and the energy drinks starting to wear off along that endless winding path dipping back and forth like a DNA spiral.

Still, it wasn't all as excruciatingly awful as I make it sound here. Before the rain began our climb was illuminated by night views of the Five Lakes and southern Yamanashi as far north as Kofu (and my friends know how much I love night views). A distant thunderstorm also provided some entertainment as we stopped to rest at the 6th Station. Stars are rare on humid nights in the city, and seeing them again felt reassuring, like the rest of the world was still waiting for me when I finished whatever it was I came here to do.

Since far better writers who have had far less difficulty than I have written about climbing Fuji using far wittier turns of phrase, I told myself this entry would be shorter than it became. Maybe I just needed to vent. I miss real hiking, and want to climb other mountains on sunnier days that have at least ten or fifteen trees on them.

Photo 1: Fuji seen from Lake Kawaguchi in March.
Photo 2: Toyokazu and I at the Ganso-muro hut near the 8th station, in one of the four pictures I was able to take on the trip.

1 comment:

Hannah said...

This is a pretty quality description of one of those things that are miserable during the event, but make for GREAT stories afterwards.
...And now perhaps you understand what it's like having to pee all the time! It's damned inconvenient!