Fuji-san, take 2

Having done a bare minimum of research this time we decide to take the bus that goes directly from Shinjuku station.Starting out The traditional way to climb is to start in the middle of the night so that you time the arrival at the summit with the sunrise, but that would be rather inconvenient for us as it means we’d have to spend more or less two days on the endeavor. So we decide to time it with the sunset instead and hop on the 12:05 bus to the starting point at top station 5 which is at around 2300 m.

The ascent is really something of an endless slog through brown volcanic sand, interspersed with small stores selling soda and candy (which amazingly enough, _doesn’t_ get more expensive the higher up you get). Something they do make great money off of are the walking sticks you get at station 5 and which you can brand at each successive top station, and those do get progressively more expensive. As we go higher, the colder it gets and I, being here virtue of being an office rat for the last few months didn’t exactly bring any hiking clothes. My mountaineering outfit is basically sneakers, dress pants and all the polo shirts and t-shirts I can fit. This and the fact that our mountaineering diet so far has been two rice pucks for breakfast, a shared bag of mixed nuts and a couple of snickers is making this quite an undertaking.

A victory toastThe slog is somewhat brightened by a trio of American girls that we keep leap frogging for much of the ascent. We chat a bit and decide to celebrate the arrival at top station 8 with a cold beer (yeah, real smart to get an ice cold beer when you’re already chilled to the bone, exhausted and basically haven’t eaten all day). There is a slight difference between us though; they’re stopping here to spend the night and walk the final bit to time it with the sunrise while we’re pressing on to the summit right away…

Man, that final push was some of the hardest work I’ve done to date! Towards the end I’m stopping to breathe at every single switchback; 15 meters of walking, recuperate for 25 breaths, 15 more meters and 25 more breaths… Finally we see the final torii, marking the entrance to the summit. Problem is that the entire summit is enveloped in clouds, so the visibility isn’t more than 3-4 meters. We go over to the crater to look down, but it’s really no use, you can’t even tell there is one there. Oh well, we buy a celebratory Coke from the vending machine (this is Japan after all, of course there are vending machines on top of their highest mountain) before heading down again. The entire ascent took around 5 hours, which is more or less what we planned. So on the way down we get treated to a magnificent sunset once we clear the clouds.

Sunset at Fuji-sanProbably my favorite thing about running around on mountains is the awesome feeling of looking _down_ at clouds, and as we descend there is multiple layers of clouds visible at once. Running down seems like the most logical thing to do and it’s really meditative to just fully concentrate on where to put your foot next. In this meditative state I can’t help but thinking about the insane rate at which my brain is doing image processing and deciding where is a suitable spot to place the next step (when later talking this over with my equally nerdy friend Pascal I would agree with him that it’s probably more a matter of ‘simple’ pattern matching). We make regular stops to catch our breath and to admire the fabulous view but we need to keep the pace up since it’s rapidly getting darker and we don’t want to be stuck in the steeper part as it goes totally black.

We time it rather nicely though and it’s not until we reach the mostly flat walk back to station 5 that it goes totally dark. The path is littered with concrete half-tunnels that serve as protection from rock slides and now in the dark they appear rather eerily in the dim light of our headlights. The music coming out of a crackly speaker completes the feeling of being in an episode of Lost… As we finally make it back down to station 5 we are unbelievably lucky to catch the very last bus – that in turn manages to catch the very last train back to Tokyo, both by mere minutes to spare…