Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain and one of the most magnificent in the world. It is a volcano that stands at 3,776m tall, and has been dormant since its last eruption in 1707. Climbing Mount Fuji is a huge feat and makes for an everlasting memory.
When to climb
Mount Fuji is officially open for climbing between July and mid-September via a number of different routes. During this period, the trails and facilities are open, the mountain is free of falling snow and temperatures are relatively mild. Most opt to scale Mount Fuji during these months, so we decided to try it in early September, when temperatures were between 10 to 13 deg C during the climb, cooling further as you get closer to the top. It is possible to climb outside of the official months, for example in June and October, though this is only recommended for experienced hikers. Temperatures at the summit at this time can drop into negative range, with harsh conditions and a risk of avalanches on both ascent and descent.
Difficulty and altitude sickness
The climb itself is relatively straightforward, with just a few steep and tricky spots. The average visitor, therefore, doesn’t need to hire a guide. The only real issue is altitude sickness – headaches and nausea as the air gets notably thinner when gaining altitude. The body needs time to adjust to this and it is recommended to tackle the mountain at a slow pace – ideally with an overnight stay in a hut. Small bottles of oxygen are available to buy at the fifth stations and huts.
Understandably, during the open months, the mountain gets extremely packed so don’t expect any moments of solitude during the trip. It can get particularly crowded during Obon Week, a Japanese national holiday in mid-August. Opt for weekdays when it’s less busy, if possible.
Mount Fuji is divided into ten stations; with station one at the bottom of the mountain and ten at the top. Paved roads allow for transportation to go as far up as the fifth station, so it’s really a matter of how much you physically want to climb. Most people start at point five, where there are a number of trails to choose from.
First, there is the Yoshida Trail (above), where the ascent takes five to seven hours and descent, three to five hours. This is the most popular starting point and there are many huts lining this trail. The sunrise can be viewed from this side of the mountain.
The Subashiri Trail takes five to eight hours to ascend, and three to five hours to descend. This trail meets the Yoshida Trail at station eight and is a better option as it is not as busy. The Gotemba Trail is the hardest and starts at the lowest point, from station five. It takes seven to ten hours to reach the top, and three to six to get back down. Finally, the Fujinomiya Trail is closest to the summit but takes four to seven hours to ascend, and two to four hours to descend.
Food and accommodation
The Yoshida Trail has the most huts, where you are able to stay overnight, with or without meals. A night’s stay costs about 5,000 yen (US$44), with an additional 1,000 yen for included meals. Reservations can be made by calling the hut owners, listed on Mount Fuji guides. If you don’t plan on staying overnight, you may still use some of the mountain huts to rest and use the toilet facilities, at a cost of around 1,000 to 2,000 yen per hour. Here you can also stock up on food and water supplies as well as canned oxygen.
If you want to see the sunrise from the summit, we advise climbing to a hut at station seven or eight, sleeping on the first night, and then climbing to the top in time for sunrise early the next day.
For the more able, it is possible to start climbing late in the evening and power through the night to reach the summit at sunrise, or alternatively climb up and down in a full day. However, these are not recommended due to potential problems of altitude sickness and the lack of sheltered areas, which means you have to endure harsh weather conditions during the entire climb.
What you’ll need
First and foremost, you need good quality hiking shoes. The mountain can get steep and the surfaces are rocky – you need shoes that support the ankles, with a strong grip. Pack clothes to layer up as you ascend to the top, when temperatures become astonishingly cold even in the hot summer months. A rain jacket is also advised.
We brought a torch but noticed that people around us had headlights – this is handy as you need both hands to help get you through some of the more difficult parts of the climb. Food and water is only available at mountain huts and stations, so bring plenty of your own. Protein bars, nuts, and energy drinks helped fuel us on our climb. Bring plenty of cash with you in case you need to buy food and emergency supplies or book a shelter, as cash payment is more common on the mountain.
Finally, a hiking stick. You can purchase one for 1,500 yen at station five to help you in your climb. These can be engraved at each station along the way up, and make for a wonderful souvenir to take home.
Reaching the summit at sunrise usually means 360-degree views over Japan, though quickly after that, the clouds form. You are able to walk around the crater with gorgeous rock formations, to the weather station which is the highest point. There is also a post office to send a postcard at the summit as well as vending machines and huts.
PHOTOS: INSTAGRAM, 123RF.COM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.