Though I had thought of moving to Japan for many years, and I did a long distance hike last year. It wasn’t until I heard of ‘Kintaro Walks Japan’ that I thought of putting my two interests together. Kintaro, or Tyler as he’s known in real life, was inspired by Ayumi whose dad still holds the record for the longest unbroken walk, going from the tip of southern America to the top of Alaska and taking 7 years. So it was obviously a pleasure for me to be invited along on a climb of Mt. Fuji with Ayumi, her father George Meegan, her brother Geoffrey (who walked across India when he was 14!), boyfriend Paul, a bunch of Japanese friends plus Lisa, a reader of Ayumi’s blog who happened to be in the area.
Fuji-san has many mountain huts, each with names but also numbered 1-10 on each route roughly corresponding to altitude. Most walks start at the fifth level (or station) and so did ours. It was quite warm to start with, going steeply uphill helped, but the sky darkened and thunder came rolling in and was soon directly above. Last night at the hostel it had been so intense that the thunder from one strike was still going when the next one hit. It was not going to be a good night to camp. We pushed on up as the rain began. Soon I was drenched through and cursing the stupid MacPac jacket that fits like a glove but absorbs water like a sponge and poor Tania wasn’t much better off. I’ve never been outside in a storm like that. We had to keep moving to keep warm so we began passing slower hikers and were surprised when the first building we found turned out to be the hut Geoffrey had booked.
We were shunted through into the darkness (later found out the generator is disabled during storms) and made to place all our wet clothing in plastic bags. What they didn’t say was we couldn’t hang things up to dry. One couple found this rule out when one of the workers yelled at them and refused to let them finish the rather short question of “why?” without him yelling more. He was even more abusive to George, swearing away in Japanese, apparently unaware that he was well understood by the majority of George’s friends. So if you ever go to the 7th station on the Subarishi Line, don’t try to dry your socks.
Otherwise it was a pretty fun, though cramped night. The multilayer bunks and continuous mattresses made for quite a unique place in my experience of Japan. Our plan had been for setting off at midnight to see sunrise from the summit, but as the storm continued well into the night we decided against it.
At 4am Tania woke me and told me to take a look outside. I’m glad she did because it was the only time I’ll ever be halfway up Mt. Fuji and see the lights of towns below and the huts above. To the north I could even see lightning in the clouds but it faded with sunrise and not seen again.
We set off about 5:45am and soon it was so hot I couldn’t walk with my Icebreaker shirt on. So I took it off and it stayed off, to the shock and awe of many passing Japanese who were dressed up as if leaving Everest base camp. Clouds came suddenly and left just as quickly as Tania and I climbed the next 800m to the summit. Since I’ve been training pretty much all day every day for 3 months I had a slight advantage but Tania carried on despite the pain. She’s not one to give up on a challenge like this and I like that about her. So, around 3.5 hours later we reached the rim and admired the epic view while trying to ignore the hundreds of other hikers, the shops and even the post office.
Going down was harder than expected. Tania’s excellent Keen sandals worked well on the rocky climb, but it was a slightly different descent and the ground was now loose grit that got wedged under her already sore feet. While Paul was having trouble keeping his face off the rocks (tip: don’t off-piste down Fuji’s loose grit unless you’re looking well ahead) we swapped shoes and my leathery soles and callused toes saw me safely to the bottom in sandals at least two sizes too small. The ’sand slide’ is really soft grit that can be fun to run down if you’ve got the energy and the guts to get completely out of control. It does however drop at least 600m and is very tiring no matter how you approach it. We’d been walking with Paul and Ayumi most of the way and with a bit of luck they’ll be another couple that someday we’ll be able to host in Auckland.