Fuji-no-Yama 2016

by kenji SAITO on August 11, 2016

Hiking Fuji-no-Yama 2016

Our fourth pilgrimage to the mountain of the rising sun. We arrived in Japan during the sweltering summer. Hot and humid was an understatement. Stick a chopstick in me, I’m done.

Trailhead

Trailhead

Today was Mountain Day in Japan, to provide “opportunities to get familiar with mountains and appreciate blessings from mountains.” With that being said, we packed our bags and left scorching Shinjuku to arrive three hours later in the crisp air of Gotemba New 5th station that used to be the old 2nd station. Must be the new math.

Gotemba Torii

Gotemba Torii

The Gotemba station was a marked contrast to the almost carnival like atmosphere of the more popular Yoshida station where we had started from the previous three years. It barely left a footprint that consists of a small shop, bathrooms, bus stop and an adequate parking lot.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

We pushed off just shy of 10am to begin our hike on the Gotemba trail, which has been described as the most physically hardest route amongst the four trails leading to the summit. The starting elevation is at 1,440 meters (4,724′), which is 2,738′ lower than the more popular Yoshida trail. More elevation to climb. More cardio. Huffing and puffing.

Oishi-chaya

Oishi-chaya

Last chance for refreshments and … hiking sticks. The old shop lady was calculating, probably pegged me as a tourist due to my non-native language skills, 1200 yen … (wait, longer stick) 1900 yen… (wait, stamps ) 2400 yen… (wait, flag) … okay, 2900 yen ($29). Domo arigato gozaimasu.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Leaving the conveniences of civilization behind us.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Japanese knotweeds with their red flowers and green leaves offered a colorful contrast against the volcanic gravel.

Mount Futago

Mount Futago

Mari passing the twin mountains of Futatsuzuka Uezuka and Futatsuzuka Shitazuka. No detour. Stay on the trail.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

The national park covers 474 square miles that includes Mount Fuji, Fuji Five Lakes, Hakone, Izu Peninsula and Izu Islands. No entrance fee. Just a 1,000 yen ($10) donation at the trailhead and you get a shiny button to pin on your backpack.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Clouds rolling down the featureless terrain.

Old 2.5 station

Old 2.5 station

Sitting down at the Jirobo trail marker at an elevation of 1,920 meters (6,300′).

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Starting at a lower altitude than from prior years, helped Mari cope with the transition to thinner air.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

What’s for lunch? Anpan and Pocari Sweat. Tastes better than it sounds.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Hiking in the clouds. The trail had zero shade. Nature provided shade in the form of rolling clouds.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Trail crew passing us on the way down. Hard hats. Safety first.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

On a good day, you can clearly see the summit of Fuji. Cloudy conditions made it less than an ideal day.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Where there are clouds, rain can not be far behind.

6th Station-Goya

6th Station-Goya

Our first hut and it was closed. There are very few huts on this side of the mountain, as compared to the more popular Yoshida trail.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Zig. Zag. Switchback hiking. Zag. Zig.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Hikers were few and far in between on this trail, along with the mountain greetings of “konnichiwa” exchanged between hikers.

Mount Hoei

Mount Hoei

Mari standing in front of Mt. Hoei, a flank volcano, standing at 2,693 meters. In other words, a pimple on Mt. Fuji.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Mari at the 3,000 meter mark (9,842′).

Hinode-kan

Hinode-kan

We arrived at the first open hut at 5pm. No bags of rice for sale here.

Waraji-kan

Waraji-kan

Hey, that flag is bigger than mines.

Yakiin

Yakiin

Every hut has a branding iron specific to them that they will happily impress on your hiking stick. 300 yen ($3) please.

Waraji-kan

Waraji-kan

High above the clouds. Notice the snowboard-turned-seat in the background.

Sunabashiri-kan

Sunabashiri-kan

Another hut. Another stamp. Another 300 yen ($3) shelled out.

Sunabashiri-kan

Sunabashiri-kan

Scenic spot. Once we climbed above the rain clouds and showers, we were blessed with beautiful weather on the mountain.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

I hope that’s our hut. This trail was getting the better of me. Lack of sleep was not helping either. I know. Excuses. Excuses.

Akaiwahachigo-kan

Akaiwahachigo-kan

Reservations for Saito? We got to our hut sweet hut for the night at 6:20pm. Prince Naruhito, future Emperor of Japan, stayed in this hut in 2008.

Akaiwahachigo-kan

Akaiwahachigo-kan

All you can eat curry and hot tea. Free bathrooms. Stacked like sardines horizontally and vertically. Stuffed into musty futons. No prince treatment for us. Mountain hut living at its finest.

Akaiwahachigo-kan

Akaiwahachigo-kan

We left the relative warmth of our shuttered hut at 4:14am to venture outside to a 48 degree morning to wait for the sunrise.

Akaiwahachigo-kan

Akaiwahachigo-kan

The morning glow of the sun breaking through the clouds.

Akaiwahachigo-kan

Akaiwahachigo-kan

Sunrise at 4:59am. Slightly delayed by cloud cover.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Ringing the bell on our way to the summit at 5:33am.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Nothing like cold mountain air to get your blood flowing in the early morning.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Looking back at the sea of clouds.

Miharashi-kan

Miharashi-kan

Multiple choice. Is this hiker a) passed out from the thin air b) shielding his eyes from the unfiltered sun or c) deeply disappointed to find out that the hut is closed?

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Monument to all the fallen hikers that failed to summit. Actually it’s meant to recognize and honor the people that created this rugged trail.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Panoramic view looking down.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

The final push to the summit.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

We summited Mount Fuji around 7:30am.

Mount Fuji Summit

Mount Fuji Summit

Standing on the edge of the crater as wind gusts threatened to blow us into the maw of the active volcano. Active what?

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Neither snow nor rain nor cold nor high altitude will stay your postcard from being slowly delivered from the highest mountain in the land. Summit temperature was a cool 42 degrees. Not counting wind chill.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

We left the summit a little past 8am. No walk around the crater this year. Too cold and tired. Next year.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Hiking back down into the clouds.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

All downhill. Back to zigging and zagging.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Making our way back down to our hut to get Mari’s backpack. Some huts will allow you to leave your backpack to lighten your load as you hike to the summit.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Goodbye Fuji-san. We will see you again next year.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Last chance to use the bathroom. All out of 100 yen coins.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Panoramic view of the trail going down.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

That’s one way of taking the load off your back. Sledding it down the mountain.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

We left the 6th hut and the mind numbing switchbacks for …

Osunabashiri

Osunabashiri

… the start of the “great sand run.”

Osunabashiri

Osunabashiri

The trail turned into a bed of thick volcanic ash that goes down for 7 km (4.34 miles).

Osunabashiri

Osunabashiri

Clouds started to roll up the mountain, blocking the promised panoramic view of the mountains and city below us.

Osunabashiri

Osunabashiri

It paid to have gaiters or spats to prevent the fine volcanic pebbles from getting into our shoes. I saw several hikers stopped on the sides of the trail emptying out their shoes.

Osunabashiri

Osunabashiri

While at the hut, we heard that there was an injured hiker on the trail. I met this paramedic who was looking for said hiker. Kept on looking.

Osunabashiri

Osunabashiri

Running down the trail as my feet sank up to my ankles with each stride going down. It was crazy fun.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Mari making her way down, the hiking sticks came in handy to help brake our sometimes rapid descent.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

Still no view as we made our way down, passing hikers going up the mountain.

Gotemba Trail

Gotemba Trail

No stopping at the hut. Don’t want to get trapped into overpriced and unnecessary trinkets again.

All pau

All pau

We got back down around 1pm. Our bus back to the train station was at 3:35pm. So much time on our hands. What to do? Filled out a survey. Japanese language only. Here comes the rain again. Fired up my Jetboil and boiled a bowl of beef pho and a cup of hot chocolate. Chatted with a fellow American named John who was from Virginia. Contemplated sharing a taxi to the train station to cut down on the wait time. But in the end, we boarded the bus along with a dozen other smelly hikers to the train station that took us back to Shinjuku.

GPS Tracks

GPS Tracks

Our fourth and hardest hike up Mount Fuji started off cloudy and rainy and ended up with crisp weather, stunning scenery and another epic sunrise. The hike covered 10.44 miles with an elevation gain slightly over 7,600′. Congrats to Mari for finishing her fourth and hardest hike up Mount Fuji. Post hike meal at Coco’s. I come back every year to this restaurant for their Tomato Seafood Spaghetti. Add hot sauce. Broke da mouth.

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