Mt. Fuji and the Fool
OK, so here we are at the bottom. Like the good fool that I am, I convince my friend "Loose" what a good idea it would be to hike up Mt. Fuji from the bottom. This is not normally done. Normal people start at what is known as the new 5th station, well up the mountain. Only a fool starts at 1st station. And a globe-trotting fool starts well below that, and hikes his lazy butt up to 1st station. You might take a guess as to what we did.
[just click on any photo to enlarge it]
This was Loose's first climb up Mt. Fuji (amazing for someone living in Japan -- he must be really lazy ;-), so he had to get a walking staff branded at each of the manned stations. This is, of course, a racket, but it is also a tradition. We did not get one in town before venturing out, so imagine our relief when the old 5th station sold them. It would have been a long walk across the mountain over to the new 5th station.
The trials merge around 6th station. It has taken us over 6 hours to get to this point, but we still have a LONG way to go. Still smiling though ;-) And now that we are out of the woods (which is the prettiest part of the hike), we can see what awaits us ahead. The trail just gets steeper and steeper (after all, it is a volcano).
Up till now we've had the trail virtually to ourselves. Pretty amazing given this is the most-climbed mountain in the world! But now we merge with the mass of humanity that helps Mt. Fuji claim that title. And as the trail gets steeper, we will now be hiking switchbacks until we reach the summit. Oh yeah, and it takes so long, we will soon be hiking in total darkness. This is starting to sound fun, isn't it?
As the sun sets, and darkness encroaches, you can see the city lights below illuminate (if the weather cooperates). So far, so good. It hasn't started raining, but the blowing wind makes its own hazard, and wearing goggles is a good way to protect your eyes. Oh yeah, and you need to break out the headlamp so you can see where you are going.
So we head out for our final assault before a very short rest. No pictures of that lovely affair, but imagine crawling though attic rafters, careful not to step upon snoring climbers, all shoehorned in for maximum income. One hour of sleep after 12 hours of climbing. Sounds almost worthless, but it made all the difference. For when we came out, we found we would have to endure soaking rains and driving winds, all the while trapped in a human traffic jam. But finally, near the top, that's the last I see of Loose (after hearing him swear throughout the last 100 meters).
So of course I had to find some shelter to warm up for a few minutes. Then I go out and search for Loose -- but to no avail. As it turns out, Loose (and his gear) had all been soaked, and that is just not fun. So down the mountain he went (leaving his wingman behind - sigh). As the weather clears somewhat, you can still see the climbers coming up, delayed in the human traffic jam, having spent sunrise on the trail. Meanwhile, others, like Loose, are booking it down to the base. But I'm finally warm and relatively dry.
So it's time for a little adventure. Though the weather is turning again, I thought I'd see what the rest of the crater had to offer. I didn't get all that far before the weather totally closed in again, with horizontal rain!
Once again, back in the shelters for warmth and nourishment. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Loose gave me the sake to carry (I'll do anything for a friend). But alas, no Loose to share it with. Somehow I'll manage ;-) Hey, this must be Loose's birthday present to moi. This was the day before my 49th.
Well, it is time to head down. It's clearing up again, and some of the best views are found on the way down (after all, it's a lot easier heading in this direction). Some of the trails make it look like you could fall right off the mountain. I wouldn't want to lose my footing.
The rain has now stopped for some time, so I guess it's time to rid myself of the giant baggie. It may look funny, but it was the difference between me and my gear staying dry, and Loose and his being soaked and having to head straight down. All in all, it was an enjoyable and picturesque adventure. But I'm still in search of the illusive sunrise on the top.
Which can only mean one thing ... third time must be a charm. Stay tuned for summer of 2007! Who knows -- maybe that's where I'll be on my 50th!