From the Edge of Mount Fuji

It was summer 2016, the Cicada bug orchestra was in full swing, the air was hot and humid, the pitter patter of the rainy season had only just concluded and I was in the mood for adventure. Everyone knows about Mount Fuji. It’s on all the ‘Visit Japan’ flyers, pictures of Fuji are strewn across all the train stations, bus terminals and airports in Japan and they say you cannot visit Japan without taking the big climb. As a Japanese resident of almost 4 months I knew it was my time so I packed up my bags one Saturday morning and made for Fuji Yoshida to meet up with my friend Tim who lives there.

One bike, a bus and 2 train connections later I was in Tokyo. From Tokyo I took the Chuo Line from Tokyo station to Otsuki Station. The ride to Otsuki station was a picturesque sight with hill after rolling hill of lush green forests accentuated by perfectly uniform old style rice fielded plains. A rainbow of charm enveloped the train, the sky  was a brilliant blue, while the fields were a medley of greens and yellows.  The houses were popping with brilliant pinks and purples, each home had window boxes filled with summer flowers that almost appeared to smile. Most homes had traditional Japanese style roofs tops with mystical upturning Edges, those edges shun from the gentle sunlight piercing through the clouds and bouncing off their textured surfaces. It was the perfect balance of, nature and infrastructure, old and new. We were seconds away from the station when I saw it, the beautiful gate of Otsuki. It was a train tunnel cut through a massive hillside. The hillside was adorned with lush green grass and trees, it also had flowers of every color and a beautiful cut stone wall. We went through the Tunnel and on the other side was Otsuki Station

I arrived at the station around 2 pm. It was an average looking Country station with many traditional Japanese restaurants and stores all around it. My friend Tim arrived at 3 pm and we drove to Fujiyoshida Together. In the car I noticed there was a lot more traffic than I ever imagined could be in a country town but Tim was more of a back road man anyway, he sped through back roads and side streets blowing the road shrubs behind us at speeds I did not know were possible of a K car. It was as though the town we were driving through was placed right in the middle of a forest. Vines were practically scraping against the top of the car and it only got better as we got closer to Fujiyoshida.

Fujiyoshida’s beauty was so immense that I don’t think I can fully express in it words. All around there was vast greener, hills, temples, shrines and the shining jewel was Lake Yamanakako, it stretched beautifully on forever. The lake was bordered by thick trees, shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. I stopped for a moment to take it all in when I saw it, the highest mountain in a sea of hills, stood Mount Fuji. Fuji was a perfect triangle with steep sloping sides and a cap of snow on top. Reality then struck me that I was actually going to climb this thing and that racked me with fear but I was still determined to see it through.

On Sunday morning Tim and I packed up our things and made for the 5th station of Mount Fuji. This is where most people start their climb. Station 1 was at the base of the Mountain and station 10 was at the top. Tim and I bought our walking sticks and started our climb at around 11 am on Sunday. There were people from all over the world climbing with us and cheering as we passed them bearing our Jamaican Flag. At the beginning of the trail we climbed through forests of vast greenery and as we got higher the trees become shrouded in a thick mist. The higher we went the more the landscape started to change. The forests were slowly being replaced by rocks and reddish soil with sparse vegetation. The track up was ever changing too, at first it was an average mountain climb then it was like I was in a weird arcade game with many intersecting slanting slopes of twists and turns. These twists and turns had steps made from retaining walls of ply board and thick steel nails. The slopes seemed to stretch on forever up into eternity.

After about three hours of climbing we reached the 6th station and took a break. The Sun was blazing harshly overhead and it was getting windier and cooler as we got higher. The 6th station rest stop was like a small lodging tucked on the mountainside, there was a place outside to sit down, a place inside for travelers with a reservation to stay and a small shop to buy overpriced drinks and snacks from. After taking the 200 yen toilet challenge equipped with water gun toilet flusher we continued journey. The higher we went, the steeper the terrain. By the time we were at the 7th station we were above the clouds and the view was like something out of a fairy tale. Looking out you could see the clouds beneath us, the infamous Suicide Forest at the base of the mountain and a few houses in the distance. However, from this point onward, one look over the edge was enough to put the fear of God in the heart of even the most enthusiastic Daredevil. Anyone unlucky enough to fall from this altitude would tumble for miles down an ashy, dark brown, smooth and steep Mountainside with only boulders to stop them, if they were lucky. It was frightening and thrilling at the same time and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

We stopped for the night when we arrived at Station 8.5 around 6 pm as this is where we were booked to stay the night. Our Lodging was a minimalist Mountain Hut just like any other on the Mountain. It was of Traditional Japanese style with tatami mats lain over squeaky wooden flours, an area for you to put your shoes and a futon area to sleep. The futons were laid out as six mats side by side with a top and bottom bunk set up so as to make twelve people sleep in essentially the same place. It was a rustic and charming little place that promised the full Mount Fuji Mountain Hut experience. And it didn’t disappoint  with itchy sheets, futons as comfortable as sleeping on asphalt and  temperatures below freezing in our room that night. There was no shower, only a trickle of water to wash your hands in the bathroom and barely any water to flush the toilet when you were done. I loved the entire experience.

At 12 am we woke up, ate breakfast and resumed our climb up the mountain with headlamps lighting our path. One look up the mountain and you could see thousands of headlamps stretching in a zigzagged single file line up the mountain. The night climb was a bit less scary than it was during the day because you could not see the dark Abyss over the edges. However the climb  got considerably steeper and more treacherous than it was before. At several points I needed to use my hands and feet to climb up. By this time, the air was getting thinner and there was no vegetation to be seen. All that would be seen were rocks of all shapes, sizes and colors, headlamps and eternal darkness. The path up the Mountain started to look like a messy, unfinished construction site with steps of vastly varying sizes maid of ply board, cement and sand with wires and steel nails holding everything together.  As the climb become more and more difficult I thought of giving up many times, this was without a doubt the greatest physical challenge of my life and it took Tim’s constant encouragement to keep me going.

We passed the 9th station and were told we had less than an hour to go. The sky turned from a starry black to a beautiful violet, it was below freezing and very windy. As a Jamaican this was the first time I had ever been so cold. Finally at around 3:30 am we arrived at the Summit and we walked through the Red Gate of Mount Fuji. Once at the Crater’s edge we walked until we found a good spot to watch the sun rise from. My back was right up against a rocky elevation and we were right at the cliff’s edge so that we could get a clear view. The ground was made of black volcanic soil with jagged rock formations and touches of snow all around. Most of what could be seen were insanely steep cliffs, slideoffs and unrailed edges and as the wind grew stronger it felt like I would be blown right off the mountain.

At 4 am the sun slowly shun over the horizon in an altruistic fashion that made the difficult journey worthwhile. The heavy wind blew fog all around us and it made the sunrise look all the more special. It was like looking at a Color Floury of white, blue and gold. It was without a doubt one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen and I don’t think I will ever forget it. After taking a few pictures and exploring the edge of the crater Tim and I made our way off the Mountain. The walk down was far more frightening than the hike up by the way, but you will have to wait till next time to hear about that. For now I will tell you what this experience has taught me. I learned that when climbing the Mountain of life, don’t look up because you may be discouraged by how far you have left to climb and don’t look down because you might be scared by how far you could fall. Just keep your eyes on the soil beneath your own feet and that will keep you focused till you’ve reached your goal. Thank you for reading.

Tiffany Bent, June 2, 2017