Tokyo and Fuji – 2013
You will probably hear other people talk about hiking Mt Fuji. Most people hike it by driving up to the 5th station, which is about halfway up the mountain, and doing the top from there. Of those people, a good portion also spend the night in one of the mountain huts about halfway up. The most common plan for hiking it is to spend the evening and first part of the night in a hut, and then to get up super early to make it to the top before the sunrise, so that you can see the sunrise from the top of the mountain.
We did things a little differently. We started from the bottom, at the Sengen Shrine (Sengen Jinja). There is a small article here with good pictures of the shrine (it’s usually frowned upon for visitors to take pictures inside the shrine): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6903.html.
It’s actually remarkably hard to find a good representative map of the full hike, but these little guides were all along our trail giving you an update of where you were on the hike. I took this one and added notes to help give an idea of what the hike was like. If you open this picture in a new tab while reading the rest of this post you can refer back to it to see what I’m talking about.
Us outside of K’s House Mount Fuji, all fresh and excited.
First leg of the journey – the walk to the Station to catch a bus to the shrine.
From Kawaguchiko station, we took a bus that dropped us off at the entrance to the Sengen Shrine. There is a long, beautiful pathway up to the shrine lined with these lovely stone lamps.
This restroom right outside the shrine. Hmmm… this may be the last chance for a free restroom. And what great restroom art.
We didn’t take any pictures at the shrine itself, as it didn’t seem proper to, but it is a beautiful shrine, so you can see what it looked like here.
We washed our hands and mouths and paid our respects at the shrine, and then headed around the back of the shrine, where a smaller shrine marks the beginning of the ancient climbing trail.
14.4 km to the top, that doesn’t seem too bad.
So here begins our real journey on the trail.
I didn’t realize how much of the total trail actually occurs before you reach the 1st station. For some reason, the fact that you travel for so long with no way markers to track your progress makes this one of the most difficult parts of the hike (the downhill still trumps it, though). It was also sweltering hot, but we were thankfully under cover most of first day.
All along the first stretch there were signs that looked like this. I wasn’t sure what they were telling us, but it looked like Mt Fuji was at the top, so that’s a good thing. The little red dot didn’t seem to move.
And we really didn’t know what this sign meant, but it was concerning.
The trail went on, and on, and on, until we finally reached the 1st station. The first station is just around the corner from Umagaeshi, which is basically the gate to the climbing trail. And when you reach this point, you also are greeted by a parking lot to remind you that you could have actually driven up this far. But that is for the soft…
After the first station, the long, flat trail that we had been walking now turns in to increasingly more of this:
Luckily, once the steepness began, the huts came quickly. The stations are all closed up huts, and some of them have history signs with English so you can learn about what used to happen at that station. Early in the history of the trail, some of these huts sold food and other things to passing hikers.
We stopped at each hut to have a mini celebration.
Some of the huts were in better condition than others.
We stopped at this dilapidated hut to have our lunch snack, and saw what we later determined to be one big cicada. Brian put his big finger by it, so it’s hard to tell how big this sucker really was. Apparently it is also cool to wear the husks of these in your hair: http://www.styleguru.com/entry/care-to-wear-insects-in-your-hair/.
We kept going after lunch, and before much longer we reach the 5th station. Well, one of four or five that we saw.
The dot on the map at this point puts us around here at the beginning of the 5th Stations.
We kept passing “5th Stations” until we finally reached a little one with people at it, where they had bunnies and cockatoos and other animals. I really had no idea what was going on there, but they seemed to be having a good time. From here, we went cross mountain to head over to the big 5th station, the one where the buses drive to, and where all the “soft” people start climbing.
On the way cross mountain, we were definitely starting to feel the day wearing on us.
The climbing groups gather here to psyche themselves up for the hike ahead.
As long as we were here, we figured we could get a cheaper dinner than we would get at our hut, so we went ahead and bought food. JB and I got this noodle bowl with a little Fuji in the fish cake. It was pretty darn good.
We also did a little souvenir shopping and used the free bathroom here (the truly last free bathroom), which turned out to be a good idea. Several of the restrooms higher up were closed due to being overused, or with some, you could still use them, but if you had any option, you wouldn’t want to.
After we filled our bellies, the sun was starting to set, so we needed to set off for our hut (we had reservations). If you look back at the map at the top of this post, you will see where we were at this point–and where we might go wrong. Since we had passed several 5th stations before heading to the big one across the mountain, it seemed pretty logical to us that the next dot on the map (above the 5th station), would be the 6th station.
This assumption was wrong. The next dot on the map was kind of a “here’s where trails join” dot, or something along those lines. As you reach that point, there is a little guard station where they hand you maps, but they mostly speak Japanese only. We were already pretty sure at this point that we had overshot our hut, but I confirmed with the guard with a “roku eki?” to which he responded “Down.”
After taking a few minutes to make sure we had the right trail down in the now closing darkness, we headed back down the other trail (the one that went straight back to the 5th station we were at before). And down, and down. We had seen some rooftops from the trail crossing to the big 5th station earlier, so when we looked down and saw those, we thought we had finally found our sixth station. But no. Those rooftops were just another old abandoned shrine. At this point, we are almost all the way back down to the 5th station, so we are starting to get nervous. But luckily, after a few more steep downhill switchbacks, we found our real 6th station hut, and it was actually pretty nice.
I had heard stories about freezing cold huts, where you couldn’t sleep because you were too cold, and being packed in like sardines in some of the huts. However, this hut was a fairly large one, and we were given our own bunk area with a bed each for ourselves and our packs. It was also warm, which was nice until you tried to sleep, and then it was too warm. We were also just so sticky from hiking in the humid heat all day before that it made it almost impossible to get comfortable.
Before bed, we drank the beers we had brought with us from the bottom and 5th station, and played some cards in the eating area. We saw the meal that was provided in this station, and it was no noodle bowl (as we had heard was basic fare in most of the upper huts). Whatever the food had been (now mostly eaten), it came in a bento box and looked like it had been delicious.
After dinner, we settled into our bunk around 9, to do our best to attempt to sleep a few hours before people started getting up around midnight to try and hit the top of Fuji for sunrise.