It was my second trip to Japan, the first a few months earlier as a stopover for a few days in the southern city of Osaka (and Hiroshima) as part of a work trip to Korea, but this time a friend of mine and I wanted to visit the metropolis of Tokyo and climb Japan’s highest mountain – Mt Fuji!
Mt Fuji’s symmetrical cone is a well known symbol of Japan and is one of its ‘Three Holy Mountains’ and was recently designated a World Heritage Site as a Cultural Site of significance. For generations climbing the mountain represented an arduous spiritual pilgrimage that many Japanese would aspire to complete. During the summer climbing season (July to mid September) it is estimated between three to four hundred thousand Japanese (and tourist) complete the soul-stirring experience.
We were visiting Japan in September so would climb Mt Fuji towards the end of the climbing season; the official Mt. Fuji site provides great information when planning your climbing trip. Attempting the climb towards the end of the season is a great idea in my opinion because the weather can still be warm and stable, much of the snow has gone and you avoid the insane crowds that are common during the peak months.
Located approximately 100 kilometers from Tokyo we would take a bus from Shinjuku Station to the closest town to Mt. Fuji called Kawaguchiko. After spending the night in Kawaguchiko (at one of the many local hostels), and enjoying the brilliant views of the mountain across the adjacent lake, we boarded a local bus which departs regularly from Kawaguchiko to The Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station (end of the road up the mountain side). We had initially set out thinking we had been unlucky with the weather as there was low cloud and light rain all morning and during the bus ride up the mountain, but just minutes before reaching the Yoshida Trailhead at 2305m we came out above the cloud to a brilliantly clear day; our mood and enthusiasm immediately picked up.
The Yoshida Trail is the easiest to reach from Tokyo, but is still a steep and strenuous 4-6hour climb over lava flows and along a well worn trail to ascend the 1,471m to reach the summit. We started our ascent in the early afternoon so were able to witness an incredible sunset from well above the cloud base with next to no wind, it was truly one of the most memorable occasions and soul stirring moments I can recall. My friend and I would spend a bitterly cold, but amazingly clear, night on the summit (in our apparently inadequate sleeping bags) watching as planes climbed up through the cloud to the various airports as satellites and meteors streaked across the sky above us. After one of the coldest and longest nights of our lives, we were rewarded by witnessing an epic Japanese sunrise as the cloud below cleared to reveal cites, forests and the lakes that surround this iconic and most holy of mountains.