Climbing Mount Fuji should be on any Japan travel bucket list. The official climbing season runs from July until mid-September so please consider trying it if you are visiting during this time. Having witnessed the sun rising over Japan whilst sitting on the summit of Mount Fuji, I can assure you it’s an unforgettable experience!
Although the climb is challenging, it can be done even if you have no prior climbing experience (like me!). Read on to find out about my experience of climbing Mount Fuji as a beginner!
Climbing Mount Fuji – my story
It was around midnight when I realized several hours had passed and the Japanese man lying next to me was still snoring. To my other side, my husband was becoming more frustrated with the noise, sighing and tutting loudly at frequent intervals.
We were supposed to get up around two hours later at 2am, to finish climbing Mount Fuji in the dark. Our goal was to reach the summit by sunrise. This trip to Fuji had coincided with the end of the official climbing season in mid-September. This meant fewer crowds but cooler temperatures.
Most people begin the climb from Mount Fuji Fifth Station, which is around halfway up the mountain. It’s relatively easy to get there from Tokyo; you can take a bus directly from Shinjuku station. It takes just over two hours; we arrived at around 11am. At Fifth Station there are good facilities to make use of before you start the climb. For example there are good-sized storage lockers, toilets, souvenir shops, a post office and a couple of restaurants too.
We loaded up on carbs in the restaurant with udon noodles and fried chicken before beginning the climb just before midday. The first hour or so of the trail was relatively easygoing, the terrain being fairly flat and the sun was out.
The pleasant stroll soon gave way to winding, steep hills with narrow paths that required total concentration and energy. I reached a personal low point as I was overtaken by a group of pensioners, but by 3pm we had reached the 8th station and our mountain hut. Although little more than a wooden cabin, it looked inviting after the biting winds and sheer cliff drops we had been battling the past few hours.
The mountain hut
The mountain huts are not particularly good value for money, but at the time it felt like a palace. The toilets are of the chemical variety and situated outdoors. There’s no running water and beds are dormitory style with individual sleeping bags. This explains how I ended up sleeping next to not just one Japanese man, but 24 strangers in total.
If you plan to stay at a mountain hut I recommend booking one in advance if possible, as they tend to fill up quickly. You can find a list of mountain huts on the official Mount Fuji website here.
My husband and I were the only foreigners residing at the mountain hut but were made to feel very welcome by the friendly staff and we were provided with a hot dinner of hamburger steaks and rice. After dinner we retired to our sleeping bags.
I won’t lie, getting up in the middle of the night to climb up the mountain was brutal. It was freezing cold and pitch black. The dim light of my head torch was my only guidance, and progress was slow. I remember occasionally I would stop and look up. I could see a trail of hundreds of moving head torches which lit up the route ahead.
As the darkness subsided and daylight began to return, we stopped climbing just shy of the summit to witness the sunrise. This was a really beautiful moment, and temporarily made all the cold and tiredness disappear. Eventually we reached the summit by around 6.30am.
The miserable descent
It was at the summit that I began to feel truly miserable. The cold had sunk right down into the depths of my bones. I was exhausted, dehydrated and had the type of migraine usually reserved for bad hangovers. The descent was equally gloomy, as was the bus ride back to Kawaguchiko station. However, despite feeling terrible I could take comfort in the fact that I had witnessed what was probably the most spectacular sunrise I will ever see in my life.
Tips for first time climbers
This being my first mountain climb, one lesson I took away from Fuji is how unprepared I was. The first error was made when I realized that I had forgotten to pack gloves. My husband lent me his but as a result of his goodwill he was rewarded with a cut on his hand from a sharp rock, and his fingers turned a nice shade of blue.
My advice to those thinking of climbing Fuji is to take plenty of food and water because there are not many opportunities to buy these items once you begin the ascent. I had taken just one bottle of water with me and a couple of “Calorie Mate” energy bars, all of which I had devoured before reaching the mountain summit. I also noticed that many of the Japanese climbers had purchased oxygen bottles. This would have been a huge aid towards the end of the climb, as I had difficulty breathing.
In conclusion I will leave you with the following Japanese saying: “He who climbs Mount Fuji is a wise man. He who climbs it twice is a fool.”
For more information on climbing Mount Fuji visit the official climbing website click here.
For buses from Tokyo to Mount Fuji click here.