My bucket list at the moment does not compromise of many things- learning languages, maybe sky diving (if I am feeling brave!) and traveling the world over. However, one of the things on my bucket list has remained fixed ever since my first visit to Japan. Climbing Fuji was definitely going to be as high as I will ever climb up any mountain, with many people scaring me beforehand of how I could hurt myself on the path, not bring enough clothes for the chilly night near the peak, or that I would lose oxygen along the way and faint/be ill. Resolute, I didn’t let any of this stop me, and on this trip I was finally able to cross off climbing to the peak of Mount Fuji off my bucket list!
Things to know
There are a couple of general facts and information that most people read about climbing the mountain. Climbing Mount Fuji is only possible in the summer, with July and August being the most popular months, as the weather is milder and the wind near the top is not as strong. It is very ill-advised to climb at any other time as the climb during the winter months can be unpredictable, with people reportedly getting stuck along the way and getting injured. The climb is already hard enough, don’t try and go against this recommendation, trust me! It is not particularly limited to age, and on my climb I saw kids as young as 10 being dragged along by their parents, and some older Japanese hikers who were climbing very fast.
There is usually only one preferred route with the Yoshida trial to scale up the mountain, with another gentler (but longer and without shelters) on the way down. I am not in particularly good shape physically, however i had done some serious hiking in the Italian Dolomites a few weeks earlier, which, in hindsight, probably made it easier for me to climb. Although the altitude changes may be scary, most people simply carry oxygen tanks and use them along the way to re-oxygenate (is that a word?) their lungs and bodies. Many people make the climb much easier for themselves by booking ahead for a night sleep at a rest shelter, and sleeping 7-8 hours before continuing through the very early hours of the morning. There are a few stops along the way where you can buy food, water and sometimes hot meals and a bed for a few hours, although the prices are steep. There are also clean toilets at nearly every stop, priced at 200 yen, so you don’t need to worry about that.
You usually don’t need to come with prepared mountain gear as a few companies have very good and quick rental options that include all of the essentials, which are then sent a couple of days before your hike to your hotel (that way you get time to check all the sizes). It is recommended to bring a pair of climbing trousers and a windproof jacket, as well as a thick jumper (polar is ideal), hiking boots with good grip, headlamps and a large rucksack. Although this isn’t mentioned anywhere, I would also recommend bringing a hat or a head wrap and possibly even some gloves as it really does get cold, even in the mountain shelters. Keep topping up on sun cream as the ozone layer is thinner near the peak, meaning more sun exposure, even if you don’t feel it. Adequate light t-shirts and mountain socks are also a necessity. Some people also bring hiking poles, but I found that they were not necessary, however if you are not feeling confident I would highly recommend them!
Now that I have gone over the bare essentials of the preparation, I’ll get onto our experiences, which I hope will show anyone that they can climb Mount Fuji!
We had watched multiple videos and read guides as to what to take and how to prepare before the trip. Thick jumpers and climbing gear is recommended, as well as head protection and masks to guard from the ash. We got our from Kobe Outdoor Rental, and although my sizes fitted me well (M, UK size 8), the XL on the mens was a little small on the trousers. Be warned as they don’t stock any larger sizes! There are many sports shops in Tokyo, and we managed to find some bigger sizes there, as well as some oxygen canisters, which proved to be cheaper than the ones sold at Mount Fuji. It is also useful to buy drinks and nutritious snacks before you start climbing, ideally before the 5th station as the prices are extortionate there, and steadily get even higher when you reach the shelters going up the mountain! We had bought water, the isotonic Aquarius drink and some Mugicha cold tea. We also got Calorie Mate bars (chocolate flavour), salted nuts, onigiri and some sweets and chocolate for the climb. There was a lot of packing and repacking, as it was very hot in Tokyo and therefore had to put away the majority of our mountain gear. Finally we set off to the station!
We had planned to take the 10am bus from the new Basuta Shinjuku bus terminal. We didn’t realise that the bus left at 10, and arrived too late! Our change of plan meant that our climbing plan was delayed, and the next bus departed at 2pm, meaning that we had just lost a few hours of valuable climbing time. Later on this would prove to be detrimental to our climb…
We waited for the bus and managed to get to the 5th station at the bottom of Mt. Fuji at around 5pm. The guides we had read said that acclimatisation to the difference in air quality was important, so we ate our last hot meal (katsu don) before climbing and looked around the 5th station, which had many tourist shops, restaurants, and even a temple to pray in before you start climbing! It was beautifully clear and reasonably warm, and we started climbing at 6pm. At the beginning of the trial leading up to the 6th station each climber gets a little good luck charm with the Fuji-san kanji on it, and a little yellow booklet detailing the most important climbing information. This proved to be very useful during the climb, as the approximations on the maps helped us gouge how much time we had between each station!
The journey upwards carries from the 5th station to the peak 10th station, and is supposed to take 6 hours. This however depends on many factors- bad weather, frequent stops at the stations and other distractions (photos!) can extend this to be even longer, and that is not accounting for injuries you may sustain along the way (which are always a possibility). Our delay from before cost us one important factor- we had booked a night in one of the mountain shelters along the way nearer the peak, however we didn’t know if we would get there in time to actually sleep long enough to be rested enough to climb to the top!
The most popular climb is from the late afternoon, sleeping through the night and getting up at around 2am to get to see the sunrise above the clouds from the top of Mt. Fuji at around 4am. We had planned to do the same, however we only just managed to get to the first 7th station at around 8pm and it had already gotten dark! We had headlamps and there was a full moon, which both helped us greatly.
As we reached the 7th station the road was completely dark and there was only a metal chain leading us up the mountain. It had also gotten very windy, so we had put up our hoods and carried on. We passed a few groups along the way and some singular hikers, however it had actually been quite solitary, and the bustle of the 5th station was long behind us. The stops were definitely more populated, with people stopping for hot ramen and tea to refuel. Our somewhat basic provisions turned out to be surprisingly handy! I would recommend now to stop at every station for at least 10 minutes, as the path is very hard and not getting enough rest could lead to disorientation on the path and possible injury. I couldn’t really get any photos during the night as I didn’t want to take any photos with sleeping hikers around in case I woke them up!
From the 7th station to the 8th we were struggling quite a bit! The climb was rough and uneven, and the constant need for oxygen meant that we were using up the canister like crazy. Our stop was along the way, and we were very relieved to get in to it and be welcomes with some hot tea and an offer to sleep, even for a couple of hours. We gladly slept in sleeping bags on the long beds inside the cabin.
At 2am we were woken up and continued climbing. It was freezing! We put on every warm article of clothing we had and carried on after eating some of the food. We reached the 8th stop, where most of the hikers had stopped, and we saw now just how many were planning to climb to see the sunrise. We were still very tired as we had only slept for a couple of hours, but we kept going, as we thought we may be late to see the sunrise from the peak, which we did not want to miss. We still had at least 2hrs to climb from the 8th station, and the map showed that this was the hardest path on the trial. We were both struggling very much, as the air definitely became much thinner nearer the peak, and having to wait behind other groups meant that delays up the narrow path were frequent.
At one point, I felt very ill and dizzy and had to sit down. We were still at least half an hour away from the last 8.5 station before the final climb. Monks in traditional clothing rushed by us, climbing with enough vigour to put anyone my age to shame. I was beginning to doubt that I would even reach the top, as the wind was becoming even stronger, and I didn’t feel warm at all. There was no greenery at this point, just rock and ash and wind. The climb was very difficult, and we somehow reached the 8.5 station.
At this point, I collapsed and gave up.
Because of our ill-timed bus from Shinjuku, we had not gotten enough sleep and my muscles were struggling to keep up, and my mind was just trying to stay awake. We knew we would have to go faster on the next section to see the sunrise at around 4.15. This was just not going to happen. We needed to sleep longer, and we were badly in need of hot food and rest in general.
So we decided to not climb the last part in one go, and instead watch the sunrise from the entrance of the 8.5 station. After re-fuelling and arranging to sleep there, we waited for about half an hour before the sun rose up over the clouds and we could finally admire what we had climbed for. It really was spectacular to sit huddled up on this small viewing section with the other hikers who also chose to stay and watch this incredible moment as the clouds were lit up from above by the sun, showing us the sea of clouds. The only other spot to do this would have been in Hokkaido, so this truly was a very special moment, even by Japanese standards! I felt very lucky to have such a wonderful opportunity.
However, our climb wasn’t over yet! We went to sleep for a couple of hours until about 8.30am. We used the toilets and brushed our teeth before deciding to complete the rest of the hike right up to the peak. The weather was incredible, and although it was still very windy, there was not a cloud in the sky. We had a major advantage as the bigger groups had already gone ahead and we were some of the last to leave the 8.5 station. This meant that there was no bigger stops along the way and we managed to reach the tori gate flanked by the two stone lions in very good time. Certain areas of the trial were definitely much harder, and the one leading from the 8.5 station (the 9th is covered by rubble) to the 10th is almost an hour long and very steep and windy!
After taking a well-deserved photo, we climbed up the final steps to reach the peak. The relaxed atmosphere at the top was wonderful, and there were hardly any other tourists. There were stalls out selling summit trophies and charms, as well as food and drinks. A short walk away (about half an hour) there is a post office where you can send a card or a letter from the top of Mount Fuji.
After resting at the peak for about half an hour, we followed the Yoshida trial going down from the peak. This part was definitely more boring, as the trial is not particularly difficult, but it is filled with rocks and occasional slips can happen if you’re not careful. The zig-zag pattern of the trial was dull, but we made very good time. We only had a few breaks for water, but it became much easier to breathe as we went down, which helped us a lot. We also had a bus to catch back to Tokyo at 5pm!
As we reached the same height as the 7th station, we began seeing more vegetation and the surrounding area became very misty. The weather had turned very bad below cloud level, and it had gotten foggy. We came down to the 6th station (the two routes meet there) at around 3pm.
We finally made it back to the 5th station at around 3.45pm. After cleaning up a bit and using the toilets, we waited for our bus before climbing exhausted on board and sleeping the way back.
That concluded our hike up Mount Fuji! I hope this post isn’t too long and that you can glean some useful information from our own experiences. If you have any questions about the climb or tips please leave them in the comments below!