Monday, August 16, 2010

They say the man who never climbs Mt. Fuji is a fool. . .

My ass.


It's taken me a few days to put this post together, mostly because of how long and difficult it is to upload large video files to YouTube, but also partly because of how burnt out I've been. See, last Wednesday and Thursday I went on a trip to climb Mt. Fuji. This climb had been on my to-do list since about a year before I left for Japan, ever since I realized that not only could the mountain be climbed, but that there were trails and stations built all the way up to the summit for that very purpose. The climbing season lasts from July to late August-- outside this time, many facilities are closed and the climb becomes much more dangerous-- and beginning Thursday of last week was the peak of the peak season, Obon week, when all of Japan would flock to the mountain and clog up the trails for hours. If I was going to climb the mountain, I had to do it soon.

So, packing a couple of bottles of water, four bags of what I assumed would work as trail mix (peanut clumps glued together with. . . honey?), and a couple of books for when I needed a useful phrase in Japanese, and an extra change of clothes into my backpack, I donned my brand new cloth jacket, borrowed a hiking stick left over in the common area of the house, and took the train to Fuji. It was four in the afternoon when I left. I planned it so that I would climb up all night and reach the summit by dawn. Witnessing sunrise on Mt. Fuji is a long-standing tradition for climbers, and since I didn't plan on climbing the mountain a second time (the continuation of the quote in the title says that the man who climbs Fuji twice is also a fool), I decided that I would climb overnight, even though my original plan was to climb during the day. Climbing at night turned out to be a mized blessing. . . actually, more pureed than mixed, but I'll get to that later.

This was my first real trip into the Japanese countryside (Mt. Takao was still kinda in Tokyo), and the sight of lush mountains and valleys was exhilarating, despite still being mixed in with a sizable amount of urbanization. I captured what I could from the train, and have embedded it below:

I reached the town of Kawaguchiko by nightfall. From there, it was another fifty minute by bus to the Fifth Station, 2300m above sea level, and the highest one can go up Fuji by car. By nine o'clock in the evening, I was off to the top. The nighttime view from the mountain, even near the start of the climb, was beautiful. The lights from the towns that surrounded Mt. Fuji filled the lowlands like lakes and rivers, and the clouds could be clearly discerned from the lights of the stars. I hope that imagery gave you some idea of what I saw, because my camera was next to useless in the dark. I tried to take some images of the towns, but they came out so poorly that they weren't even worth uploading. This is also the reason why there are no images of the trail itself, a mixture of gently sloped switchbacking trails and barely formed stairs made of volcanic boulders, sometimes so steep that they had to be scaled on hand and foot. It was slow going, due to a combination of sleep deprivation and oxygen deprivation, both of which only got worse as I went further up. It took seven hours to reach the eighth station, 370m from the summit, and by then, I knew I wasn't going to see sunrise from the summit. So, I took a seat near the eighth station's highest point, grabbed my camera, and filmed the sunrise. What I've embedded below is basically an hour of time condensed into about twelve minutes. Unfortunately, by the time sun actually comes out, the lens is covered in tiny water droplets and the image is somewhat blurred. . . but I'll get to the water droplets soon enough. For now, the video:

So that was sunrise. From there, I made my way to the summit. However, after climbing another hundred meters or so, I turned back. You may hoave noticed the ebb and flow of clouds that blocked the sunrise. Those clouds were actually forming on the mountain itself. They came in massive gusts, and when they hit, they got me and all the other climbers just a littler bit damper than before. Added to this was the fact that temperatures near the top were near freezing, if not below freezing. So, as I neared the top, saw that the winds were getting worse, that the clouds were obscruing more and more of the surroundings, and that the trail did not seem to be coming to an end, I made the decision to turn back. What was the point of going to the top if I wasn't going to see anything once I got there?

So, I made my way down. That's when things really went to hell. The clouds that formed at the top of the mountain turned into rain as they went further down the slope. . . cold, hard rain that stung skin thanks to the ever increasing winds that came that morning. What should have been a three hour descent to more like four hours, and felt even longer than the climb up. Half way down, I was soked. I had trouble walking without my pants falling down. Yeah, my pants were falling down. Laugh it up, fuzzballs! I was miserable. The trail. . . just. . . kept. . . going. Every time I thought the trail was done, that I had reached the bottom, or the fifth station, it just. . . kept. . .

Well, eventually, I made it, soaked to the core. Everything was wet. My wallet, my passport (fortunately, most of it was protected by a passport cover, but parts of it still needed to sit out and dry) my spare clothes, and my books. One of them was soaked so badly that I'll be amazed if I can ever use it again. My bus ticket was soaked, and for a while I was worried that the driver wouldn't accept it. My money was soaked, so I couldn't use the electric ticket dispensers to buy train tickets home. My camera bag was soaked, and I was afraid of using the camera when it was that wet-- hence the lack of daylight pictures.

God. . . I can only imagine how I smelled.

It was so bad at points that I simply could not imagine getting home. But I did, with very little to show for my trip. This was supposed to have been one of the highlights of my trip to Japan, but it turned out to be a dissappointment. I want to be positive about it-- after all, some good memories came out of it too, like the countryside, the sunrise, and the night view-- but given that I'm still having trouble getting by in Japanese, and the fact that I have to start looking for a job soon despite said lack of skill in Japanese, plus a few other things that have gone wrong. . .

Meh, enough whining.

I went to a party on Sunday, hosted at the Sakura Cafe in Ikebukuro. We played a game where we fished water balloons out of a pool using hooks attached to paper. Since the paper became fragile when wet, it took a lot of careful manipulation to fish the balloons out of the pool. But, somehow, I got the most balloons out of the pool and won free drinks for my team. That's something to be happy about.


Naomi said...

Hey it's great that you made it as far as you did! If anything, I'm sure it was a character building adventure! said...

Mt. Fuji almost killed Gord Price and destroyed my brand new $500 ipod at the time. Looking back on it, i regret nothing. At least you were able to see the sunrise! Have MT. Fuji under your belt is a great accomplishment even if you didn't get to the summit!

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