Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Our successes and things we would change...
I’m just going to say it up front: Fuji is a beast. You will be tested and you will want to quit…but it is also so worth it.
For us, since we live in Japan, we took a short flight to Tokyo early on a Saturday morning and just spent a weekend in the Tokyo area which might not be possible for everyone. We took a train to our hotel, checked in, reorganized our bags, and then took a train to Mt Fuji 5th Station. We slept as much as possible on the train but sadly, it was not enough.
Mistake #1 was waking up at about 6:00am and climbing the mountain that night, straight through the night, AKA a bullet hike.
This ties in with mistake #2. Bullet hikes are not impossible but we did not rest well the day of. We also did not get a hut to stay in on the mountain, which would have allowed us to rest halfway through.
We finally got to 5th station, changed into our warmer hiking clothes, ate some ramen, bought our hiking sticks, and headed up the mountain. The beginning is fairly easy. There are still some trees and it is not too steep or too cold. After 6th station is when it starts to get steep though. We took plenty of breaks so as not to exhaust ourselves right off the bat. We packed snacks and water to save money (and waste), but you can buy this stuff at each station should you forget or need anything.
Once you get to about 7th-8th station is when it starts to get steeper and rockier. Some portions of the mountain you will have to be on hands and knees scaling the rocks. But don’t worry, you don’t need any rock climbing experience. It is still easy to navigate but it becomes pretty strenuous.
Mistake #3, and it wasn’t entirely our fault, was not knowing the trail and stations very well. And what I mean by this is that most maps look like this:
They only outline there being explicitly 7 stations, 5-10 (plus 8.5) with 5 being the base station and 10 being the summit. While this is technically accurate, it was disheartening to us when we realized that there are in fact more than just 7 buildings along the trail. When we came across the second set of huts we were so excited that we were already at 7th station. We thought we were hiking so fast and that this was easy and we would be at the summit in no time; WRONG. Most stations consist of more than one set of huts. What I mean is that you will come across a station, round the corner, go up some more, and see another building but that building belonged to the station you were just at. In fact, there is even a 9th station and old 9th station. While this was frustrating to us, it doesn’t have to be frustrating to you if you know this before hiking.
If we had known this before hiking, I think we would have been a lot stronger mentally. It was hard for us to put in all this time and effort, thinking we were at 8th station but we were at 7th station.
We hit rock bottom somewhere between 9th and old 9th stations. We were only about 400m or ¼ mile away from the summit but we felt like it was 100 miles away. It was freezing and raining and we were shivering. We just wanted to be off that mountain.
Mistake #4 was wearing glasses. Two guys in our group, one of them being Dan, chose glasses over contacts which sounded like a good idea at first, but we went through a cloud and it was below freezing temperatures. Not a good combination.
After we sat in a little cubby behind a wall to try to protect us from the wind, we finally mustered up the strength to keep going. Our bodies were sore, we were so cold and tired, but we pushed through. At this point, about 3:00am, there was a whole stampede headed up the mountain. We were all fighting to get to the top to say we conquered Mt Fuji. And finally we did.
When you get to the top, you know. There is a large Torii gate that you walk through (unfortunately we did not get photos) and the ground finally (FINALLY) flattens again. For a few moments, my shivering and aching stopped, I breathed a sigh of relief, and I couldn’t help but smile. I summited Mt. Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan. I waited for the guys to make it and then we found another wall to sit behind to protect us from that frigid wind. We all sat there under one emergency blanket for two hours, trying to sleep, waiting on the infamous sunrise from the top of Mt Fuji.
I never settled into a deep sleep and I woke up once most everyone was on the summit. If you didn’t know, the Japanese tradition to climb Mt. Fuji is climb it at night in order to watch the sun rise. Unfortunately, our sunrise was gloomy. The sun was barely peaking behind the clouds. It’s hit or miss and Mother Nature gave us a cloudy, rainy day. But, once the sun was out, our moods were definitely lifted. We could finally see a little clearer and it got a little warmer.
We planned to also hike the rim trail, but due to our poor timing, we were much too exhausted to do so. So, we took some photos at the summit, enjoyed the (poor) view and headed back down instead.
Which leads us to mistake #5: we were so naïve about the downhill. We thought we should be so relieved to give our legs a break from climbing, but the downhill was nearly as rough at the uphill.
For starters, the entire downhill was rather steep switchbacks with loose gravel. There were a few spots to sit and use the restroom but it was rough on our (already aching) knees. Eventually, we made it back to 6th station where the two trails meet. We were so relieved (once again) to back on semi-flat ground. Only about half an hour later and we were back to 5th station.
Due to our poor planning (AKA mistake #1), now we had mistake #6: buying our bus tickets way too late in the afternoon. Since we planned on hiking the rim trail, but didn’t, we planned to take the last bus for the day around 3:00 pm. The problem was that we made it back to 5th station around 11:00 am. So, we got just lunch and took a nap to wait for our bus.
So, why did I bother telling you about all of our failures and how much it sucked? Because I hope you can learn from our mistakes.
So these are the things I wish we had known:
- That there are actually more than just 7 stations or rest stops
- That it could potentially be raining/we would go through the clouds
- That the downhill would be just as grueling as the uphill
Enough about the bad things, let’s talk about our successes and things I would recommend doing.
Things I definitely recommend wearing and planning to add on later are:
- Long underwear/under shirt
- Multiple layers
- Wool socks
- Good boots
- A rain jacket with a hood
- Additional ear protection from the cold (I wore earmuffs)
- Gloves (waterproof would be best)
- Waterproof pants
- A head lamp
Some things we brought that were lifesavers are:
- Head lamp (!!!)
- Hand warmers (!!!)
- A camelback/water bladder so we didn’t have to stop every so often to get out our water bottles
- Extra socks
- So. Many. Layers.
- Water and snacks (so we didn’t have to buy them on the trail)
- Money, particularly 100 yen coins**
- Emergency blanket which was waterproof and thermal
- First aid kit (helped with blisters when we got off the mountain)
- Battery packs for our phones
**Why would you specifically need 100 yen coins? The toilets on the mountain are by donation to help stock them and also the famous stamps/brands for the hiking sticks are yen only. While they normally have change, it is just easier to have the coins ready. I think the sticks were 1000 yen blank and most stamps were 200-400 yen a piece.
And finally, here is how we would plan to hike Mt Fuji should be do it again:
- We would try to fly to Tokyo Saturday morning, hang out in the city, sleep normally that night
- Sunday, we would head to the mountain, either the normal 5th station route or an alternate route
- We would hike through the day, watch the sunset, and head down at night (we recommend this because it will be less crowded unless you are dead set on watching the sunrise. Also, I think it would be nicer to see the trail on the way up)
- Hopefully being well rested this time, we would hike the crater rim before heading down
If you still want to hike during the night, we would recommend getting to Tokyo, chill for a day, get a good night’s (or day’s) sleep the day before, and then try. A bullet hike it still possible without staying in the huts (which can be expensive) but do it well rested. Our major mistake was trying to hike after being awake for 24 hours.
For us, we took about 6 hours on the uphill, about 2 hours rest at the top, and about 3-4 hours on the downhill.
Some other things we learned:
- This mountain is huge, even on a decent day, you will be going through the clouds and you will get wet even if it’s not raining
- Never underestimate Mother Nature, be prepared for the rain and cold
- Don’t overestimate how much cold you can handle, be prepared with layers and other cold weather gear
- You really don't need the "canned air" they offer for altitude sickness. We came from an island at about 20m above sea-level and none of us got sick. If you rest at 5th station for a bit before hiking, this helps your body acclimate. We also did not climb that quickly.
I hope that this helps you plan your trip to conquer the tallest mountain in Japan. If you used these tips, let me know and if you have any other tips, please let us know below.