Ever since I first saw the majestic Mt. Fuji in Japan, I'd wanted to climb it. Although I enjoy the outdoors, I wouldn't say I'm the "outdoorsy" type. I don't know why I was so determined to make the hike up this dormant volcano but it was on 'the list' and the main reason for being in Japan at the end of August.
I woke up early on Sunday and headed to Lawsons to buy an assortment of rice balls. I caught the train- Shimizu to Fuji to Fujinomiya - and hopped the bus to the Fujinomiya 5th Station on the mountain. (3000 Yen roundtrip... underwritten by the Phil Z. Foundation, THANKS PHIL!) From this station at about 2,500 meters, all you could see was clouds. It was a beautiful day. I was told that it takes an average of 5 hours to hike to the top and 3 hours to come down. Pin's friend Brian told me I could do the climb in 3 hours. I had about seven hours until my bus would return to pick me up. Time to move.
Since the climbing season is officially over (hence the lack of bus service), most shops are closed on the mountain. I quickly perused the souvenirs and snacks at the 5th station and decided that I didn't want to drop more Yen on a can of oxygen. I quickly hit the trail and within minutes, I felt a bit winded. Pin had warned me about problems with altitude sickness (the mountain reaches over 12,000 feet) so I was a bit paranoid. He'd experienced headache and nausea which just about ruined his whole climb. I could feel my pulse growing a bit rapid but breathing wasn't too much of a problem (though it's funny to see me struggle to speak on the video). I mentioned thinking about this freediving record holder I'd read about who trained her body to go without breathing for more than six minutes. I kept telling myself how amazing the human body is and how we constantly challenge ourselves.
I didn't stop to rest much at the stations on the way to the top. I snacked and drank water while I climbed. I was mostly trying to stay ahead of this European woman who was on the bus with me (my stupid imagination made me pretend I was being pursued by foreign agents). I listened to a couple of lectures and had been thinking a lot about humanity and our relationship with the planet. After a while, thoughts turned from, "What can we do as individuals to contribute more to society and the environment" to "Must reach top, hungry, so tired".
And then I made it. Took about three hours. It was an amazing view. High above the clouds. Sunshine, cool breeze. I felt pretty good for having made another dream come true. I met some Americans who lived in Tokyo and they shared pepperoni and Ritz crackers with me. I also polished off the last two onigiri and had a granola bar. I wandered around the crater a little before making the descent. There wasn't much time to hang out as the bus would return in just a few hours.
As soon as I started to make my way down, I got a pounding headache. A lot of people practically run down the mountain but I could barely walk as each rough step from one rock to another made me feel like I was being punched in the head. I took it very slow. The headache brought on the nausea. I wanted to stop and just sleep but I had to catch the bus. I took a Tylenol, drank more water, and kept moving. It wasn't until about the 7th station that my head stopped pounding. The relief from pain was so great, I started to run down the hill towards the fifth station. I passed the Americans and we all agreed, "Once in a lifetime experience... emphasis on the once". My legs were like jello back at the 5th station. I climbed on the bus and took off my sweaty shirt. Before we left, I caught the sun setting into the clouds. Fujisan. Done.
I was eager to get back to Shimizu for a hefty bowl of ramen but I mistakenly climbed onto an express train that not only went past Shimizu to Shizuoka but was also not covered by my rail pass. It was a sleeper train. Rice balls! They charged me 1240 Yen for a twenty-five minute ride and a bed I never touched (though each bed had sheets, a hanger, and a kimono). The way I look at it, I paid 1240 Yen for a JR Railways kimono. East side!