Did you know in 2013 Mt. Fuji became designated as a World’s Heritage site? This iconic representation of Japan is now even more well known around the world, and lucky for its fans, its officially climbing season.*
Mt. Fuji stands 3,776 meters, or 12,388, feet tall. It is an active volcano that last erupted in 1707 A.D.; and it is considered to be overdue for another eruption. So how should you handle this terrifying disaster waiting to happen? Climb it!
Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect when climbing Mt. Fuji.
It’s a Mountain
Right, you knew this already. But somehow each one of us seem to forget what this really means until we are climbing up the side of it, gasping for air and hoping that the next rest station is the last (it never is).
The set-up for Fuji-san is unique, and consists of 10 rest stations along the hike up the mountain, with the 5th station being the most popular point for tourists to start their ascent.
Keep in mind Mt. Fuji is no joke.
Whether you are only going to the 6th station or want to take on the whole thing, there will be sweating…lots of sweating.
The “steps” created in the mountainside are there to help, but can also be a struggle to gain footing because of their height. The ascent can take anywhere from 5-10 hours depending on your starting point, and the descent about 2/3 of that. Keep it slow and steady, though, and even the novice hikers (like me) can make the trek.
Mt. Fuji is no exception to the unspoken rule in Japan that crowds of people must abide everywhere. Seeing as over 300,000 people climb at least part of it each year, you can expect there to be plenty of others on the trail. I don’t remember this becoming an obstacle to enjoying the beauty of the mountain but be warned that your climb will not be a solo expedition.
The peak season is usually during school holidays, which start around July 20 and run to the end of August. Avoid climbing Fuji around Obon week (especially 11th – 16th August) if you can, unless you want to be queuing up some parts of the mountain.
I climbed Mt. Fuji to the 8th rest station and it was a cool refreshing day, full of sunshine, a few clouds, and a constant wind. The conditions were ideal, but wearing extra layers that were removable was a great idea.
However, when my sister continued her climb to the 10th and final station, she encountered a much different situation. She was nearly blown off her feet by the fierce winds, and could not have worn enough layers, or brought enough hand-warmers as the temperature plummeted.
Check the weather forecast meticulously, as the weather can change unexpectedly. Bring multiple layers of clothing and always wear comfortable shoes. Especially if you’re climbing overnight to see the sunrise, you’ll more than likely end up with a bit of a wait at the summit crater where temperatures can be as low as freezing before dawn.
At the same time, you should also slather on the sunscreen liberally as you can easily get burnt by the summer sun in the daytime. Other recommendations include masks (for the dust), a pen (for sending a postcard from the world’s highest post office) and a headlight (if you’re climbing at night.)
Bring plenty of snacks and water, and use the bathroom before you leave for your hike. There will be bathrooms along the way, but they will require some yen. Also the price of water gets pretty extortionate as you leave konbini land behind (around ¥500 for a small bottle). In general, extra cash will come in handy as you come across these fees while ascending the mountain. Now, you’ll also need to pay ¥1000 at a collection station to be able to climb the mountain.
Options for Climbing
To see the sunrise from the summit of Fuji, known as goraiko, you have to start climbing the day before. Most people climb to around the 8th station, stopping for dinner and a short sleep in one of the mountain huts, before getting up at 1 a.m. and continuing to the summit to catch the sunrise around 4:30 a.m.
Powering through is also a possibility. Start the climb late evening and trek overnight to reach the summit. It depends how confident you are in your stamina, but note that staying in a mountain hut won’t necessarily equal a rejuvenating power nap either – you’ll be sleeping on a hard floor in a room full of other people in the basic huts, and will only have a few hours to try to get some shut-eye.
But you don’t have to climb to the top. It’s arranged so that climbers of all types can choose their distance. If you’re able to book, a travel agency should be able to give you precise directions based on how long you’ll be allowed before the end of the day.
You can explore the trek and check times with Google StreetView but be warned that this contains a lot of spoilers.
The Yoshida Trail is lined by more than a dozen mountain huts between the 7th and 8th stations. Other trails have fewer mountain huts. An overnight stay typically costs around 5000 yen per person without meals and around 7000 yen per person with two meals. Expect the huts to be extremely crowded during the peak season.
Some mountain huts also allow non-staying climbers to take a rest inside at a cost of typically 1000-2000 yen per hour. Most also offer paid toilets (typically 100-200 yen) and sell food, water and other climbing provisions such as canned oxygen. In addition, most of the huts have special branding irons they use to brand the wooden hiking sticks (for a small fee) that many hikers purchase when climbing the mountain.
Fun Sightseeing Spots
The most popular station for tourists is the Subaru Line 5th Station. It has lots of old cottage style buildings that house gift shops, restaurants, and leads to a great beginner trail that offers a breathtaking view. You’ll be glad you chose this station at the end of the day when the amazingly genki old lady ahead of you starts to look like a delicious bowl of ramen.
Private vehicle parking at the Subaru 5th station is usually closed during climbing season so a bus or bus tour is recommended.
From Shinjuku station to Fuji Subaru 5th station by bus, it’s around 140 minutes for ¥2,700. From Tokyo station to Fujisan station by train it takes 149 minutes for 2510¥. From here you’ll need to take a bus from Fujisan to the Subaru 5th station, which adds on another 65 minutes, for 1540¥. (All routes are one-way).
*The Yoshida Trail opened July 1. The Fujinomiya, Gotemba and Subashiri trails will open July 10, 2016.