MT FUJI - A HIKERS ACCOUNT
Fuji-San, you're an arduous bastard and a relentless beast, yet your bounty is plentiful and your respect well earned.
We begin the adventure at station 5, 2250m above sea level. There's 11 stations to the summit, which has an elevation of 3776m.
We take the Yoshida trail, the longest of the four trails.
As we begin the hike, clouds roll in and out with great speed, it's like watching a time lapse video. Wisps of cloud dance mystically among the shrubbery. The cloud cover makes the temperature favourable, although it partially obscures the views.
Station 5 to station 6
This portion of the hike proves to be no problem. We comfortably arrive at station 6. Each station consists of a few stalls selling their wares. Walking sticks, Japanese flags, snacks, noodles, sake, trinkets, temple offerings and oxygen is the standard fare. Altitude sickness is a real hazard up here. If travel with a walking stick, for a small fee, each station will brand a stamp into the wood. By the time you get to the top, you could have a nice stamp collection. I did not use the aid of a walking stick.
Also, every second station has a first aid hut and small overnight dwellings. The stall clerks are dressed in half Sherpa, half monk attire. It's a sight I would image seeing in the Andes or Nepal, but with a Japanese twist.
Station 6 to station 7.
It's a scene that brings to mind the Great Wall of China. Not in resemblance, but in the ability to see an ant trail of people zig zagging off into the distance, both above and below.
Station 7 is visible, perched way up in the distance like a beacon of hope. There is no turning back now. Listen to my body and adhere to the mountain. I'm sure I'll be fine.
My condition is feverish. When moving, my body drips with sweat, my temperature runs high. When I stop for breath, my body succumbs to cold shivers. Fuji-San, why don't you pick on someone else. Oh, you already are, I see others using oxygen canisters.
Station 7 to station 8.
Despite the presence of Sonya, and the camaraderie of other masochists/climbers, this is now a solitary experience. I enter a Zen like state, one more step Seth, one more step. One more step Seth, one more step. One more step Seth, one more step. This becomes my mantra.
I'm sure everybody has their own mantra pushing them on.
A brief respite. Snack. Drink water. Can't stop too long, body will seize. Drink more water. Gotta keep moving.
Station 8 to Station 8.5
Fuji-San, are you cruel of heart? Why a station 8.5! The terrain now is a scramble. Gone are the porous rocks, red, black and ash white, that once crunched under foot. Now I must employ my upper body. Fuji-San, do you laugh at me now?
So close. Sooo close. Pausing to refuel I watch the other climbers trudge up the hill. They each share the same gait. Haunched backs, heads lowered, eyes fixated on the ground, their arms dangle be-stricken by gravity. To me they resemble zombies. Instead of brains, its the summit they crave.
Almost there now, one last push. Fatigue fades and excitement creeps in, I can do this.
Station 9 to Station 10, the summit.
Fatigue is back with a vengeance.
Like a faint mirage floating in the clouds, I see a shrine. An oriental gateway guarded by lions. Am I hallucinating, or is this the summit? I don't care, I'm going in that direction regardless.
Waiting for me at the gates is the angel Sonya. We cross the threshold together, hand in hand.
This is unreal. The shrine greets us, more statuesque lions stand guard. The Monks inside prepare for prayer, many offerings are given.
Beyond the shrine resembles a tiny market. More stalls, noodles, trinkets, flags and bells. Strewn like confetti are hikers in various states of exhaustion. Many are passed out. Sleeping or dead? You tell me. We drink sake. Kampai Fuji-San, Kampai.
Adrenaline over rules my fatigue. But there is more work to be done. We still have an hour long hike around the volcanic crater. We set off again. Fatigue overrules my adrenaline. Fuji-San, do you know no mercy?
We began the day at tree line, then as we hiked, the vegetation became sparse. Next we traipsed through various igneous rock formations. Now we find ourselves in some post apocalyptic landscape from a Mad Max movie. The crater is of unbounded extent, ominous and foreboding.
The clouds begin to darken, thunder serenades our stroll. The electricity in the air is so palpable, you can hear it's charge buzz through the small metal safety fence. Sonya's hair stands on end through it's own fruition. Static charges spark when our fingers meet.
It could be time to begin our descent.
Fuji-San, we bow to you respectfully, now we depart
Fuji-San, the worst is over and now we can relax. At least that's what you'd have me believe. The descending trail differs from the accent. It's an eternity of switch backs that steeply decline. The gravel is loose, tiny stones fill our shoes that gnaw our weary feet. The disturbed gravel creates tiny dust clouds that cover me from head to toe. I now resemble a chimney sweep.
There is no respite, no flat or even ground. Just steep eternal switch backs that disappear into the clouds below. Stopping for a second, my knees belong to a Parkinson's patient, they shake uncontrollably. Against my will, my lower body performs an Elvis dance routine, my brain tries to regain order.
Fuji-San, is this your sense of fun?
There is no shade, no trees, no cover. We are exposed to the elements and clearly visible to hikers all around. There is no shelter or secluded spot upon this sacred mound. It's now that I have to pee. Only another hour and we'll be at the station 7 toilets. I pee the greatest pee.
The end sluggishly approaches. An hour, 40 mins, 15 mins 10, 9 , 8 etc... We cross the trailhead threshold in the same fashion we crossed the summit, hand in hand, triumphant and knackered.
In one last Fuji-San bitch slap, there was standing room only on the hour long bus ride home. Fuji-San, you're a cruel mistress, a generous father, a nurturing mother and a familiar friend.
A wise man hikes Mt Fuji, a fool man hikes Mt Fuji twice.
- Japanese proverb.