What not to do when climbing Japan’s iconic Landmark
I first (and for the only time) climbed Mt. Fuji back in 2014 during my first trip to Japan. Not only was I a novice traveler, but I also never climbed anything taller than a hill in my city. And yet there I was, with a group of five people, about to climb a 3700m+ (12,000ft+) tall mountain. Naturally, I made mistakes. Mistakes I want you to avoid if you decide to tackle the monstrum of Mt. Fuji.
When, how, where?
First up, some general information on Mount Fuji. The mountain is located in Yamanashi prefecture, around 2–2.5 hours away from Tokyo. During the climbing season, which is between June and September, buses run all the way to Mt. Fuji’s 5th station, a popular starting point for the hike (and also where we started climbing). Outside the climbing season, all resting huts and other stations on the way to the top of Mt. Fuji will be closed, and it is not recommended to climb the mountain without mountaineering experience.
With the basics out of the way, let’s get into the mistakes that you should avoid when attempting to climb Mt. Fuji.
Bring the right shoes
Hiking Mt. Fuji is long and strenuous, but it is not a particularly challenging hike technically. Meaning, that you do not really need heavy-duty hiking booths, as I had during my first ascend. The reason is that getting to the top involves a lot of stepping up over stone steps and boulders. The heavier the boot, the more weight you will have to lift every time you do so, which, over a period of 8 or so hours, really becomes tiring. Instead, I would recommend some sneakers or trail runners, as they offer a more lightweight option for hiking. However, in case of rain or even snow (which can happen towards the end of the hiking season in September), hiking boots would be recommended.
The right clothes can save you
While the shoes I brought were overkill, I certainly was under-prepared on the clothing side. Considering that temperatures can reach an easy 35 °C+ (95 °F) in summer, I didn’t really anticipate how cold it would get close to the top of the mountain. It was snowing. And there I was with just a thin autumn jacket, no hat or gloves. It was cold. Very cold. Thankfully, someone in our group had a spare pair of gloves, which allowed me to at least keep all my fingers. So my tip is: Even if it is very hot in summer, it isn’t on top of Mount Fuji; bring warm clothing, your fingers will thank you.
A bonus tip (aren’t I generous today) is what to do with your gear after you finish your hike. All those things I mentioned (gloves, a good warm jacket, maybe boots, a hiking stick, etc.); are things that you definitely do not need while sightseeing in big cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka in mid-summer. What I ended up doing was go to a JP Post office and send my hiking gear back home via parcel mail. You can do this at any post office, but I would recommend one in Tokyo where a lot of foreigners frequent, such as the one in Shinjuku, as they will have English-speaking staff there. It cost around 5000 Yen to send all of my gear back home, and it even arrived earlier than I (taking around 10 days overall).
Food & Drinks
While Japan may be scattered with vending machines providing refreshing drinks around every corner, this does not apply to Mt. Fuji. I somehow assumed that I would be able to get drinks and food either on the way to the top of Mt. Fuji or at the beginning of the hike at the 5th station; both of which left me very hungry and thirsty while ascending. I would recommend bringing at least 2–3 liters of water and small snacks such as nuts, protein bars, chocolate, or a sandwich. If you are staying overnight at one of the huts at Mt. Fuji (more on that below), there is an option to buy warm Japanese staple food such as Ramen, Udon or Curry there. But, there is always a danger that food gets sold out (supply chain management is surprisingly difficult on a 3700m+ tall mountain), so it’s best to have your own stash of food just in case.
One major reason to climb Mt. Fuji (other than being able to show off to your lazy friends) is to see the sunrise from the top. In order to do this…well you need to be at the top during sunrise. There are essentially two options to make this possible: departing in the late afternoon/evening, hiking through the night, and arriving at the top in the early morning, or leaving earlier and staying overnight at one of Mt. Fuji’s stations. We did the latter option with a 12PM start and an arrival at our hut at around 7 or 8 PM. There, our plan was to sleep until around 3 AM and then make our way to the top to see the sunrise. I say “was” because if you are a light sleeper (like me), being crammed into a tight space with around 40 other people around you left me pretty sleepless for the night. You are then very calmly woken up BY A LOUD ALARM and the lights being turned on at 3 AM and shoved outside into the cold to make it for sunrise. Oh, and this whole fun experience costs, 8000 Yen ($80).
If I were to climb Mt. Fuji again, I would honestly just start later and climb through the night to make it to the top in time for sunrise without having to pay $80 for the fun experience of not sleeping. But, this is really up to you. Staying overnight does have the nice upside of being able to warm up for a while, but if you followed tip no. 2 and brought enough warm clothing, that should not be a problem either way.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Mount Fuji is a national monument, a marvelous natural landmark, and a symbol of Japan. But it’s also just a big pile of rocks. There is a saying in Japan that goes: “A wise man climbs Mount Fuji once, a fool climbs it twice.” I do have to agree that out of all the hikes I have done in Japan (which were much less time-consuming and strenuous), Mt. Fuji was more on the boring side. Since it is so high up, way above the tree line, you will only be walking through gravel and rocks. The view from the top is of course amazing (if you do not get unlucky and end up with 0 visibility due to clouds), but whether it is worth the 10+ hours climb AND 5+ hours descend will really come down to your expectations. If you are expecting stunning vistas and landscapes, you might be disappointed. If you want to experience a test of endurance and a sort-of spiritual-like quest, then Mount Fuji might be right for you.
When Japan’s borders will open up again is unclear, but I hope that these tips will help you in the upcoming climbing season to conquer Japan’s giant. And as always with any mountain climb remember: The mountain will still be there tomorrow, so do not push beyond your limits!