I went on the most amazing trip to Japan this summer with one of my best friends, Katie. We got it into our genius heads that climbing Mt. Fuji (aka Fujisan, aka the fucking devil), would be a must-do(!) item on our trip. Let me also preface that we are fairly well-traveled girls, and (normally) extremely research savvy. By some fluke - either because we only read what we wanted to, or in moments of pure lunacy - we did not fully register or take seriously what this "climb" would actually be like. So we were underprepared both literally and mentally. We were morons. Don't be one, and learn from us.
- Hiking boots (not sneakers) are a must. This may seem obvious, but again, we were morons.
- Don't listen to this guy, especially regarding the parts where he talks about handheld flashlights, quoting fools who went up in a kids backpack, basketball shorts, sandals, whatever. We fixated on those comments and were swearing for hours. In fact, our experience was more like this guy's. Note his last tip - "Knowledge that the climb is going to suck" was the funniest and most validating thing we've read since.
- When doing a night climb, start earlier. No seriously, earlier than that. We started cilmbing at 11 pm but in hindsight, 8 pm would have been better.
- At our start at the fifth station for the Kawaguchiko trail, there were coin lockers. It won't fit a rolling suitcase but certainly enough for an overnight bag.
- Bring layers and gloves or you will be frizzity-freezing as you near the top, especially at night.
- Headlamp? Helpful. Pocket flashlight bought at the last minute attached to some measly string? Not. You will be on all fours where you need to use both of your hands in certain passages so that handheld flashlight is rendered useless pretty quickly when you're climbing in the pitch black dead of night. Anyone who says this is "just hiking" is a dirty filthy liar.
- Sunscreen. To prevent farmers' tans from being farmers' burns.
- The descent is a bitch. 100x worse than the ascent. I personally have anxiety at the top of stairs and escalators, so it was more terrifying for me but you will feel as if you're slipping the whole way down. TMI/gross factor warning: See #1 and I cannot stress this enough - those hiking boots need to grip the zillion little rocks that make up the slippery descent trail. My stupid arse was in sneakers, slamming my toes into the front of my shoes for hours... eventually causing four, yes FOUR of my toe nails to fall off weeks later. RIP (and sorry).
- Speaking of the descent, those gimmicky walking sticks would have helped. A ton. Buy one. Buy ten. Overly prepared (read: smart) Japanese folk literally ski'd by us, whistling. FML.
- Befriend positive, friendly international folk. This was the coolest part. People are super friendly, and travelers from all over the world are there during climbing season. Especially if they are Italian men named Gustavo whom are also well-prepared with all sorts of gear and stuff. Our guardian angel.
- Do take time to reflect, be proud, weep, buy an overpriced flag/postcard at the top. Walking around the crater (an extra hour), however? Hell to the no.
- Water, water, water. You won't be hungry. We were gone for a total of 14 hours (no sleeping), and trail mix and cliff bars were really just fine.
- Two words: Hand. Sanitizer. Toilets don't exist on the side/top/bumble of the mountain, and they will be foul.
- Bring plenty of 100 yen coins - most "toilets" (aka hole in the ground) at stations require a 200 yen "donation" (on the honor system)
- Lugging a nice camera that can deal with dim night or early morning lighting is so worth it.
- On the way up - when you think you're there, you're not. Times 5. I don't care if you see lights. I don't care if you've reached the clouds. It's just the beginning. And you're in hell.
- Don't let people carrying oxygen tanks intimidate you if you don't have one. If you start feeling dizzy - STOP. The one intelligent thing we did understand was altitude sickness was no effing joke.
- The only way to do this is with a best friend. Afterwards, there were moments where we both admitted just wanting to burst into tears as the challenging reality of the climb set in. We didn't, because we were all u-rah-rah-supporting each other and it made a world of difference.
- Trails are not always "trails," and be prepared to be on all fours actually climbing, not necessarily "hiking." Again, see #6 about "dirty filthy liars."
- Don't sleep in the mountain huts (approx $60 a night). We didn't, and while we were certainly miserable for a better part of the experience, I still don't think staying in these would be worth it.
- Reaching the clouds doesn't mean jack. You've still got ways to go, my friend.
- There's no water slide to take you down the mountain once you've reached the top.
- Allow for extra time to plan on buses. We needed to take the shinkansen bullet train immediately to Kyoto for a two day jaunt and whatever you do, don't take a cab. They will try to rip you off.
- You will be the filthiest, muddiest, dirt-covered human ever when you make it back down screaming and crying for your mommy. Scheduling an immediate jaunt to Kyoto on the bullet train to check into a ryokan that requires you to REMOVE YOUR SHOES in front of a kneeling Japanese family after said climb is not advised unless you want to shock and mortify them. This may have happened.
- Prepare to belly flop in and out of the bed/toilet/steps/cab/chair for several days afterwards. Yes, that sore.
Now that Katie and I have had the sting of getting our asses kicked by a so-called "easily and commonly climbed mountain," we've questioned whether we really are just girly wimps and just didnt want to admit it. Or, if we would have known how challenging it actually would have been prior to our dumbass genius idea, if we would have gone through with it in the first place.
Looking back, I'll admit that my most beautiful trip photos came from this climb. And there's something to be said about doing something you'd never normally do - neither Katie nor I are marathon runners or "naturey" hikers by any means, but we both grew up as athletes for most of our pre-collegiate lives. Still, it was a lot more challenging than we had expected, and that's what threw us the most.
Katie brought up a good point after our adventure: metaphorically and literally speaking, there's really nothing greater than overcoming an actual, friggin' mountain. A MOUNTAIN! That certainly put things into perspective for me, and you really do feel like other life challenges - both physical and mental - become that much more in reach. Looking back (six months and four toe nails later), I can definitively say yes, I'm glad I did it. Just don't ever try to get me to go near that damned thing again and we're good.