Hiking Mount Fuji in Running Shoes
After Tokyo we headed to Mount Fuji. We had booked a hostel in a town nearby to the base of the mountain, but had nothing planned for the next two days accommodation wise.
We also learned that there is no easy way to get from Tokyo to Mount Fuji. I thought there might be a direct train or at least a specified way, but instead we spent hours trying to figure out train lines. We would get on a train headed the right direction and then suddenly it would start heading the wrong way. We would get off the train and get on going the other way, but alas would always get back to our starting point. It was one of the most frustrating situations, especially because I speak no Japanese and could not ask for help. The good news is that we made it to the hostel.
This hostel was one of my favorites, mainly because they had free endless hard boiled eggs and bread. I am not sure what type of bread this was, but it is thick cut and everywhere is Japan. It was great bread.
Before I go on an entire post about great bread, I’ll get into the actual hike. Originally the plan was to hike up and down the mountain in a day and then head to Kyoto. There is a bus in town that takes you directly to the 5th station (I’ll explain the stations in a bit) in about an hour. By the time we reached the 5th station it was noon. The stations were distance markers that had bathrooms, snacks and seats. The 5th station is the last station reachable by bus. The rest required you to hike up. All the stations also had inns you could stay at for the night. Reservations for the inns are required, but they also take walk-ins. Obviously the higher you go up, the harder it is to get a spot in the mountain huts.
From the 5th station to the summit is roughly 6 km. When we saw that we thought it would be no problem. Hike up and down. Piece of cake. Turns out it took us 4-5 hours just to reach the 7th station. There are 9 stations total before reaching the top. A worker at the 7th station who was serving us ramen (yes you can order ramen on top of Fuji) let us know that the last bus left at 21:00 sharp. This meant we had only two options:
- Immediately climb down from where we were and hope to make it to the 5th station before sundown and before the last bus departs and head onto Kyoto. This would mean not reaching the summit.
- Continue to climb, hope that there is space for 2 in one of the mountain inns around the 8th station, stay overnight and climb to the summit in the morning with nothing but the items on our back.
Keep in mind that we had thought this would be a one day hike. All we had were our day-pack backpacks, while majority of our things were being held at the hostel. The contents of mine consisted of a rain coat, headband, water bottle, wallet, and a baseball cap. I had no change of clothes or toiletries. Plus I got my period while hiking up the mountain and had no pads or tampons (or change of underwear). Also it was extremely hot and humid during the day, but once you reach the higher altitudes, it gets close to freezing. We had no layers or jackets.
BUT…WE ARE NOT QUITTERS! We had come all the way to Mount Fuji and by God we were not going to leave without making it to the top.
With our no traction Nike running shoes, we managed to make it to the 8th station. We were lucky enough to meet another American couple who gave me pads and Advil. Also they were staying at a mountain hut on the 8th station that had enough room to let us stay last minute. LIFE SAVERS!
Although the distance between the stations got shorter, they started to take more time as the hike became steeper and altitude increased. Also to be honest I don’t think my sciatica pain and idiopathic scoliosis helped. On top of all this, there were so many tour groups hiking through, that there would be traffic on the narrow paths. It was sometimes worse that the 101 or the 405 during the morning commute.
We made it to our mountain hut at the 8th station right before sundown. It was actually insane because even at this point in the climb you were among the clouds. When you looked off into the distance it looked like you were staring out of a plane window.
The mountain hut was not really an inn, but rather racks of wooden planks, stuffed with sleeping bags. It honestly looked like the barracks inside, but a step up. We were given two spots that were so tiny you had to sleep on your side to fit. The pillows provided were not pillows, but sacks of plastic beads wrapped in plastic. Needless to say we did not get any sleep.
You had a choice between the 2am wake up call room, or the 8am wake up call room. We chose the 2am room since we were not sleeping and we wanted to see the sunrise at the summit, meaning we would need to start hiking up by 3am latest.
On a side note, none of the bathrooms on the mountain had soap or towels. It was literally hole in the ground toilets and sometimes sinks. They also wanted you to pay 200 yen each time you used the toilet. There actually was not soap or towels in most public bathrooms in Japan, especially at the major tourist sites. Do people here not use soap? Was I supposed to bring my own? My OCD-self carried around hand sanitizer everywhere anyways, but still!
At 2am we received our wake up call, otherwise known as abruptly turning on the lights. I was wide awake anyways. Let’s be real, in a room of 100 people, there are bound to be a couple snorers and sleeping bag stealers.
We luckily were able to borrow flashlights for the trek up. It was amazing to look down and see the city lights. Also when looking up you could see a path of light snaking their way up to the summit as hundreds of other idiots also hiked to the summit at 2am.
After 4 hours of hiking we finally reached the summit. The sunrise was in 10 minutes and we scurried to find a place to watch. The last 4 hours were the worst, not only because of the altitude, but the cold. All I had on was a thin pair of leggings, a shirt with a rain jacket over and my baseball cap. The mountain inn had provided surgical masks for anyone sick, but instead we wore them for heat. Plus my running shoes were not doing my ankles or knees any favors as we scaled up the last parts. My hands were shaking so much I could barely take a photo of the sun rising. It was quite beautiful though. At the highest point there is a small wooden shrine that you can walk to.
Next we hit up the gift shop on top of the mountain, which was actually quite disappointing. After all our struggles, I was ready to spend money on some sick souvenirs, but instead only ended up with a key chain. I guess I should have figured the top of the mountain would not be the easiest place to bring souvenirs.
Then we started the trek down. I actually thought the way down was harder than the way up. The decline was steep and snaked around the mountain. The path itself was covered in rocks making the ground slippery. I fell on my butt pretty much every turn. Also we were not in hiking boots, so my foot would slide with every step. My knees and toes felt like I was 90 years old. Most importantly, we finished the hike and made it down around lunch time.
I am not sure I would suggest the hike to anyone unless you come prepared. You should be wearing hiking boots, pack for extremes in both hot and cold, as well as plan your accommodations beforehand. Also, bring snacks. They are expensive and cash only only the mountain. Not going to lie the expensive snickers bars we purchased at the 6th station saved my soul.
Until next time, please enjoy this photo of the most advanced train toilet with a button that automatically lowers the seat. This could save couples across the globe.