Mt. Fuji TR

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Messages 1 - 17 of total 17 in this topic
Piston Slap

Social climber
Elay
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 11, 2009 - 08:18pm PT
Does Mt. Fuji even count as a trip report? Especially since it’s a walkup, with restaurants every few hundred feet and a bus that takes you halfway up? And since we didn’t even make it to the top?
Okay, good, here goes:
We were big in Japan
We were big in Japan
Credit: Piston Slap
A few weeks ago I and some colleagues were in Japan on some business deal and knew we were going to have an extra day. So we had to decide what to do. If you’re a tourist you’re supposed to go see the fish market at 4 a.m., but I’d already seen it, plus Robinson, the ecological conscience in our party, objected to that on environmental grounds.
“No need to watch live as our oceans are scraped clean of every living thing,” he whined. “Plus, fish heads at 4am are just too much for a weak stomach to take.”
There was a bus tour of temples, which anybody who’s already been to Japan has done and done and done. We could go to the electronics district of Akihibara and buy a toaster-camcorder-phone shaped like a robotic cat. But most of that stuff won’t work on 110 volts and is either PAL or NTSC, whichever of those doesn’t work in LA.
Then Robinson suggested Mt. Fuji. I made the mistake of wondering aloud if it might be “cold.”
“Aw geez, it's only 12,375 ft,” he bleated. “When did you become such a wuss?”
I brought up the need for acclimatization, the spectres of hypaxia, HACE, HAPE, or at least headaches. No avail. I hadn’t worked out since the kids got out of school last May, I hedged.
It’s always good to front-end-load your excuses.
“Uh huh,” said Robinson. “Ninety-year-old ladies climb this hill in sandals but you're going to die?”
He emailed me a link to the official Mt. Fuji website to show what a boneless chicken I was. But the site officially confirmed, on official letterhead, that we were, in fact, going to die.
“Mt. Fuji is over 3700m above sea level and has conditions that kill climbers every year,” the site proclaimed gleefully. “Official climbing season is limited to two months when the weather is not so deadly.”
Those two safe months are July and August. Presumably they are stacking bodies like cordwood the rest of the year.
Fujisan looming on the horizon
Fujisan looming on the horizon
Credit: Piston Slap
“Winter conditions near the summit are equal to those found on an 8000m Himalayan peak and are dangerous for even the most professional alpinists,” the site went on. “Three Deadly Reasons to Stay off Mt. Fuji in the Off Season: Avalanche. When a slab of (ice) breaks free, the hiker will be pummeled against snow, ice, and trees before being buried as if encased in wet concrete. (yipee!) Winds. Strong winds literally blow climbers off the slippery slopes. There have even been cases of tents flying off of the 5th Station with their occupants onboard.
Hypothermia. Though not limited to the off season, hyperthermia (sic) is the result of a hiker's Core Body Temperature dropping and internal organs succumbing to the cold.”
So that settled the deal. Who needs internal organs, anyway? We recruited Hellwig, a Colorado state college graduate who was young and strong, the strong silent type. When he spoke, it was usually something important like, “Hey, your hair’s on fire” or, “Duck!”
Here we are getting ready to board the third train we took before the first bus:
Credit: Piston Slap
Here's me warming up on a V11 near the bus station.
It's steeper than it looks.
It's steeper than it looks.
Credit: Piston Slap
Fuji is divided into nine “stations” and then the summit. You can take a bus as high as the fifth station. The fifth station is this massive tourist destination with restaurants and T-shirt shops. All that’s missing is miniature golf. It’s at something like 7000 or 8000 feet.
Stations 6-9 were a string of reinforced mountain bunker huts, which during the two-month “season” sell green tea, rice balls and cute little stuffed Godzilla monsters to tourists wandering up the hill. In the grip of cruelest winter as we were facing it, there would be no support for us beyond the bus stop.
Helpful directions were posted in (at least) two languages.
Helpful directions were posted in (at least) two languages.
Credit: Piston Slap
Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, where the climb really began. This is out ...
Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, where the climb really began. This is out of sequence.
Credit: Piston Slap
The earliest bus we could take wouldn’t get us to the fifth station before 11:30 a.m. The latest bus going back was at 3:40 p.m. Those good at math will have figured out that gave us four hours and ten minutes to get up and down over 4000 feet. Sure, you could have done that, but you’re young, in good shape and not suffering from jet lag. Hellwig could have done it, but he’s young and strong, too. For me, I was clearly going to be one of the also-rans in another Into Thin Air.
On the first uphill section straight off the bus, Hellwig, the 35-year-old aerobics champion with the V02 max of the Goodyear blimp, took off, Robinson right behind him. I was doomed. As I wheezed up to the first rest stop that the mountain youth were taking (solely for my benefit) I gasped to Robinson,
“My last memories on this earth are going to be of you kicking me in the head saying, ‘Get up! Get up! The geisha are here!’ Then it will all go black and I will realize it was the Methodists who were the one and only true church and that'll be that.”
They were unimpressed by my snivelling. We pressed on.
It's easy down near the bottom.
It's easy down near the bottom.
Credit: Piston Slap
The lower trail is bulldozed out of volcanic dirt and zigzags up what looks like a ski resort.
It's easy!
It's easy!
Credit: Piston Slap
Station six was a series of sturdy mountain huts all boarded up for the season. Why not leave these open for me to rest?
Next time, I'm bringing some metric sockets to open these huts up. Ima...
Next time, I'm bringing some metric sockets to open these huts up. Imagine the nice view you'd have. If you didn't get arrested.
Credit: Piston Slap
Above station seven the trail became a scramble over rocks, with some fixed cables to hold on to.
Just like the Yellow Bands, only they weren't yellow and were 20,000 f...
Just like the Yellow Bands, only they weren't yellow and were 20,000 feet lower...
Credit: Piston Slap
The wind would gust pretty fiercely up here, about what you’d expect if you stood on the roof of your car on the freeway.
Credit: Piston Slap
Then it would die down and we’d eat the various Japanese snack items we’d bought the night before, not fully understanding what they were. Some were quite tasty. Some were like eating the plastic lining of your motorcycle helmet.
We had plenty of Goretex and lots of layers so we weren’t cold. All I needed was more conditioning. I told my colleagues to just leave me, that the Japanese snow marmots would come soon and eat my carcass, it was better this way, you two are young, you have your whole lives ahead of you, tell my boss this was a work-related accident, etc. etc. They were having none of it.
“We stay together,” said Robinson. “Quit yer’ kackin’.”
This is our partry at the 8th Station, as high as we got. The summit i...
This is our partry at the 8th Station, as high as we got. The summit is optional, the train back to Shinigawa is mandatory!
Credit: Piston Slap
We made it to the eighth station, maybe 11,000 feet, before, thank God, the bus schedule required us to turn around. On the way down, I complained about my knees.
That's me, resting on the way down at one of the lower stations.
That's me, resting on the way down at one of the lower stations.
Credit: Piston Slap
Reilly

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
Nov 11, 2009 - 08:33pm PT
Hey, this is a most enjoyable TR!
We can never get enough Death Route TR's!
Pate

Trad climber
?
Nov 11, 2009 - 08:36pm PT
Nice job- I'm thoroughly entertained.

I'm expecting you to rally another expedition and get the thing done.





Eventually.
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C. Small wall climber.
Nov 11, 2009 - 08:46pm PT
A very fine first post - thank you, Piston-Slap-san!

Is it true that cone heads have better success on that mountain?
eKat

Trad climber
BITD2
Nov 11, 2009 - 08:48pm PT
Well. . . YAY!

Thanks for postin' up!

Keep the MAGIC alive!

eKat
Josh Nash

Social climber
riverbank ca
Nov 11, 2009 - 08:55pm PT
I love Japan!
Zander

Trad climber
Berkeley
Nov 11, 2009 - 08:57pm PT
This is my kind of trip report.
Old guy cranks it!!!
Zander
Phil_B

Social climber
Hercules, CA
Nov 12, 2009 - 11:52am PT
Yeah, but those old ladies are FIT!

When I was in grad school, one of my friends had attempted Fujiyama. He was feeling really sorry for himself and coughing up parts of his lungs when a little old lady about half his size zoomed past him.

I'm sure you'll get it done next time, eh?
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Nov 12, 2009 - 12:16pm PT
Great TR. I have visited Japan a lot in the past and always wanted to climb Fuji. I am inspired. "I am Mark Hudon, and I am a bad ass."

Welcome to the true meaning of ST.
Misha

Trad climber
Woodside, CA
Nov 12, 2009 - 12:37pm PT
This brought back some fun memories from my last trip to Japan in October 2008.

We decided to hike Fuji-san before our trip to the Japanese Alps. We drove to the mountain with the intention of sleeping at the base and hiking at night so we can can meet sunrise at the summit. Unfortunately, we missed the gate closure deadline (6pm) and had to bivy at a nearby gymnasium (an epic in the making and a TR of its own). Long story short, we got to the trailhead by 7am and started jogging up the hill. As we got further up, the weather got progressively worse. We were engulfed in a full-on snow blizzard near the crater. By this point, we were wearing all our clothes, which included GoreTex soft shells, down jackets, fleeces, long sleeve undershirts, gloves, double hats, long johns, winter pants, etc. You get the idea. As we topped out on the crater, we were greeted by 15' visibility and 50mph subfreezing wind. Mt. Fuji is a walk-up, eh!? Since we were at risk of being late to our next destination on the other side of Honshu (Kamikouchi, Nagano Prefecture), we ran down the mountain as fast as we could, jumped in the car and just barely made it through the gate to Kamikouchi later that day. Four hours up, 1.5 hours down.

What's up with all the gate closures and curfews in Japan?

Useful tip: Japanese are very thorough when it comes to gate closures. Our persistence and numerous efforts to unlock certain gates were fruitless :)
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 12, 2009 - 12:43pm PT
This was a fun trip report!

Fuji has the distinction of being the only mountain I ever got lost on. I went in September 1972 after the season. My climbing partner backed out at the last minute so I went up alone. Then the weather came in and I was in a whiteout.

I had read that the upper third of the mountain was ringed by a circular path which all routes down led to, so I decided to go off the backside for variety and then traverse back to the tourist trail via the circular route. I had a wonderful time skiing down the volcanic scree. The only trouble was, all the signs were in kanji and I never found anything that looked like the circular path. I kept going and going until I was in the forest at the base of the mountain, the most fun glissading I ever had. The only problem was, the base being larger, I was 30 km. away from the road on the opposite side of the mountain, in a thick forest with no view and it was late in the day.

I figured I could bivouac no problem and keep going downhill the next day until I found people (how remote can I be in Japan?) Then I remembered that my friend would report me missing and being a foreign woman, probably the army would be called out to look for me. Big humiliation! I kept walking through the forest. Suddenly I came across two men in a jeep who were out cutting branches for Japanese flower arranging. Needless to say, they were astounded to see me waving to them through the mist but gave me a ride back to their village.

Through my 25 word vocabulary in Japanese and pantomime, I explained to them that I was supposed to be back at my youth hostel. They called the hostel to tell them I was alive and on my way. I had to take two different buses to get there but they scribbled directions in kanji for the bus drivers. When I arrived, the youth hostel had saved my dinner and kept the bath hot for me, and met me at the door with big bows and smiles. So Japanese!

Meanwhile, there is a Japanese saying, "A person who climbs Fuji once is wise, a person who climbs it twice is a fool".

Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C. Small wall climber.
Nov 12, 2009 - 01:35pm PT
A friend once showed some photos and told some stories about ascending the mountains in south Korea, which was quite interesting. A wholly different culture and style. What is it like in Japan? Do people climb the other volcanoes there, or?
survival

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Nov 12, 2009 - 01:43pm PT
"It’s always good to front-end-load your excuses."

I love that. Tom Patey would be proud of you!
boognish

Trad climber
SLC
Nov 12, 2009 - 03:13pm PT
I hitched a ride from the train station to the end of the road. Sat around eating ramen and trying to time the start of my ascent so I would summit right at sunrise. I only had a long sleeve cotton t-shirt & cotton pants, so I had to keep moving to stay warm and couldn’t afford to linger at the summit waiting. Timing worked perfect and I saw the sunrise over a blanket of clouds that only Fuji poked out of. Back at the road I hitched a ride from an old couple in a huge Mercedes. On the way to the train station they asked where I was staying. Turned out they lived 3 blocks away from my apartment in Tokyo. I rode in luxury and was dropped at my front door.
Truth that once is enough.
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
Nov 12, 2009 - 07:46pm PT
hey there piston slap... say, this was a wonderful write up... i loved seeing this and hearing all about your trip...

oh my! and jan:
sure loved to know you made it to safetly, in on that same day expected ... oh my...

a whiteout... :O
Borut

climber
french
Nov 15, 2012 - 04:40am PT
Awesome TR topic !
Love it.

Well...then LOL, here's my account of the Yoshidaguchi CT on Apr 15, 2006 (winter conditions).

Two colleagues and myself had planned an ascent of Fuji on a day off during the orchestra’s 2006 Japan tour, and we had packed the necessary gear for a winter-conditions gig along with us. We traveled to many cities during this tour, and even had a look at the Alps on the way. Remember thinking that the landscape resembled home. In Tokyo, I bought a 1:50 000 map, and next tried to figure out the public transportation for approaching Fuji San by myself. My level of calligraphy was far to low to get the time tables straight, and info desk quests would stay unanswered, the official Fuji season not being open. We now considered renting a car, and H., as a German citizen, was able to get his driver’s license translated. The weather was to be rainy on the first possible ascent day, and we called it. The day after that, the weather unexpectedly got better – like half-half. H. reserved an automobile for the middle of the following night, only one hour or two after we would be back from work. The garage people comprehensively set the positioning system device for Fuji North, and except for the first shock of the left hand drive, we were soon peacefully cruising quite a clear night, West of Tokyo. After a pit stop, a few raindrops reminded us of the forecast. We passed the Kawaguchi-ko lake unseen and drove around for a while, the GPS leaving us off at the ramp of the closed summer road towards station five. Now traveling by map, we drove East through the dark forest, unfortunately first hitting a ditchy lumber track and eventually turning back down to a larger house we had spotted. This is the trailhead: Umagaeshi (only one other metal horse was there), with the ancient Shinto and Buddhist shrines, the monkeys carved in stone, the bridge, and the inscription (also in English): Yoshidaguchi Climbing Trail. After the legendary set of large steps, a broad dirt track cuts through the forest. The clouded, damp atmosphere and walking through an Asian forest at day break made me imagine all sorts of things… bears, monkeys – but the ice below the leaves along the path soon woke me up. Both sport oriented, my colleagues took a swift pace. After crossing a washed down gully left hand, the stations (huts) started passing by and I remember thinking that I should check all this out on the way down. As the forest got more larchy than leafy, more snow was lying around and things got less slippery, but the clouds were staying at ground level. That’s the Pacific ocean for you all right! We continued, still at a brisk tempo, obviously now anxious to get out of the forest and see what’s what with the weather. The 5th station large terrace at forest line was the right place for a break, and we even caught a short window in the overall cloudy sky, taking a glimpse at the entire continuation of our route all the way up to the crater rim. Didn’t look difficult, but long, and the snow was wet, though not deep.
At first we followed the metal railings that were sticking out – soon then cutting the curves and simply going from one small hut half buried in the snow to the next. The snow got thicker and was still as sloshy. I soon needed a break. We were now fully living the cloud and exchanged some side looks, also a little concerned by possible snow slides due to the unstable and heavy layer. But up we went (piolet, crampons). During the next hour the snow got crispier and some visibility came in. Suddenly a descending roped-up party of three popped out from behind a construction. The guide asked where we were from, and smiled, relieved. These were the only people we met on the mountain! I imagine they had slept in a mountaineering association hut close to the summit. The weather was now quite clear. G. started moving fast, and I saw H. wanting to do so as well. After a while I told him he didn’t need to stick to the slow poke, that I’d be fine and that he could dash off. Which he did. We all met at the crater rim and the sun was bright enough for us to see across the way. I tried to imagine I saw the ocean, but I didn’t. I also remember being moved by the fact that the summit was in a hole below me. I then took a nap, while my colleagues went for a stroll along the ridge. The descent was quite straightforward, sometimes riding the slope but taking constant care – as an unstopped slide would take one too far, too fast. If visibility diminished again, one wouldn’t want to approach the side craters too much either. On arriving at forest line, complete dampness was back and the path itself is what kept us focused. Overall tiredness had set in by the time we reached the car. We did not even try to set the GPS, and driving back into Tokyo was more of a challenge than expected. It had taken us one whole day and all three of us were acutely sunburned, which we realized most on the next day. And of course, we were quite proud of our achievement.

Borut
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 15, 2012 - 09:51am PT
That's amazing Borut - the first account I've ever heard of doing it in the snow.
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