- Walking Stick
You start the climb at the 5th Station, where you will find restaurants, souvenir shops, and bathrooms. Generally things here are over-priced and cheesy. But I urge you to stop in and buy a traditional walking stick. Not only will you be glad you have it for the climb, but you will love it as a souvenir. Every station features one or more stamps that are burned into the wood, commemorating your journey and leaving you with a one-of-a-kind souvenir caked in dirt, sweat, and possibly tears! (Hopefully no blood)
- Cash. Lots of it.
Climbing Mt. Fuji is free!! But everything else is not! All that you buy on the mountain was carried up there. So things are definitely pricey. Water can be as much as $5, as are each of those awesome stamps you collect on your walking stick. A very simple dinner of curry and rice sets you back $15. And a bathroom visit is $2. (Toilet paper not provided…)
- Overnight Hut
I highly recommend that you stay in one of the “huts” overnight. You can climb up and back in a day. Or you can climb all night long and reach the summit at sunrise. But I thought the experience of staying in a traditional hut, which provides a sleeping bag, fur blanket, and miniscule pillow, was fantastic. It was a good bonding experience for the group, and allowed for a much-needed respite and acclimatization. We stayed at Station 8.5, but there are huts from the 7th Station onward. Reservations required.
- Ignore the weather report
Weather.com, Storm, and two local stations all predicted rain for our two-day voyage. Needless to say, I was not thrilled. However, despite all reports to the contrary, we had a glorious first day. The sun was shining and it wasn’t too hot. The second day, we weren’t so lucky. But the lesson is: mountain weather is unpredictable. Don’t be scared off on suspicion of rain. Because you just never know what you’ll get. Except fog. There will be fog!
- So many layers
Hot. Cold. Freezing. Hot. Sweaty. Wet. Cold. Frigid. And gross. These are some of the many temperatures you will feel. So layer up. I wore running pants and a tank top to start. Then added a light jacket as we progressed. Next a raincoat. Then a scarf. Finally a long-sleeve undershirt and legwarmers. (Seriously!) And as we climbed down, each layer was shed as the temperature increased. Again, layer up!
- Don’t forget the essentials
GLOVES! (most-needed and sadly forgotten, at least by me), Raincoat (for fog or rain or warmth), Hat (unless you’d like a severe sunburn), Sunscreen (same logic), Headlamp (for night and early morning climbs) and – lastly – Plastic Baggies (to keep your change of clothes and toiletries dry).
- Footwear Matters
I planned to hike up in my running shoes. Thank God cooler heads prevailed! Tennis shoes are not a good plan, especially if it’s a wet climb. It’s not as much about the way up, but the slide down. It’s like downhill skiing through gravel. And below-the-ankle tennis shoes allow all those pesky rocks to infiltrate your footwear. Be smart, not stylish (I can’t believe I just said that!).
- Don’t be fooled
This is not an easy day-hike. It’s a climb. I consider myself in pretty good shape. I run regularly, lift weights, and do yoga. But even I felt it. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not impossible. And if you take a slower pace, you’ll be fine. But there are definite moments of hard work. So get on that Stairmaster prior to the actual event and be the tortoise, not the hare.
- Altitude sickness is real
Some people get it. Others don’t. But I certainly did. By station 8.5 (out of 10), I was drunk for lack of oxygen. Seeing double and feeling lightheaded definitely didn’t make the climb easier. (Though it was certainly more fun!) But by the 10th station, I had trouble seeing and needed to sit down and have a shot of O2. If you are likewise affected, I recommend buying a can of oxygen at the base station and taking your time, resting at the higher stations before continuing to acclimatize yourself.
- Finally, here are the numbers
- Ascent: 5.5 hours
- Descent: 2 hours
- Miles climbed: 27 (including elevation)
- Hours Slept: 4 (if we are being generous)
- Cost of Walking Stick: $42 ($10 for stick, $32 for stamps)
- Blisters: 3
- Low Temp: 36° F
- High Temp: 80° F
- Oxygen Tanks borrowed from a kind Japanese climber: 1
- Sunrise: 4:42am
- Sunset: 6:51pm
- Times Summited: 6:15pm AND 4:28am (yes, we did it twice!)
P.S. For those wondering, I would absolutely go again! It was an amazing and visually stunning experience. I felt as if I was dancing amongst the clouds. That said, my butt was in pain for several days. So I will do it again… next year! (Alex, my crazy husband, is going back for a night climb in a few weeks. Admittedly, I chose to sit that one out…)
P.P.S. If you are a tourist visiting Japan and wishing to climb Fuji, you need to schedule your trip during the 10-week window the mountain is open for climbers (Usually July – September). Also, hauling that much gear across the ocean is a pain. So don’t make this the focal point of you trip unless you want this to be the focal point of your trip. It is not a simple add-on.