3:55am August 24th is a memorable moment for me, as I took a sigh of relief at the final station of Mount Fuji. There we waited for the sunset with only about 65% oxygen. The circle of life scene from the Lion King came to mind for me. The sky turned red and bright orange then accompanied by a huge yellow circle taking off into the sky. Gleaming boiling hot rays along everything it touched. (Says a lot that Disney is the first thing to come to my mind).
However.. it certainly wasn’t a piece of cake to reach this moment.
The weather conditions were getting worse as the typhoon hit us at the top blowing furious winds of around 80mph. We weren’t completely taken by surprise due to the hundreds of people hurrying down the mountain as we progressed on to the highest point possible. We reached the top of the mountain as the worsening typhoon started created utter chaos. I wasn’t prepared to put up a fight for long at the top whilst I could barely stand in the wind so I fought to descend. Especially having known 25 people died trying to climb Fuji last year.
I had been climbing since 3:30pm the following day having had only 3 hours rest at a log cabin on 7.5th station. My entire body felt frozen, weak and breakable yet not once did I allow myself to turn back.
The winds were like something in a Korean drama. When we weren’t being knocked over and blown into the rocks, parts of the debris were being blown into us face on. Me and my friend, Adrianne, tried to go to the restroom at the top, where we were blown fiercely into the cubicle and stood crouched with our sticks in front for about 10 minutes. Completely unable to beat the force of the wind. After this we slowly shuffled into a new direction stopping and crouching every time we know the wind was unbeatable.
My hands were cut from climbing up the rocks and pulling myself up onto the next. My legs were also cut and bruised. I never expected my journey to be so challenging. I am not particularly strong, I go to the gym and eat pretty well. To be honest I felt like even the strongest man on Earth wouldn’t be able to face the rapidly growing winds from the typhoon. There were moments everybody feared falling down the steep rocks, or just being blown off the mountain altogether. This particularly applies during the cliff edge parts of the climb, where one slip or misbalance could have been potentially fatal for anybody. We took our time and saw new strengths of the human body, which I didn’t even know mine was capable of.
The interesting part of this article is despite EVERYTHING I had to face for the first time in my life. I wouldn’t have gone back in time and changed my mind about taking on this world famous mountain at all. WHY? Am I crazy? Perhaps. However, this personal challenge really opened my eyes to the wider world and changed how I felt toward myself too. I realised anybody is capable of anything when they really put their mind to it, and the power of mentality can override physical pain and discomfort in many situations.
The PROS outweighed the CONS. The views were extraordinary, they almost didn’t look real. Japan below seemed to get smaller and smaller, until eventually it was all fluffy little cotton clouds.
Every time I removed my focus from the ground I was walking on, it became very real that I was over 3000 metres high, looking out onto the silent and slowly disappearing world below. Mount Fuji is beautiful, from any height or angle. It is an iconic symbol leaving anybody in awe. The sunrise was spectacular, I have never seen such natural beauty in my life. A sunrise that has remained untouched since the start of the world, and I was watching it from nearly 4000 metres into the sky. When the sunrise hit, the people around just stood in complete amazement, taking in this once in a lifetime view which most only see on movies. Now I was appreciating it and all of my hard work seemed worthwhile.
All in all there are TWO reasons why I think you should climb this mountain. FIRST, it’s a personal challenge which will change your entire outlook on what you are capable of and what your traits are as a person. Perseverance overcomes any challenges, and you will never again forget your own strength when you need it..
SECOND, the views and surroundings are truly like no other. It’s impossible to feel such a level of awe and appreciation anywhere else. You will feel quite literally on top of the world. In particular I would recommend challenging yourself further and continuing your trek through the darkness to reach the top in time for sunrise (my sunrise was at approximately 4:50am).
So.. my advice? TAKE ON THIS CHALLENGE. If you ever get the chance to do something so great. Take it!
Here are my top tips for taking on this rocky climb as comfortably and easily as possible.
1. CORRECT EQUIPMENT. I spent £80 renting all of my equipment for the climb.. and without it I wouldn’t have made it past a couple of stations. Essentials are backpack, tracking/ climbing boots, a head torch, waterproof coat and trousers, walking poles/ sticks to protect your knees. These are also essential in steadying yourself when climbing vertically up rocks to prevent being blown backward by the gusts of wind.
2. PLENTY LAYERS OF CLOTHING
Despite the boiling weather at the bottom, do not be fooled. As you progress up the mountain, temperatures hit 5 degrees Celsius or below with possible winds of -10 to -20 degrees Celsius. The cold can make it seem impossible to function. Many times I was on the verge of a mental breakdown due to the painful cold which sliced easily through my layers of clothing.
3. CONSTANT SUGAR AND WATER. Before you go, stock up! I turned up with a 2 litre bottle of water in my bag, along with about £15-20 worth of sweets, chocolate, and biscuits. This is not the day to be dieting, and you’re going to need to consume as much sugary food and water as you would usually eat in a week or two.
4. GUIDES for climbers with little or no experience. I didn’t completely expect Fuji to be such an advanced climb, and the weather didn’t help. I had to quickly learn to climb properly by copying the lead of others. This often includes going on all fours to grab rocks and pull yourself up. Guides are certainly the safest route, they were great with groups of people and for me would have made me feel much less endangered throughout. This is not an easy climb, paths are slippery (at best) and the worse ones aren’t paths at all but merely huge rocks on a steep slope.
5. TAKE IT SLOW. It isn’t a race. However fit you are, nothing can prevent you from the high risk of altitude sickness. Every 20 minutes take a break, and for at least a few hours in a log cabin on the mountain.
I stopped religiously by timing 20 minutes on my watch and stopping. Even if you aren’t hungry EAT. If you aren’t thirsty DRINK. And if you aren’t tired STOP. This isn’t only due to exhaustion but also altitude sickness. Both of these can creep up on absolutely any type of person, quickly. I experienced altitude sickness at about 2500-3000 metres however, I went to the next stations medical office and they sorted me out with about 4 packets of different tablets free of cost.
6. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED BUT DO NOT GIVE UP. Despite my advice, there are many factors you cannot control. For me this was especially the typhoon that hit us unexpectedly making our trip extremely dangerous and pro longed. Be aware that natural factors can go wrong and allow yourself plenty of time. Make sure you have a sufficient amount of money for extra food, drink or shelter if you need it. Whatever you do, do not give up unless you are told by officials that it is physically not possible. My determination never failed no matter how ill I felt as I was forced into hiding in the toilet from the cold (you can not properly rest in the toilet, you will be fined if caught.
It’s vital to think that if you’ve made it this far you can make it, and you will! After the journey from 7th to 8th station the Yoshida Trail route gets slightly easier. But it’s so important that you are aware of your surroundings at all times to protect yourself. This is again why it is so important you are in a position to be the best version of yourself, with plenty of nourishment and hydration as well as rest. If you have time to stand still for a second, appreciate the silence and absolute dead of the night (or day)..
Its like being the last person alive on Earth