I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


First of all, hisashiburi (long time no see)! The last month has been a bit crazy with orienting myself. Not to being in Japan, because I've been living here for two months already, but to working––daily! The college life is a spoiled one, at least as far as being able to choose your own hours, stay up late with little consequences because your first class isn't until 2pm, and whatnot. Plus back in college my job was to read, which is a luxury I am realizing the lay doesn't have. Who knew?! My weekends haven't been helping out as far as that goes either because I've been keep quite distracted with traveling before school officially starts tomorrow.

This is the entire group at the bottom after getting our asses kicked. Most of us bought special Fuji-edition hiking sticks that "mountain rangers" would burn a notch into at each station on the way up (mountain rangers were really just Japanese guys who lived on the mountain at each of the stations and spent their nights drinking and sitting by fires).

The behemoth of my traveling experiences came Saturday night when we climbed Mt. Fuji. Eight friends and I took an enduring train out Saturday morning and arrived at the base of Fuji around 6pm that evening. The night hike is a popular route, where travelers take off around 9pm and hike straight through until sunrise so that they arrive at the top (hopefully) just around the time that the god-like lightbulb from the east breaks the waves of the Pacific. This view from Fuji is pivotal to phrases like "Land of the Rising Sun" and the ancient belief of many Japanese people that the sun is a paternal diety who rises first for the Japanese (the easternmost of the East) every morning.

This is a tangible approximation of hell. The flashes are flashlights and headlamps of hikers at a bottleneck up the road to Fuji's peak. It seems just wrong to feel so claustrophobic and flourescent over 10,000 feet above the industrial world, but I guess there is no longer an escape. But maybe that's just me. My bane is a waterfall advertised by Nike. But Fuji is probably one of the most accessible (for better or worse) active (?) volcanos in world.

These are the few indominable human beings left in the world who could tackle the insurmountable peak of Fuji-san.

And we made it...at least, five of us made it. The other four stayed up around the 8th station about two hours from the top. The entire hike lasted about 7 hours up, and some parts were grueling. From the 8th station on up was by far the most challenging physical experience I've faced in some time. We had to literally climb up in some places over sliding rocks. The temperature was somewhere around 20-25 degrees F, and we could barely see through the thick clouds on our eye-level.

This photo gives a fraction of the cloud/mist effect and how pervasive it was at the top of Fuji.

This view made the sleepless hike and near-hypothermia seem justified.

The hike down was about three times quicker and three times more fun as well. Becuase the descending route is all ground up rock, ash, and soil, we literally skied downhill to the bottom. It was so much easier on the knees because each step/slide was cushioned by the soft ground. After watching the sunrise between 4:30-6:00, we slalomed back to catch the 8:30 bus and were back on the trains in no time for a sleepy ride back to Kusatsu.

According to my friend Tim Fuji looks barren like Mars during the day. It's a good thing we hiked at night!

The Japanese say that a wise man climbs Fuji once, but only a fools will climb Fuji twice. Maybe so, but if I ever decide to be a fool (what, me?) here's what I would do differently:

-Definately invest in a better waterproof jacket. At the top I felt like a drowned sewer rat and was not drying off in a hurry. I was very envious of the Gore-Tex crowds.
-Leave earlier, maybe around 4 or 5pm. The first part of the hike is the prettiest because you are still surrounded by trees and forest. By the time it becomes dark you will hit the ugly parts, the grueling parts, but you won't be able to see or care. Also, if you can arrive at the top and camp out (bunks are also available for the night at stations along the way) you can have a chance to rest and maybe even sleep before the sunrise. But if you do this dress warmly because the top it windy always and icy most of the year.
-Buy omiyage (souveniers)! We were in such a rush to catch the bus back down in the morning that I completely forgot!
-Take more water (that's Katie's advice)! As you get higher up water gets increasingly expensive, so stock up in town.
-Don't bring anything unnecessary because it will get wet from the clouds condensation. I didn't make this mistake, but some people ended up with soggy journals, etc. A good idea is to encase your pack with a plastic garbage bag because everything exposed is subject to the heavy humidity.

Until we descended back down into the clouds, the view from above was breathtaking!

So that was Fuji although now that it's over the whole thing seems like a fun nightmare. In the moment it is easy to feel dissociated due to fatigue, then air, and blissful sights. If anyone else has been or has fun hiking stories to share please add them to the comments because I would love to hear about them!


Blogger Dr. Gn Sulpicius Rufus said...

Five years in Tokyo, and I never went to Fuji. I went hiking at Takaosan all the time, which was just outside of Tokyo and at the base of Fuji. Pretty nice; if you looked south-east at the closest, tallest mountain, that's Takao.

Anyway, exhausted.

12:59 PM

Blogger jackiewrites said...

Salem- Thank you! This added much laughter to my morning off. Bob is going back to work at REI, so we'll have to scrounge you up some goretex for future escapades or simple walks in the rain (being the romantic you are).
I had a most delightful hike, which I would feel almost guilty describing to you as it included none of the discomforts you endured. Ah, so what... Bob and I camped 2 nights in a beautiful, evergreen lined meadow, complete with berry laden bushes and a clean fire ring, off the road to Black Balsam Bald in North Carolina over the weekend. The first day we hiked downhill to the river, stopping to cook blueberry pancakes (nevermind that my new wheat-free recipe with garbanzo bean flour and the absence of the maple syrup which I forgot tasted like - well- gruel with cooked blueberries), and then exploring the river's run to it's 80ft. drop between the knobs.
The next morning, while Bob slept in, the dogs and I accended the ridge to Tennet Mtn. and beyond, stopping to read for an hour once, then moving on to enjoy the view of seven layers of mountains in 3 directions each time the mist cleared, including the ever- enchanting view of Shining Rock's snowy white quartz.
No rush to see these mountains though- they've been around for 250 million years. Enjoy yours while they're young.

1:07 AM

Blogger btolford said...

I remember hiking up to the top of 12,000 foot Mount San Jacinto, south of Palm Springs, CA. I was working at Norton Air Force Base for a couple of weeks. A buddy and I decided to get up early and do the hike. The parking area is at the 5,000 ft level more or less.
I remember that by the time we got to around 10,000 or so feet, we were getting a bit loopy from the lack of oxygen. Once at the top we had a snack of apples. I remember finding a comfortable rock and looking out over the desert while dozing for an hour or so before we hiked back down. It had been about 70 degrees when we started the hike and once we got down to the desert floor and Palm Springs, it was about 105 (it was August).
That was around 1992 I think.

1:17 PM


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