Adventures Around Fujisan

Due to being woefully underprepared, Mount Fuji was the hardest mountain I’d ever climbed. The adventure didn’t stop at the mountain, however. At the time the day was full of ups and downs. Now, as with all things like this, it’s a good story to tell.


I grew up fellwalking in Cumbria. I peaked Snowden and Scafell Pike as a teenager. One of the last things I did before I left the UK was to peak Ben Nevis. One of the first I did when I moved to Ireland was to walk up Slieve Donard. I like climbing mountains.

So when I went to Japan for the first time, climbing Mount Fuji was near the top of my list of things to do. I did my best to make sure that I was prepared. Did my research online. I learned that it would be a long walk, but not too difficult.

I wanted to do it all in one day. So I planned to leave Tokyo on the first train in the morning, and come back on the last train. As long as I had a decent pace I should be able to keep this schedule. Failing that, there were plenty of towns along the way, so I’d be able to find a hotel for one night.

Nothing went to plan.

The Climb

Unlike you would in China, you don’t need to pay to climb Mount Fuji. There is an optional donation you can make. I wasn’t worried about money at the time so I was happy to make a contribution. There were a lot of people here. Like Ben Nevis, Fuji is a popular mountain to climb.

Things went fine at first. Like the advice I had researched, it wasn’t too steep, but was set to be long. It turns out my research hadn’t been thorough enough. You see, in case you don’t know this yet, Fuji is a volcano. If you know the shape of a volcano you know that they get steep. Very steep.

Initially I had to scramble over some rocks. This happened a few times until it became common enough that this was no longer a ramble. As I ascended the path got steeper and steeper. It reached a point that I was almost dangling, having to climb up on rocks.

This made the whole thing a lot more difficult than I was expecting. I wasn’t prepared for this, but I pressed on. I was going to reach the top. Then something happened that I wasn’t expecting. I started to feel lightheaded. And a little drunk.

I knew what this was thanks to my experience in Tibet. It didn’t register with me that Fuji’s peak is 3,776 meters above sea level. That’s more than high enough for altitude sickness to kick in. I was halfway up a volcano, tired, and wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

I looked up toward the peak. ‘There’s no way I can make it’, I thought. I looked back down the path. ‘And there’s no way I can make it back down!’ I started to panic. I collapsed to the ground and started to cry. I had failed. I had no way out. Was I going to need rescue?

I calmed down a little and started to look at the problem. Oxygen. That was number one. I had a lack of it. I was able to handle it on the Tibetan peninsula, so I though that maybe I just needed to control my breathing to get the oxygen flowing. I started to meditate and focused purely on my breathing.

After a short while my headache went away. I started to feel less lightheaded. Then I got up again, and almost on automatic I started to run up the volcano. After this, progress was pretty smooth. And then I reached the top and I saw the first caldera I’d ever see with my own eyes.

I had done it. I was standing on top of Japan. It turned out that they had Wi-Fi her, so of course I had to check in on Facebook, something I rarely ever do.

Now all I had to do was go back down…

Return Journey

I rested on the top for the while, but not for too long. I didn’t have much time before the last train. The descent was easier, though I was worn out by that point so it didn’t feel like it. The path was less steep, with pretty much zero climbing needed.

Other than that it was uneventful. I made it down in time, and I managed to catch my train. I just needed to change a Kouzu and I’d be back in Tokyo and be able to return to my hostel for a much needed rest. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

I was tired so I kept falling asleep on the train. I woke up and heard Kouzu announced. I panicked and rushed off the train to check the stop. It wasn’t until after the train doors closed that I realised it was the wrong stop. I had gotten off too early.

There was another train to Kouzu, but it was too late to catch the train to Tokyo. So I was stuck in a small town just north of Tokyo for the night. I took a look around and couldn’t find a hotel nearby, so I asked at the train station. They told me there was no hotel.

Well shit.

I sat in the station trying to figure out what to do next. One of the people working there came up to me and suggested, in broken English, that there was a KTV nearby. That’s… actually a good idea. I could book a room for the night and instead of singing songs badly I could just sleep.

I followed his directions and found the KTV. I went inside and asked for a room. I was able to book one up until 6am. By then there should be a train, so it was perfect. When I went to the room they gave me, I quickly realised they had given me the children’s room.

I laughed. They clearly knew what I was doing and didn’t care. I closed the door switched off the lights, and curled up on the couch. It wasn’t the most comfortable bed, but you can’t complain when you’re in a town with zero hotels.

I made the train the next day, and when I got back to my hostel I spent another half of the day sleeping. It had been a much more challenging journey than I expected, but I had done it. I had seen Japan at it’s peak.

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