Last Thursday our friends Paul, Andrea, and their kids, plus my wife and I all took a nine-hour bus ride to Tokyo. The next day we all got up really, really early (that would be early as in "What does the ‘O’ in oh-three-hundred mean? ‘O-my-goodness it’s early!"), we handed the kids off to my wife for babysitting, and Paul, Andrea, and I all jumped aboard the tour bus to Mt Fuji!
The bus stopped at the fifth station trailhead at about 0600 (that’s 6:00 AM for you non-military types). We got out, bought ourselves one each official Mt Fuji walking sticks, and proceeded up the mountain trail at 0620.
The trail was well-marked, mostly in Kanji, but sometimes in English. Besides, once we got to the northern side of the mountain, you could see the huts all the way up the mountainside. The ascent to the summit took me six hours, Paul and Andrea were in better shape for such things and could probably have gotten topside within five-and-a-half. They always stopped to wait for me, which was nice of them.
One of the unique things on the Mt Fuji trail was the ‘stamps’ you collected on the ascent. Most of the huts had someone with a small fire and a branding iron that they would use to burn a ‘stamp’ into your walking stick. The idea was that you could prove how high you got after the fact by the stamps on your walking stick. The odd thing was the hut topside gave us the ‘Sunrise’ stamp, although we didn’t make it up there until about 1215. Some people actually hike up one evening and then stay overnight at the hut either at the top or at the eigth stage (where it’s considerably warmer!). These folks then awaken at 0300, finish the climb, and watch the sun rise on top of the mountain. While that would have been cool, it wasn’t part of the package deal we paid for, and none of us brought camping gear anyway. We settled for simply walking over to the edge of the crater and taking pictures. I was asked if we saw a lake in there. If there was a lake, it was way farther down than any of us could see. We spent about an hour-and-a-half at the mountaintop, partly because we were sore from the ascent, partly because we were hungry and eating lunch, partly so we could see the crater, but most importantly because at about 1130 the weather got a little bad, and we had to trudge through some freezing drizzle for the final 45 minutes prior to arriving at the summit.
Overall the hike reminded me a little bit of the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon. Both paths were about 12 km, it took 5-6 hours to go up and 3 to descend (obviously the Grand Canyon was the other way around, a descent followed by an ascent). The Grand Canyon path was certainly more developed. Mt Fuji had a plowed-out descent over pea-gravel sized igneous rock that ultimately shredded the soles of my way-too-old Gore-tex boots. The ascending trail was slightly technical at times, but it was easily managed.
The legend among the USAF is that if you are stationed in Japan and do not climb Mt Fuji, you’ll get stationed here again. I may have just written myself out of a follow-on assignment in Japan.