Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Japan Trip // Gotemba Day 8 & 9: The Ever Elusive and Epic Mount Fuji

It's the big day that we've been excitedly talking about even before arriving in Japan- hiking Mount Fuji! Except it's raining. Aaargh. We arrive at Gotemba Station to catch the bus that will take us to the 5th Station where we will begin our ascent. The guy at the ticket office informs us that there's a typhoon headed this way and that climbing Fuji is at our own risk.

What's going through our heads:
  1. But we can't cancel our Hakone reservation! That place is EXPENSIVE. I'm not going to let that money go to waste.
  2. It's just a typhoon....just some rain and wind, right?
  3. Mount Fuji is high enough that we'll be higher than the clouds! No clouds = no rain/wind/weather, right? (We're so logical)
  4. This is our one and only chance to climb Fuji! (Like I said, we're so logical. *snicker*)
Because we're still stuck in ultra-tourist thinking and desperate to tackle this bucket list item, we downplay the (obvious) dangers and board the bus. Look how innocently we're smiling on the bus!



I even recorded a pre-climbing video! (But oops, it's upside down, sorry)

video



We arrive at the Subashiri 5th Station and as predicted, it's raining. There are multiple paths to climb Fuji and we chose the Subashiri Trail because it's supposed to have more trees. Look at them cutely peeking behind the sign. Surely they'll keep us covered from the wind and the rain, right? 

Again we're warned about the typhoon, but we find another American couple who are crazy like us, so, LET'S DO THIS!!! *fist pump* 


The climb starts out okay as the trees keep us relatively shielded from the rain and the wind. But as we hit each station, we realize that they're all closed because of the typhoon and that there are no other structures to give us a temporary break from the weather. So we're only left with one option- to keep going, because we're too far in now to turn around and give up.

We then hit the altitude where there aren't any more trees and it's just us, volcanic rock, and Fuji, with the wind and rain beating down on us and dropping temperatures. Thank god I bought the North Face jacket, which kept me warm and dry. For all the doubters, that jacket really does do everything it says it will. It's what kept me alive on this climb. But back to the story.

Hour four or so the hike is really starting to take its toll and I'm falling way, way behind the pack, to the point where the American couple ditch us. Then we meet a fork in the path. Up or down? At this point we're starting to lose light and are beginning to seriously panic. We choose the path going up, but after hiking for ten minutes change our minds and continue down the other way. We finally see a light up ahead, which renews our hope, but I'm also progressively getting even more slow.

My friend goes ahead to make sure we're following the right path. Now the sun is completely gone and I can barely see in front of me with all the wind and rain. On top of that, I've lost my friend. Fuck. I do still see the light though and try my best to walk towards it, calling for my friend and help simultaneously and about to seriously lose it. Images of the shrine dedicated to people who died climbing Fuji that we passed crosses my mind. Thank goodness in the end I was saved and (literally) hauled up to safety by the people at the hut.

And surprise, surprise, we weren't the only crazy ones! There were the American couple that we started the journey with who made it there a little before us, some Chinese exchange students, and an Australian and American duo. Here's what the inside of our hut looked like.

And everyone's wet hiking gear hanging to dry. Originally we made reservations at the 8.5 Station, but we only made it to the 8th Station. We've just now come to our senses and completely regret the decision to climb. We can't even make it to the summit because the conditions are way too dangerous. (The original plan was to rest at the hut and then embark for the summit in the middle of the night to catch the sunrise.)

The next morning we wake up to this lovely sight. Typhoon is on, full force. Then 11:00 am rolls around and the hut workers try to inform us in the nicest way possible that we need to leave by 11:30 or we'll have to pay for another night's lodging. And like that, we're kicked out and are back in the typhoon.....

It was terrible descending the first half hour. The wind slapped at our faces and I literally thought I'd fly away because of the strong winds. However the further we descended, the more the weather conditions improved and stabilized. Eventually when I finally reached the 5th Station again, which is where we started our journey, the weather was actually pretty nice, albeit winds were still strong and temperatures still cold.


I still don't get a view of Mount Fuji itself as it is ever elusive and still engulfed in clouds.

We finally make it back to Gotemba Station and still, I'm robbed of my view of Mount Fuji.

I don't think I'll be attempting Fuji again any time soon since I'm still scarred by the experience, but I'm sure under normal conditions it's a great and rewarding albeit challenging hike. Typhoon Etau, I will forever remember you. But hey, this'll definitely be a story that I'll tell the grand kids ;)

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