Old Japan Journal, Part Two

This is another post from my old website’s journal. I’m not posting these in any particular order. This one was based on one of my final adventures before leaving Japan: Climbing Mount Fuji. I post it today to go along with the above Photo of the Week of me and the group I climbed with.

Monday, August 19, 2003: Whitey Versus the Volcano

Early in the morning on Saturday, August 16th, Sam, Michelle (two friends and fellow-teachers) and I began our expedition to Mount Fuji. After travelling all day by bus, our tour group arrived there right around supper time. The bus took us to the highest point you can go to by bus, about half way up this tallest mountain in Japan.

After taking some time to eat and get ourselves ready, we began our eight-hour-plus journey to the top of the mountain. We would travel over night in hopes of seeing the sunrise from the top of Mount Fuji early the next morning. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the weather did not allow us to see the sun rise.

The weather also made the climb alot more difficult than it might have been in better conditions. The first hour or so of the hike was pretty easy, really. The trail was steadily uphill but not too steep for the most part. The ground was loose gravel and small rocks; nothing too serious. By the time it was completely dark out, though, it had started to rain and we were coming upon more and more difficult climbing conditions, involving some big steps over large rocks and the need to be careful to get secure footing. It was getting more and more cold and the air more and more thin as we ascended higher and higher. We were also getting wetter and wetter as we went. I in particular was not prepared for the rain as much as I should have been, but even those who were supposedly well-prepared were getting cold and wet.

Climbing Mount Fuji was definitely one of those “only in Japan” experiences, and not only because of the large crowds, tour buses and shrines. Late at night, after about four hours of climbing and hiking with only short, still-wet stops along the way, we stopped for our one long break. This is when things got interesting. Our “sleeping” arrangements were less than ideal, but amusing if nothing else. Picture this: dozens of people lined up as tightly as possible, side-by-side, lying alternatingly with their heads facing one way or the other so as to cram as many people in as possible, sharing blankets, in crawl spaces one on top of the other. Rolling over was not an option, and sleeping didn’t seem to be either, what with the closeness inside and the noise from outside the “bedroom”. I did hear some snoring, though, amazingly. But the good thing was that we got a chance to get ourselves warmed up nicely before once again braving the elements for the final four hours or so of the journey.

And so, after that “sleeping” break, it was back out into the cold in our wet shoes and insufficient rain gear to climb the rest of the way up the mountain. It was at this point that we first realized that our climbing guide had been drinking on the job. Apparently during the long break, he’d had a few too many, and by this point was a little tipsy and a lot more talkative than he’d been before. My friend Samuel was great to have along at this point, because he has no inhibitions about speaking up or anything, and was the one who got our guide moving again several times along the way, encouraging him to shut up and get moving. Our Japanese fellow-climbers never would have spoken up, I’m sure, holding to the Japanese mind-set and culture of politeness and respect.

Somehow, after many hours of climbing and seemingly almost freezing to death, we made it to the top, even with a drunk guide. We got there around sunrise, but as I said, the weather didn’t allow us to see a sunrise; it just got light out. So I didn’t get many good photos either. But we made it. And that seems to be saying alot, considering that of the over 30 people in our group, only about six or seven of us made it all the way. It was definitely a challenge and I’m glad it’s over, but I’m glad I did it too. I’d been dreaming of climbing Mount Fuji for about a year, and it was great and rewarding too see my dream come true.

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