I’ve stated before that climbing Fuji was on my “bucket list” and we knew this was the only time we could climb this year. When we arrived in Japan on November 2nd, 2012 I was mesmerized as we caught small glimpses of an overcast Fuji from the plane before we landed at Yokota, AFB.

The pure excitement I felt after we pulled into the Hokuroku parking lot can only be compared to a child in a candy store.  Being in the presence of this majestic natural wonder is very inspiring. In my heart and mind I’ve felt that once my husband and I successfully climbed Fuji I would be at peace. If we weren’t able to climb it during our time stationed here in Atsugi, Japan I would always regret it.

I quickly returned to reality when my dear husband and I had to find “the best” parking location. Why is that we can’t just park anywhere [like “normal” people do]?? Instead we spend 7.5 minutes factoring in the direction of the morning sun warming the vehicle despite owning a shiny, silver front dash sun shade. Or it’s essential that the location of our vehicle is in close proximity to the bus stop.

Speaking of that bus stop, there is a bus that will take you to the 5th station. The bus ride is about 45 minutes and the buses run every 30 minutes. The bus fare is round trip and valid for 2 days. Adults are 1,860¥ and children are 930¥.

2014 bus schedule

Sunday – Thursday departure from the bottom to the 5th station  runs from 0530-2200 
Sunday – Thursday leaving 5th station runs from 0620-2300

Fri & sat departure from the bottom to the 5th station runs from 0430-1830 
Fri & sat leaving the 5th station runs from 0520-2100

31aug departure from the bottom to the 5th station runs from 0530-1700
31aug leaving the 5th station runs from 0620-1750 

However, the bus schedule varies daily so make sure to read it carefully and plan your arrival time when a bus is running unless you want to spend 12,600¥ on a taxi like we did. Mt. Fuji provides this information and it is referred to as “period of passenger car traffic control.”

For those who react to money conversion as if their brain is frozen, like after inhaling a large Wendy’s frosty in 4 minutes, follow this simple rule.

Take of the last 2 digits from the amount.

So our 12,600¥ taxi ride was $126.

Keep in mind the exchange rate of yen to USD changes daily and today is .97$ = 1¥

After a very windy drive we arrived to the 5th station. I reluctantly handed the driver 12,600¥ when I felt 4,000¥ was sufficient.

We quickly and happily bought our hiking stick [Kongouzue in Japanese]. We bought the large stick for 1,500¥  and chose the one with the Mt. Fuji flag instead of the Japanese flag. There are many shops and some restaurants at the 5th station so this is a good place to get any last minute essentials.

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I quickly put on windbreaker pants over my 2 layers of shorts, pulled my hair back [it was very windy], put on my old favorite, falling apart orange Polo baseball hat. Layers are great because you can easily control your temperature level. You will want to have your head lamp on because once you start hiking nothing is lit [you will be walking through a forested area].

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Before you enter the hiking trail you will be asked to provide a donation of 1,000¥ per person. This is not optional! You will receive a stamped ticket and a pin after providing your cash donation.

We began our journey on the Yoshida trail around 9 pm and I quickly learned that I wasn’t able to turn and look at my handsome husband because doing so was blinding him with our LED head lamps. Whoops! Hard habit to break.

IMG_3395 Truthfully, I’m out of shape since the birth of our 2 circus members & was tiring quickly as we walked through the dark forest. My heart was racing as I took small sips of water from the camelback. My non-water buffalo husband didn’t need water. All I could think of was that I wasn’t going to make it to the summit and if I did half of our money would be spent on trips to the bathroom. You have to pay 200 to use the bathroom. 

 If my legs were burning I would stop for a few minutes. My husband patiently waited and then eventually it felt normal. We developed a pattern of switching who was the leader so it wasn’t this monotonous never ending hike. That is before we approached that darn zigzag area.

Uh those darn zigzags!! Imagine walking up a never ending zigzag path of volcanic gravel that is being kicked up by the people in front of you. This is the moment you will want to put a dust mask on if you’re not already wearing one. As I dug through my back pack I realized we’d left the pack of dust masks we picked up at 7-11 in the car! I blamed my hungry husband who was more excited to try Japanese snacks than put one thing in my bag. In a pinch of desperation he tied a towel around my face so I could stop inhaling the dusty nonsense. 

When we reached the first hut we were so excited to get our first stamp that we almost missed it because of the poor placement of signage. Naturally I approached others in the area about the stamp [Yakin in Japanese]. There was a stamp at this hut and we learned a valuable lesson to simply ask, even if our Japanese is minimal. 

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The zigzag path seemed never ending but once we reached the “slightly rocky” area I almost wished the entire trail was zigzags. The description of the Yoshida trail says that once you leave the zigag area it’s “slightly rocky.” Yeah right. BIG FAT LIE!! Luckily I am here to rescue you with the truth! Climbing Fuji is not a paved path you will be climbing over natural huge rocks/boulders that can shift and move. There are countless signs warning hikers of falling rocks. So up we went the rocky area motivated to get the yakin at the next hut. 

Having just added another yakin to our stick we continued up the mountain. Little did we know this would be the moment where everything changed. In the distance we could see lights from the next hut which to us appeared to closer than it actually was. Looking up at the illuminated summit was both inspiring and frustrating because you think you will be there in no time. The rocks at this stage of the climb were very huge and the journey was taking forever, but we continued on. I stood on a rock in the darkness of night just wishing I was asleep in my comfy, warm bed, but I knew that I wanted to finish what I had started. Then it started to mist. My handsome, but incredibly tired husband asked in a daze state, “Is this rain or snow?” It misted for a little bit which motivated me to climb faster as I gazed up to the hut wondering just how much longer we needed to climb. Then the sky opened above us and down came the freezing cold rain. It was awful. In a matter of minutes my clothes were soaked as I wasn’t wearing my windbreaker at this point. The black rocks were slippery and as the dense fog rolled in with the heavy rain I could barely see a foot in front of me despite wearing that super awesome LED headlamp. Resorting to prayer, I pleaded to God to make the rain stop. Moments later the rain was gone. Gracious, I couldn’t believe it had worked!! But about 5 minutes later the rain was back with a vengeance and we muttered some not so nice four letter words. I’m sorry God, but that rain of yours was unbearable. It made my body turn to ice, tired me out, broke my spirits and once we reached the hut the look of sadness on our faces was palpable.

We quickly found shelter among others in the outer area of the bathrooms. I have never experienced such a repulsive smell in my life and pray I don’t ever again. My husband was exhausted and at one point fell asleep on my shoulder as we stood, hugging to stay warm. As the wind howled and the rain came pounding down on this rickety wooden structure he looked at me with blood shot eyes and said there was no way he could continue up the mountain. We wouldn’t make it to the summit. I was overcome with tremendous disappointment but my mind knew the dangers of attempting to reach the summit would be perilous. Once I accepted this news my energy shifted into finding warm shelter away from the stench. I sent my husband to see if there was availability in the hut behind us not knowing what to expect. I noticed a hint of a smile as he sleepily walked toward me and told me to grab our stuff. 6,000¥ bought us shelter from the elements and a place for us to rest our heads for a few hours. Well my husband slept, I didn’t. That man can sleep anywhere! 

As we settled onto the top bunk I couldn’t hold back the urge to visit the bathroom. I woke my husband to inform him that I would be walking out in the rain to use the bathroom where we had first sought shelter. He grumbled something incoherent. 

Overall the hut was a bizarre experience. When we entered we had to remove our shoes due to the tatami mats and were instructed to remove all wet clothing which was thrown into a plastic bag. Sleeping on a bunk bed with other people we didn’t know was not comforting. I can’t sleep when my husband snores so imagine what it’s like sleeping in close proximity to snoring strangers! As you know the bathrooms are outside so regardless of the weather you have to put your shoes on and make the trek outside. If you want to eat or drink you have to do so in a common area as you’re not allowed to eat or drink anything in bed. So don’t tell anyone that I took a quick sip from the Camelbak to swallow two Advil in attempt to soothe my aging joints. 

Two hours later, at 5 am we were woken to leave the hut and see the morning sunrise. After minutes of staring at our bag of wet clothes I opted to wear the un-worn green fleece from my backpack that was slightly damp, but not soaked. As we put on our boots I caught glimpses of a blue, peach and orange sky. Our windbreakers were soaked but I followed my husbands advice to just put in on quickly and get outside. 

That moment when I saw the sunrise took away all of the pain we had endured just a few hours prior. It was majestic even though we were seeing it from the 8th station instead of the summit. We stood there gazing out at the white clouds, gorgeous colors in the sky and for a moment it seemed like heaven. 

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It had rained from 2-5 am {stopped right before sunrise} and despite the clear weather at sunrise my husband still wanted to begin our descent. I agreed as the Advil I took hours prior made me feel like I was in the body of an 85 year old. 

And so we started our descent, muttering more four choice words as we climbed over the boulders and avoided knee & ankle injuries. I’d heard horror stories from those who have lost toenails on the descent but we made it down & to the car with all 10 toenails & not a single blister. I gracefully fell twice on the sandy, gravelly zigzag area and have 2 glorious bruises on my legs. What a relief after all we endured on Mt. Fuji. 

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Luckily the buses were running that morning {no overpriced taxi for us} and 40 minutes later we wobbled to our car, which was the furthest from the bus stop! 

I left Fuji feeling like a failure for not making it to the summit or mailing our kids a post card from the post office. However I am grateful for the time my husband and I spent alone, reconnecting, even though it was raining & he was exhausted and grumpy. I know we did the best in our situation without having more rain gear. 

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One day when we are on a plane leaving Japan and I see Mt. Fuji for the last time, I’ll be content as I won’t have regrets that we didn’t climb but I am certain that I will mutter some four choice words under my breath. 

our hiking stick [one of a kind decor]

our hiking stick [one of a kind decor]

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