Yokota travel series: Tackling Mount Fuji

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Marasky
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
On particularly clear days, members of Team Yokota are often treated to a quite beautiful view of Japanese mountains, particularly Mount Fuji, one of the most famous mountains in the world.

Mount Fuji is an iconic symbol of Japan, and it is the tallest mountain in the country, standing at 12,380 feet tall. It's also the single most popular tourist site in Japan, with more than 200,000 people climbing to the summit every year, including many from Yokota.

If you're going to tackle the climb, there are a couple of options available to you. First, you can get with the 374th Force Support Squadron Outdoor Recreation service to go on one of their tours up the mountain, both during the day and evening.

Or, you can climb the mountain without a guide, but if you're going to go it alone, you need to make sure you do your research and are prepared for the climb before starting.

Having made the trek up Mount Fuji twice, I can attest to the difference in experiences you'll have if you're prepared or not. During my first trip, my wife and I weren't as well prepared as we should have been, and while the view from the top was amazing, the climb was miserable. The second time, we applied our lessons learned and had a better trip.

One big mistake a number of people make is not being prepared for the cold. While Japan can enjoy some warm summers, the top of Mount Fuji is a different story. To put it in perspective, when we left Yokota to begin our overnight climb, the temperature was in the nineties. When we arrived at Kawaguchiko 5th station to begin our climb, it was in the low seventies. When we arrived at the summit at 3:30 a.m., the temperature with wind chill was near freezing.

Another big factor is making sure you're rested, particularly if you're climbing over night. The time it takes to reach the summit varies, but you can expect to spend anywhere from 5 to 8 hours on the ascent, and another 3 to 6 hours on the descent. If you aren't rested, that will make for a very long trip up and down the mountain.

But once you're prepared, there is a lot to do and see as you climb Mount Fuji. The most popular way to climb to the summit is taking the Yoshidaguchi Trail, which begins at the Kawaguchiko 5th station. It's important to note that during the peak climbing seasons, the road up to the 5th station is closed to private traffic, so you'll have to park at one of the lots that have busses to take you up to the 5th station.

As mentioned, the temperature at the 5th station is already lower than when you get on the bus, because you're at roughly a 5,000-foot elevation to start. From there, you have a number of little shops to get your walking stick from; it's a popular thing to do as there are a number of stations and sub-stations along the trail that you can get stamps at -- almost like a visual journal of your hike up the mountain.

Once you start hiking, it becomes apparent that, while it's a very popular tourist attraction, it's not a particularly even path. Most of the time, there are simply some ropes or chains to keep you on the relative path, which varies from simple slopes to having to climb large rocks and boulders.

As you climb, you can often expect to get to areas where the path gets quite narrow, allowing for only one person at a time to go up, which can cause bottle necks, often forming long lines of slowly moving hikers on your way up the mountain.

As you ascend, there are stations that cater to the climbers, providing not only stamps for the walking sticks, but food and drinks as well, and at the higher altitudes, oxygen if you're having trouble breathing. You have to be prepared for the high prices though, as a bottle of water can cost you four to five dollars, and toward the top, a can of oxygen can run up to nearly fifteen dollars. Many people find it best to just bring some snacks and drinks for the climb, but either way, you'll want to bring plenty of Japanese Yen, as there are no ATM's on the mountain, to include the 5th station.

Once you get a few hours in, you'll really begin to notice the temperature change, slowly dropping more and more as you get higher, and the wind often picks up more towards the top, making for a chilly climb if you didn't bring enough warm clothes. If you climb during the night, you'll have the opportunity to see Japan, in particular Tokyo, from thousands of feet in the air, all lit up. The only other way you can get that kind of view is from the inside of a plane, but the view from Mount Fuji is better.

If you climb through the evening, make it to the top before sunrise and the weather favors you, you'll be granted one of the best sights in Japan -- the sun rising over the horizon.

Once you finally make the ascent to the top, you'll find a surprising amount of buildings up there. You can get some hot food at the rather packed restaurants, which serve typical Japanese foods to include Ramen, Curry and Udon. But, don't expect five-star dining; there are no tables, simply rows of benches for you to sit on next to other climbers to enjoy your meal.

There are also a number of vendors that sell drinks, trinkets and post cards from the top of the mountain. You can also get the final stamp at the summit to show you made it to the top. Beyond shopping, you can go and check out the caldera, as Mount Fuji is an active volcano.

Once you've finished touring the top of Mount Fuji, it's time to begin the descent. Many climbers will tell you this can be the most challenging part, and it's definitely the least fun according to everyone I've ever talked to. The primary descent is done through a series of switchbacks, usually in the range of 45 degrees downward or more. Adding in the loose rock and volcanic dust, the trail can be quite slippery at times, and people lose their footing fairly often.

Then there's the final stretch, and after quite a bit of climbing up and down the large mountain, you'll make it back to the sweet relief of the 5th station again. You'll be surrounded by all of the other climbers, some on their way up, and some like yourself, just having finished the trip.

If you're considering climbing the iconic Mount Fuji, just be ready, as some people may find it easy, but most are going to find it a challenging journey, more so if you weren't prepared for it. But once it's all said and done, you'll have great memories of being at the top of one of the most iconic mountains in the world and enjoying some of the best sights available in all of Japan.