Friday, September 2, 2011

Mt Fuji Adventure

Last Saturday at this time I was slogging up (or down) the massive Mount Fuji. I cannot even tell you how amazing it is NOT to be on that mountain today and be warm, dry and not feeling like I might die. Ok, so here we go. I will tell you the adventure of my Mt Fuji struggle.

My girlfriends Becky and Brandy (and her friend from the States, Deb) invited me to go along with them first to Tokyo and then onto Mt Fuji and I excitedly said yes! It was something on my Must-Do-Before-Leaving-Japan list. So, we booked the trip and bought some hiking boots. So, August got really busy. I had tons going on at work and then my friend suddenly came to visit. Never once did I google Mt Fuji or do more than ask a few people who had done it before what they thought of it. I figured I was in good shape, I can run like 8 miles right now, so I'll be fine. We got a list of things to bring on this trip and I really hadn't even looked at it until I was packing the night before and really didn't worry about it. Wrong! I was SO not prepared for this hike.

#1 I hadn't looked at maps or anything prior to arriving on this mountain. I figured kids and grandparents did this hike, it was easy... we got lost TWICE.
#2 I didn't pack appropriate gear. The weather on Fuji changes incredibly quickly. It was cold. It was pouring down rain. Nothing I had was waterproof. Or all that warm. This made for a horribly uncomfortable hike (understatement of the year).
#3 This hike is challenging. It was not easy. In fact it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

Our bus left Tokyo for Mt Fuji at 2:30 in the morning. Yes, 2:30 am. It took about 2.5 hours to get over to Mt Fuji so we started our hike at about 6am. There are a bunch of different trails to get up and down this mountain. They range in difficulty. We were supposed to take the yellow trail all the way. Well, right off the bat in the start of our hike, back when we actually still were excited about the whole thing, we took the wrong fork in the trail and ended up going the wrong way. Oops. We probably should have realized we were going down when we were supposed to be hiking up the dang thing. Anyway, we got back on track and it immediately sucked. It was like stairmaster hell. It was tough going and it only got harder. The trail has all these stops where you can take breaks and get your Fuji stick stamped. Well, from station 5-6 is long. Really long and a huge wake up call for people like us who thought this would be a walk in the park. We started looking at each other and exclaiming "This is HARD!" and "oh no, I immediately regret this decision." We kept going up and up. The stations started getting more frequent and we started racking up the stamps.

Meanwhile, the trail is super crowded. You can only really hike this trail during July and August, and we did it the last weekend in August, so it was packed. When the going gets hard I start going fast. I just want to get it over with as quickly as possible. This has always been my hiking method and mentality (my sister and husband can totally attest to this annoying habit of mine). Fuji is 2.34 miles above sea level, so we were all feeling the strain on our lungs. I/we are passing people left and right, scrambling up the sides of the "trail" on hands, feet and knees if necessary while trying not to fall to our deaths off the side of the mountain. In the US we get so accustomed to railings and safety. This mountain sometimes had ropes guiding the way of the trail but those babies would do nothing if you were to fall. There was nothing between you and death. In fact on average 3 people die on Fuji every year.

And to top off this situation it was a cloudy and misty mess. We couldn't see any of the amazing views that Mt Fuji offers. We were in the middle of an annoying wet, cold cloud. But, it got worse, so much worse. We kept going up and up past stations 8 a, b, c and d (these stations just kept going on and on and we were like "ummm come on seriously we have to be to 10 by now!") and we are getting our stamps and slogging up and up the rocky mountain cliff face. We keep going and we felt like we couldn't be that far off. We asked a friendly stick stamper how much further and when he announces an hour/hour and a half we all want to cry! Around this time the sky opened up. It starts doing this icy, cold, bone penetrating rain. We whip out our jackets and ponchos and try and cover up as best we can. I was wet to the bone in minutes. Completely soaking wet. Miserable. So the huge finale of getting to the summit was completely lost on us unfortunately. We were running up the mountain at this point and knew that the summit would have shelter and something hot to drink. My hands were numb. My feet were squishing in my boots, my whole body was so wet and cold! We couldn't see anything. We could hardly see a foot in front of our face it was so foggy and rainy. We got under some shelter and with shaking hands took our group summit pictures and got our final summit stamps on our Fuji sticks. We found a seat in the completely packed noodle shop and got hot coffee and soup to try and warm us up. We expected temperatures of about 40F, but with the rain and wind I know it was way colder than that. But, we did it! We were on the top of Mt Fuji! All 3,776 meters or 12,388.45 feet of it.

So, here are the facts. Elevation rise of 12,388 feet, it has a circumference of 78 miles and a diameter of 30 miles. I climbed from station 5 to station 10. It usually takes 8 to ascend and another 4 to descend. We got to the top in just over 6 hours.

This point of the hike was so incredibly mentally challenging for me. I was so tired, sore and miserably wet and cold, but knew it would be hours before I could get warm and dry and I knew that the way down was going to be even more challenging. There was no other option. I had to get myself down that mountain. So, we went back out in the rain and started our decent. Very soon we were confused. We saw a trail that veered off, but it was a red trail, not yellow. And might I add that all these color trails have multiple sub trails all with different names. So, we wanted the yellow trail, but had to pick the right yellow trail. And this trail led us back to the same trail we came up on. Were we supposed to take the same trail down as we did coming up? We didn't think so... but what else is there? That red trail?? We tried asking, but had no luck there. We were out on top of this mountain in the rain looking at maps and I started shaking so bad and for a minute I really thought I was going to be on that I Shouldn't Be Alive show. Words like hypothermia kept ringing through my head. We had to keep moving to stay warm-ish. We figured out (after the fact) that you could have taken that red trail down, but we took the yellow trail down the same way we came up (super challenging by the way) and then at the station 8 hotel our trail veered off again for the actual decent trail.

Going down was no less than awful. At first when we were going down the same trail we went up the "steps" were huge and full of loose rocks. You had to get yourself safely down these natural monster steps and straight down the mountain. After the trail split off it was even harder going. The trail consisted of extremely steep switch backs down the mountain and the footing was rocky. Big rocks, little rocks, all of them moved and shifted when you took a step. At first we started running down this decent trail, but after slipping, falling and almost careening off the side of the mountain we had to slow down. These switchbacks seemed never ending. On the way up at least we had all those stations to break it up a bit. The decent was awful. It seriously felt like my toenails were floating around my sock somewhere. And The loose, gritty red and black volcanic pumice on the descending route got everywhere on my rain soaked and frozen body from head to toe.

On the up side, on our way down the sun miraculously appeared! When that sun came out I think my whole mind, body and soul drank up every second! It was beautiful and most importantly warm. We stopped and snapped a bunch of pictures. That bit of sun was incredible. I only wish we had been able to have some sun at the summit, but I gladly took that little bit we got.

When we finally got back to the bottom I celebrated with a change into dry clothes and we shared a Fuji cake. I'm not going to lie, I was hurting. My body was upset with me! I got this horrible charlie horse in my right calf that made me seriously consider that I had ripped or torn something in there. That pain pretty much eclipsed all my other pains in my feet, knees, hips, butt, and shoulders. How do kids and old people do this hike?! Oh my gosh it was horrible! The hike was challenging enough, but the rain and cold was too much. It was quite a mental and physical feat for me. We may have been miserable, but I tell you what... We laughed so much up and down that mountain. It was either laugh or cry. I will never ever forget that hike and the ladies I got to experience that hell with. I'm glad I did it, but I will never do it again!

So take my advice: plan ahead and do your research, pack your gear light and wear waterproof everything and mentally prepare for a long day (and day after) of pain!
Check out my picture slide show from Mount Fuji:


Mary said...

I'll say it again -- SO proud of you my Dear!

Kate said...

I don't think that was supposed to make me laugh as hard as I just did... Eve. Hiking elevation with no waterproofs??? This is a sign that you have not gone hiking with your flannel-wearing mountain friend enough. You silly creature. I'm really glad that I got to laugh instead of cry, though, and that you're alive and (I'm assuming) feeling much better now. You have the right to feel proud.

Mom said...

Well, Honey, I'm so glad I knew nothing about this climb in advance!! Just reading your account after the fact is scary!! So thanful that you and the other ladies are safe and sound. It was a fantastic accomplishment, but you were so unprepared!! Your strength and perserverence and the good luck of good fortune saved you. Thank God. This will be a major lifetime memory!! Love and kisses, Mom

Aliya said...

You are my hero. Seriously. There is really nothing else to say. You're AMAZING... so proud of you for doing this!!