Reaching the top

The sea of clouds, originally uploaded by bro-mark.

August. Already at the end of that incredible year. Still almost a month to go, I couldn’t leave Japan without reaching its top. Took some vacations next to a weekend, just before the Obon festival, and decided to go for this landmark. Borrowed boots, headlight, some waterproofs and arranged a sleeping location at some friends, as close as possible. I was ready.

Mt. Fuji (Fujisan – No, “san” is not the polite suffix for “mr.”, means, guess what, mountain) is 3776 meters high, highest peak in all Japan. Is an old volcano which stands quite isolated from other mountain ranges, like the last pillar on the coast before the ocean, clearly visible from airplanes, cars running on the motorways, and of course from the Tokaido shinkansen line running at its feet.

While covered in snow from September until July, and with prohibitive winter conditions (a wind so strong that is difficult to stand on the top), in August the weather is fairly mild, few precipitations, no snow, not that much wind, and definitely not cold.

There are 3 or 4 hiking trails from different sides climbing up, divided in 10 stations. 10 is the top, 0 is the bottom. Easiest way to go is taking a bus that climbs up to station 5 (2300m, but looking on a map could seem already at 2/3 of the way…wrong), but naturally, you can climb all the way up from (almost) sea level.

Naturally, that’s what I did.

Being an isolated volcano, there are no mountains nearby, and the station closest to Fuji is 800m high on sea level…so that’s a story of how I climbed almost 3000 vertical meters in less than a day.

Goal: witness the sun rising from the top.

Mission: accomplished.

It’s not hard climbing, everything is neatly kept, paths are outlined, and the mountain side not too steep. After emerging from the forest, it’s like a huge pile of rocks and gravel. Almost no vegetation, a gigantic cone of dark, red, white rocks, and a neverending zigzagging path up the side.  It is tiring, but more mentally than anything. You keep going up as the air keeps getting thinner, chitchatting with many japanese fellas on the way. I made good friends while climbing, people I would hear from again, also people who came visiting me in Rome after I got back.

I stopped for the night in a hut at around 3400 meters, after climbing for 9 hours. Bedtime at around 9, woke up at 2, fast breakfast and up climbing again in the dark of the night. Downhill city lights clearly visible in the darkness, the line of LED headlights tracking the path ahead reassuring and warning at the same time.

It wasn’t over yet. People were tired, weak, stopping to breathe from their small oxygen tanks (yep, Japanese people do buy small tanks to help them breathe on the way….totally pointless if you ask me), and the path was narrow: the line often stopped, with no apparent reason. So as soon as the sky started to brighten, announcing the 御来光 (goraikou, “noble upcoming light”, that is the sunrise seen from the top of a mountain – yes, there’s a word for this in Japanese), me and the friends I met at the hut started rushing through the path, cutting corners, trying to be up as early as possible.

We’ve been rewarded by an amazing sight, with people still on the path, and something that can’t be described with words. Pictures too, fail but…take a look, I tried to do my best!

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