Mt Fuji: You don’t have to be a fool to climb it twice

I am back from my second climb of Mt Fuji. All the 26 members of our hiking group (from age 8 to about 70) made it to the top and back down again. We started from the Fujinomiya 5th stage and also returned via there. My first climb had been about 11 months ago.

On the first day we hiked from 2400 m to 3460 m in about 5 hours. Then around 3:20am the second day we set off from the 9th stage mountain hut, ascending another 300 m of altitude in darkness to reach the peak before sunrise.

After descending back down to the 9th stage we hiked over to Mt Hoei, a crater on the side of Mt Fuji created by the most recent eruption in the 18th century.

I had never seen the eruption site of Mt Hoei from close up and it looked most impressive. Much of the hiking was in what looked like fog but was the clouds that surrounded the mountain. We had lots of views on to a sea of clouds from the top.

A lot of people suffer from altitude sickness on Mt Fuji because there is about 35% less oxygen at the top than at sea level, which in combination with the exercise leads to rapid breathing that can turn the blood alkaline (CO2 depletion). Above 3400 m I too got a headache at times, but unlike my Japanese friends I never used canned oxygen during this hike.

The weather was ideal, but it was still only a cool 12 degrees C in the sunny afternoon at the mountain hut and below freezing at the top before sunrise, with strong wind (I saw frozen puddles). Imagine going from a hot humid summer day in Tokyo to a cold windy February night within just a couple of hours and you have a good idea of the contrasts of a Fuji climb. Winter clothes are definitely needed for a sunrise climb, the warmer the better. Good hiking boots are recommended at any time and don’t forget your camera!

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