Buck and I are both adventurous souls. We're not on the same level as Bear, but we do like to push ourselves a bit. I've completed the NYC Marathon, climbed a 200 ft. Douglas Fir is Oregon without spikes, raced sled dogs in Alaska, rafted the Grand Canyon and the Green River, toured Europe, and have hiked around Montana. I've never climbed a mountain this high (12,388 ft or 3776 meters) though. This would be a new entry on my adventure resume.
Yep, there goes Maize into the mist....layered down in clothing, the camera slung over my shoulder, my pockets full with a bottle of water, headlamp, socks and gloves. Oh, and most importantly-- my Mt. Fuji walking stick which will be woodburned with a Japanese saying when I reach the summit.I had this romantic notion of climbing Mt. Fuji at night and then sitting on the summit to watch the sunrise. I'd read in the guidebook it was becoming popular to do so. Besides, grandmothers and little kids climb this mountain. How hard could it be?
I imagined the trail was going to be a simple winding one all the way to the top. With 600 thousand people climbing it every year, I figured it would be a well worn one. Unfortunately, this just wasn't the case. In some areas, it was a simple walk but for the most part we were climbing on big jagged rocks and lava.
We're getting closer to the summit. This is looking down the mountain. Unfortunately, there really isn't anything to see at the top but the clouds. Because there were several stations on the way to the summit, we decided to carry only one bottle of water at a time and purchase them as we ascended. It's a great idea, but be aware the price of water increases the higher you get. $7 a bottle at the top!
Buck and I made it to the summit in four hours, not the six which was suggested. It was 6:30pm and about 25 degrees. My feet were frozen and my hands were very cold. I wanted to get down right away. I didn't want to sit there overnight in the cold just to watch the sunrise. I wanted to be on the bus heading back to the train station by 9:00 pm and lounging in our lovely suite in Tokyo no later than midnight. Okay, let's boogie down this bad boy. Since we climbed to the top in four hours, we should be down in two. Right on schedule....
Yeah, no problem. The sun was setting but we had our headlamps. We continued down and, as instructed, we took the descending trail at the 8th station. It started to get dark, so I switched on my headlamp. We followed another climber down and figured we were doing fine. Until...we hit the black shale lava flow.
A black shale lava flow at a 90 degree angle that is. With every step we took, we would sink into the shale halfway up our calves. Rocks would tumble past us and we fell several times sliding down the shale.
It was slow going and we had to start side stepping down the steep incline. I had a hard time seeing where I was going because of the blackness of the shale and well, it was dark! With every step I took, the dust would cloud my headlamp. We managed to hold onto a rope most of the way down, insuring we wouldn't fall off the side.
Two hours into the descent, we figured we were in trouble. We should have been down by then. We were out of water. There were no signs of other climbers, only lights off into the distance. All Buck had left was a small package of goldfish and a tiny square of chocolate. He insisted we stop and rest. We sat in the shale underneath the stars wondering where we went wrong and knowing we'd made some stupid mistakes by failing to pack the proper safety items. We knew better than this.
It's at this point where your will must override your fear. So, to choke back the tears, I started making up songs like "On top of Mt. Fuji... with no where to go... we sit here lost... on a black lava flow." Or..."Stuck on Mt. Fuji with you... and I don't know what it is I should do. I'm so scared in case I fall on my face... and there's black lava all over the place." Or..."I'm a little sherpa, short and stout..I'm sittin' here lost and beginning to pout."
Our options were to sit there until the sun came up or to keep climbing. I was concerned because we were out of water, then Buck said "Well, according to Bear, we won't have to drink our urine until day two." Okay, that was enough to roust me from my depression and to continue down. Pronto.
Two hours later, we emerged from a forest. We were not where we started and had no idea where we were. There was a bathroom, some tables and chairs and a few parked cars. Then we saw a metal quonset hut. There was a light on, so we knocked.
An elderly Japanese man limped to the door and motioned for us to come in. It was a hiking supply/gift shop/restaurant. Lucky us. We asked him where we were and how far the 5th station was. He pulled out a map and proceeded to point out that we had taken the wrong trail down. In order to get back to the 5th station, we'd need to climb all the way back up to the 8th station, traverse across and then descend.
Buck and I looked and each other and sighed. There was no way we were climbing back up that mountain! We purchased a couple of beers and bottles of water and the man brought us a plate of cookies. He could tell we were distraught. We talked about what our options were. We could sleep on the tables outside or on the floor in the bathrooms until morning and hopefully hitch a ride from another climber.
We both decided our best option was to ask the man if he could he drive us to the train station in town and we'd pay him for his trouble. Buck tried, but the man refused. Then Buck mentioned calling a taxi and the man agreed to call one for us. I was surprised we'd be able to get a taxi up there at 10:00 at night. We were 45 minutes from the nearest town! I didn't care what it cost, I wanted a hot shower and something to eat.
While we waited for the taxi to arrive, the man was generous enough to make us some toast with jam, sliced apples and some coffee. We were so surprised and grateful and insisted we pay for it but he refused. We even asked him for his address so we could send him a gift, but he said no. I'm sure he kept muttering to himself "Stupid Gaijin (foreigners)!"
The taxi driver finally arrived and we were on our way to the train station. When we arrived an hour later, it was closed but there was a hotel right across the street and we were lucky enough to get a room. We were both exhausted and couldn't wait to take a shower.
The next morning, we hobbled across the street to board the Shinkansen. I'd never been so happy to get on the train.
There's a saying in Japan "Everyone should climb Mt. Fuji once; only a fool would climb it twice." I decided my mountain climbing career started and ended with Mt. Fuji. It's definitely a memorable entry on the adventure resume though.
This now closes Maize & Buck's Great Adventure in Japan. I'm sure I've bored you enough. Next up, crafty Japanese purchases.