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August, 6 th 2019 Ōsaka
Night bus ride. Unexpectedly, my company granted me three days of special summer vacation. I connected them with Obon national holiday (special festival to honor the ancestors and travel back to your family’s /origin’s place) to let one of my biggest Japan dreams come true: Climbing Mt. Fuji. With its 3776 m, Fujisan is not only Japan‘s highest mountain it is also the country’s symbol and a national pride. No wonder, that it is very important for Japanese people to climb it at least once in a lifetime. The climbing season is only around for two months during summer (July to September), so the window is very tight and the crowd is accordingly big. Even tough I got a lot of experience in climbing mountains especially in Japan, this would be my highest peak so far. There are four different trails leading to the volcano’s summit, Fujinomiya, Gotemba, Subashiri and Yoshida trail, each with different properties. The most popular one is the Yoshida trail. I decided to avoid the crowd and choose the Gotemba trail, the least frequented and the longest one with the most meters of ascent to climb. I booked an overnight bus and started into my adventure directly after work. Long journeys in a bus are torture and somehow the bus and airplane are the only places I cannot fall asleep properly. The bus ride wasn’t too bad even though I really didn’t understand why the driver made loudly announcements in the middle of the night just to inform the sleeping passengers that he has to take his official rest time. Anyway, the ride wasn’t too bad and I could get some sleep in the end.
August, 7 th 2019 Fujisan
I left the bus around 6 am in the morning at Fuji Station and I was wondering that I was the only passenger who got off. The night bus to Gotemba was fully booked and this one went to the other trails. The morning heat hit me hard and sleepy and with aching bones in my back I took the train to Gotemba Station. One hour later I arrived and used my spare time to get some refreshment in a public bathroom. Finally I sat in the local bus to the trailhead together with three other climbers. I expected way more climbers since it was high season and was a little bit worried that I missed something. Slowly the bus tootle up the mountain’s street. At the trailhead I got off. Standing there. In front of me the impressive face of Fujisan. Awfully I looked at it. The sun was burning. My The heat was burning and my backpack containing all my camping gear (for further travelling the Fuji five lake region) and 4 litre of water was painful. I felt lost and tired. My motivation to start climbing was pretty low. But soon I found myself on the trail, still not realising what the next hours will bring to me. The impressive face of Mt. Fuji in front of me. It was breathtaking. I couldn’t believe to climb this sacred mountain. The trail itself consisted of loose volcanic rocks, so walking on it was very difficult an energy consumpting. Immediately sweat drops fell on the ground with every step. I couldn’t imagine how to fill in new water into my body as quickly as I lost it. The mountain hut at the trailhead said it would be four hours to the 6 th Station, so I set my lunch break point in my head. There were some occasional climbers around me, but I was the very last. Was I that late? I already learned that Japanese people are usually early birds, but was I really that late? I calmed myself down by the fact that I had enough water and food and all the equipment to sleep somewhere on the trail in emergency. Also I had a reservation
at a mountain hut at 7.5 th Station (3100 m) and no pressure to arrive there by a certain time. My headlamp would also allow me to climb in darkness. So, step by step I climbed up the volcano enjoying the fascinating landscape around me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I tried to find the mountain hut with my eyes, but no chance to see the summit. The sun burnt without any mercy and passing clouds giving some shade were already gone when I arrived their place. I only had a tiny breakfast, but wasn’t hungry at all. That’s not a good sign. I ate an awful muesli bar and continued. More and more people showed up behind me, all suffering like me. The small talks and greetings from the beginning turned just into tired smiles to each other when passing by. The terrain got harder and the the light loose stones created a unique sound while walking. It sounded like walking into fresh fallen snow, but louder. I liked this sound. Unfortunately I lost a few centimetres of every tiny step I did while slipping down on the loose steep rocks. It was exhausting. I regretted to not bring a hat and was annoyed by my own stupidity. I started at 1400 m to climb and when I arrived at 2000 m the temperature slowly dropped and it felt like somebody turned on the air condition. I stopped sweating and felt more comfortable, but also got more and more exhausted with every step. From now I entered the hight of the passing clouds who brought a could foggy breeze each time. I liked that. It was incredibly how fast they flew by. The trail went around a corner and a long traverse guided the climbers into a different and even more steep terrain. I observed a hut over there and asked some construction workers if this was the 6 th station. They confirmed. It looked very close and I planed to take my lunch break over there. How wrong I was. In zick zack the trail went up very steep and every step was painful. I was deeply exhausted, but a very natural problem kept me ongoing. I needed a bathroom very urgently. I kept drinking continuously and after stopping sweating all the water had to find a way out. Another problem occurred: headache. It was increasing. Since I sat in the bus to the trailhead I didn’t check time anymore. This was about me and the mountain and time was irrelevant. I have no idea how long it took to get to the hut, but it felt like hours. When I arrived there, it was closed. I wasn’t surprised since a sign 10 meters before told me already. I wondered about that sign and the sign at the 5 th station. My imagination was that there would be at least a bench or toilet. But nothing. I didn’t care and placed my body into the dirt. I wore shorts and my legs were covered by brown-reddish dust. So my clothes as well from now. I was alone and observed while the next climbers fought their way. I still wasn’t hungry, but I knew I have to eat. So I ate my well prepared nigiri and maki roll and a Nutella sandwich. My tummy was full. It was cool up here, but the sun was shining warmly. The view into the valley was breathtaking. I made myself comfortable and took a long deep nap. I could feel many other climbers passing by. I slept for a long time, maybe one hour or even more. When it comes to nap I know no compromises. After the nap I made a coffee to get rid of the drowsiness. I felt much better and also my headache was a little bit better. With a slightly feeling of nausea I continued. The terrain changed slightly again and big rocks of cooled lava appeared here and there. I began to feel hot and cold at the same time. Every single step was exhausting. I talked to guy, who was faster than his group and we climbed a bit together. I took some small breaks, but getting started again was hard each time. I could see the next huts and was happy to be able to see today’s goal. It was still far away, but at least I could see small progress. I arrived the sign of 3000 m elevation. I was deeply exhausted. It meant 100 m altitude of climbing left. Final sprint. I could see how I placed each step in slow motion. My brain was empty. I arrived my physical limit. I passed the first hut at 7.4 th Station. My one was at 7.5 th station only few meters further. I didn’t stop and with the last power I climbed the rocky stairs to the hut. I was so happy when I arrived. Just to be there and to stop climbing for today. The hut was very cute and the view breathtaking. Happiness shot through my body and I immediately loved that place. It brought me enough energy to easily walk around and to check in. Kento, one of the stuff, greeted me warmly and we liked each other immediately. He told me that he lived in Australia and only came back to renew his driving licence and worked during summer at this hut. The hut was as simply as cozy and in common Japanese manner built to host as much people as possible on a small space. I loved it and enjoyed the feeling of arrival. It kind of felt like on the camino. There was no tasks, just being there, live the moment until the journey continues. I talked a lot with Kento and other climbers. I wondered that I was one of the very first ones in the end. Little by little climbers arrived at the hut, all of them smiling brightly. Their happiness were infectious and created a bondeage between all the climbers immediately. It felt like being at home and I enjoyed just sitting in front of the house and viewing into the valley. I must have arrived around 4 pm. It was still bright outside. At 5 pm, Kento asked me to try the Curry rice and to have dinner. Two giant pots of rice and curry were in the middle of the hut and everybody could sever theirselves. I ate outside on the railing bench. An unforgettable dinner. While eating I realised how hungry I was and luckily one were allowed to as much as one liked. The full tummy brought fully satisfaction. I thought this is the perfect evening until the sun was setting. Suddenly shouts of wows. During the sunset a special light condition appeared where the sun forms a triangle shaped shadow of the Fuji in the sky, surrounded by colourful rainbow-like light stripes (I forgot the Japanese term for this special event). It was amazing and we were very lucky to have observed it. Another point I was very happy about it was the toilet, even at 3100 m there were earth toilets with heated toilet seats. The fee was 300 Y, but for climbers staying overnight it was included, which was saving my budget. The sunset was a highlight and end ended up in a compilation of colors. Everybody is talking about Mt. Fuji’s sunrise, and I couldn’t imagine how it should be more fantastic than this sunset. The sky turns from dark blue into almost black and the city’s lights were shining through the clouds. It got colder and the tired climbers disappeared one by one into the hut. In a cozy atmosphere they were talking and organising their feet and stuff. A lady gave me a postcard to send it to my family from the post office at the summit. How nice. Kento calculated the time I would need to climb to summit. I called him before I started climbing from 5 th Station, so he knew my pace and recommended me to start at 2 am to arrive at the summit to see the goraiko (sunrise). He showed me some time lapse videos he made at summit and today’s sunrise from the mountain hut and shared it with me. I did some smalltalk until I climbed into to my bed. I was so exhausted. My head was aching and my body felt hot and dry. It got worse. All the time I was wondering if this was the symptoms of strong exhaustion or already altitude sickness. Well, I tend to get this kind of symptoms after long journey and lack of sleep, but Nassau was unusual. Kento was sure it was altitude sickness and gave me some pain killers. Altitude sickness usually occurs from 2500 m on and extremely depends on the condition. It is recommended not to climb more than 625 m of elevation a day. Since I had a sleepless and stressful night, almost no food and climbed 1600 m in a few hours up to 3100 m I might agree. I climbed into my bed and hoped sleep would help again. At 8 pm the light switched off and the climbers fell asleep.
August, 8 th 2019 Kawaguchiko
The summit. I didn’t set an alarm clock and was sure to wake up by the rustle and crackle of people preparing their gear. This was how I woke up every day on the Camino, but not in Japan. People were so silent and manage to get ready and leave without any noise in the darkness. I overslept. It 3 am. The couple next to me were worried since they noticed my condition. I felt much better and the summit was calling. I’ wondered where all the energy came from. I went out. It was completely dark. The night sky was full of stars and the villages in the valley were still sleepy. The night view was a beauty itself. My camera lacked to capture, but my mind will never forget. I squeezed a muesli bar into my tummy, just in case, and got ready to climb to summit. I could see the lights of 7.9 th Station. It wasn’t too far. Only moments later the night sky’s black broke into a deep blue. It was still dark and my headlamp showed me the path. After only a few steps I felt as exhausted as while arriving the hut. The nausea became stronger. Now, I was definitely suffering from altitude sickness. I had only one litre of water left and my snacks were almost gone. Event though it felt like something is pressing my body to the ground. In zick zack lines I headed to 7.9 th station. When I arrived, I was tired and decided to watch the sunrise from there, since the view was fantastic. I pulled out my sleeping back and layed down on the bench, waiting. The sky became brighter. Deep blue turned into light blue and a yellow stripe appeared at the horizon. But it took too long and I got cold and bored. I knew I wouldn’t be able to arrive the summit in time and one of the reasons I choose the Gotemba trail was for sure that one can see the sunrise from anytime. I decided to continue climbing and once I climbed a few meters it happened. The goraiko. It was incredible. I stopped and sat down into the dirt. I called my parents via video call (yes that works on Fuji and sometimes you even have WiFi). Together we could see how the giant red ball came up from the clouds, painted the sky into a deep orange red colour and became bright white and warm within minutes. The sun burned into my mind and I will never forget this moment. I was happy to be able to share it with my parents even though they were 10000 km and 3000 km of elevation away. Recharged with energy I continued my way to summit and it went better for a while. Mt. Fuji’s red soil, the bright blue sky and Snow White fluffy clouds beneath me created a wonderful scenery. Final sprint. The summit was close and the terrain became rough and rocky. I met the first people of descending and the trail became more crowded. Almost before summit, I could feel how hungry I was even though I still lacked appetite. My snacks were gone and I hoped for food at the summit, no matter what. I asked some of the descending climbers if breakfast is available on top and they confirmed. It kept me going. The people descending were very cute and cheering me up all the time. I placed one step after another. It was hard to keep my body going. Then, finally I saw a torii, the Buddhism entry gate. It was the gate to summit. Only a few steps. I passed it. I arrived a small plateau and at the end of I stand in front of the crater of Mt. Fuji. It was breathtaking. I could feel nature’s power. The unbelievable power which created this amazing shape and made rocks melting. But I could enjoy only for a moment. Mission food has begun. I climbed up a small path and arrived at the Fujisan Hongo Sengataisha (Shrine) with a building which looked like selling food. Inside they only offered two types of instant noodle soup and I choose the bigger one and a coke. It was heaven. This was the best instant noodle soup I ever had in my life. Generally instant soups are way better in Japan than in Europe and indeed deserve the label food. But this one was heavenly delicious and I could feel how the warm soup recharged my energy and made me feel very comfy. I went to the post office, where I met the lady who gave me the postcard. Another symptom of altitude sickness is confusion and less cognitive power. She grabbed my hand and arranged everything for me. She was very cute. I’m sure I would have been able to do it alone, since I already live in Japan for a long time, but in this moment I just enjoyed to have the beloved help of a grandma. It was still super early, so I decided the time has finally come to enjoy. I found a nice place, took out my coffee and my cookies and packed myself in my sleeping bag to take a nap in the warm sun. This was the reward and I enjoyed every moment. I decided beforehand to climb down the Yoshida trail, the most popular one, to travel the Lake Kawaguchi afterwards, so I had to walk around the crater, which I wanted to do anyway. There are some roads which are cruised only bulldozer, which brings supplies to the summit. It’s very fussy, no wonder that 500 ml of water costs 500 Yen (around 4 €). I continued and climbed up to the highest peak at 3776 m, which hosted a weather station. From here I could see directly into the crater. It was impressive. Happily I continued and walked on a small trail around the crater with fantastic views to both sides. All symptoms of sickness were gone and I was energetic and joyful. From the Yoshida trail’s side dark clouds rises up like in an imaginary chimney. They didn’t enter the crater. There is a small village like area at the Yoshida trailhead and I was kind of shocked. Suddenly I stand within a tourist spot with all sort of souvenirs and many people. What a difference only a few hundred meters away at the same crater, it seemed like being in another world. It was time to descent and I was kind of sad that the journey would be over soon. But staying another night wouldn’t be the same. The trail for ascent and descent is different. From the top I saw the climbers coming up, a long coloured queue. So many people in sick zack lines. I started descending and the trail disappeared in the deep clouds. The trail was wide, well prepared and super easy to walk. An immense different to the way I came down. I went down super quickly and overtook many people. On the trail there was one mountain hut after another. I couldn’t believe to see so many huts. The trail itself was a little bit boring, since it looked the same all the time and went down and up in small zick zack lines. I remembered that everybody told me climbing M. Fuji is only special because it is Mt. Fuji, but the trail and the landscape is boring. A dirty volcano, at least. Directly after the first meters I couldn’t understand this judgement and with every meter even less. Now, I understood. The Yoshida seemed to lack all this amazing parts. I almost flew down the trail. I took my lunch break at 7 th Station, which only offered a toilet. I cooked a noodle soup and enjoyed the last “volcanic views”. Soon I would enter the forest. When I arrived at the 6 th Station I was shocked again. From now on it was a tourist hot spot and it even got worst. Large groups and people obviously not able to climb a mountain with more than 3000 m met me. It was terrible. I felt like in a zoo. Of course I was also a tourist, but it seemed almost everybody of them forget that this is a mountain and not a zoo or catwalk. I was so happy about my – more or less coincidentally – choice. The experience to climb this trail in a queue with all this people would have been a totally different one. I’m sure this trail will be super convenient and is made for almost everyone who has the will to climb a volcanic staircase of 1400 m. I dare to say these trails were like two different mountains. On the Gotemba trail I only met people which looked like rather experienced climbers, there were no tourist (hot pants, sneaker, selfie stick) and I even was the only foreigner. If you are a bit experiment I defiantly recommend not to choose the Yoshida trail, but if you are not familiar with hiking or any outdoor activity the Yoshida trail is a great opportunity to climb on a 3776 m high mountain and probably and amazing experience. Anyway I can recommend to choose different trails for ascent and descent. At the 5 th Station I felt very uncomfortable within all the crowd. I was smelling and dirty and just wanted to escape this place. I jumped into the next bus heading to Kawaguchiko (Lake Kawaguchi). At the Station I decided to walk the few kilometres to the lake’s shore where I found a campsite. I promptly run into a narrow trail through neighbour’s meadow. I don’t know why I always end up on this path. Anyway I arrived at the lake and found the campsite, which was located directly in a shore. The owner was very kind and welcomed me. The campsite was simple, but very nice. It was a small soft wood forest. The ground was plane and soft, while the trees created a comfy climate of shadow. I pitched my tent, took a shower and went to the next supermarket to buy some food and dinner. On the way back I realised how tired my legs were and my muscled started burning. I looked forward to lay down on the soft ground in my tent. It was quiet on the campsite and only a few other people chose to spend the night here as well. I ate my dinner and played down. Before I could enjoy to be in my tent I fell into a deep sleep. It was before 8 pm…
August, 9 th 2019 Kawaguchiko
I woke up surrounded by soft trees and felt so cozy and comfortable. The morning sun was shining, while the trees kept the place cool. After a very relaxed breakfast I got my stuff together and got ready. Ready for what? I didn’t make any specific plan. I just had the idea to climb these wonderful mountains at the other side of the lake to see Mt. Fuji from the top. Outside the forest it was hot and my backpack, full with new food and water was heavy again. I missed the bus and decided to walk the 5 km to the trailhead. I was not motivated to climb and the sun was burning. I walked slowly and soon I arrived at a small kind of park. I went through a bush to get to the shore and ended up in a hidden bay which an amazing view of the Fujisan and the lake. It was my private beach and I decided to stay and take a bath. The water was warmer than expected and didn’t cool down, but sitting in the water it was way better than burning in the sun at the shore. Unfortunately the bay didn’t offer any shadow and outside the water is was hard to stay there. I spent a long time at this place. Enjoying and relaxing. Having even lunch there. At some point I got headache, finally it was time to escape the sun. I continued walking and soon arrived at another campsite. It was a bungalow resort and I wasn’t sure if they offer space for a tent. I was not even sure if I want to stay. I was kind of lost. Anyway I entered and they had space for me. I agreed and they said the campsite is directly at the shore. A Main Street was departing the campsite from the main facilities. I already paid and the campsite was a mess. An under construction area directly next to the main road. No flat ground, rough gravel and the worst absolutely no shadow. There was no protection against the sun and I had to get out very urgent. I decided to pitch my tent without the sheet and prepared only the inner cabin. On top I dried my freshly hand washed clothes. The best was I could use a bicycle. So, on a mama chari (mommy bike) I started to cruise around the lake. I cycled until thevery end of the lake. The view was very nice, but there wasn’t any interesting at the shore, not even a better place to pitch the tent. I took a break in a lovely park, which might was a high class hotel’s garden, but nobody else was there. I saw dark clouds over the lake and got worried. I cycled back and soon big drops fell from the clouds. A thunderstorm was going to happen and my tent was lacking any protection of rain. My sleeping bag and all my stuff would be totally wet. I hurried up, the rain became stronger and stronger. Soon I was completely wet. I arrived at the campsite and put the fly sheet over my tent. Inside, there was already a pond. Great. What lesson did I learn? Yes, exactly. It was the first and last time to not fully pitch the tent and leaving. Within seconds the rain became heavy and my only chance was to hide in my tiny tent. Pouring rain. I layed there and while I saw lightnings around me followed by the loudest thunder I ever heard. My heart was bumping. The raindrops fell on the ground and splashed from underneath against the inner sheet while under the ground a little pond accumulated. Surprisingly I stayed almost dry. I love my tent. I had no chance. I had to wait. So I started eating my cookies and waited. Luckily I skipped my plan to climb into the mountains. After an hour the sky calmed down and I was able to leave my tent. I was still suspicious and didn’t leave my tent. I started preparing my dinner, while the sun slowly began to set. Suddenly the sky turned to violet and with it the Fuji as well. It was amazing and held only a few moments. Twice I regretted to stay at this campsite, but right now all doubts were gone. In this moment I was exactly at the right place. The sky turned from blue into dark and the lights from the stations on Mt. Fuji appeared like a thin light chain. I went into my tent and watched the silence of the mountain until I fell asleep.
August, 10 th 2019 Kawaguchiko
Yurari Onsen. The weather forecast predicted more thunderstorms, so I decided to go to a famous Onsen (natural hot spring). This one was a little bit in the countryside, but I was picked up by a shuttle bus. One of the best things in Japan are Onsen (natural hot spring) and Sento (public bath house). It is kind of a spa. Before you are allowed to enter the bath tub, you have to wash your body very carefully. After that, you dip into the often very hot water and it feels like heaven. This Onsen was very big and offered more than six different bath, also outside with view of the Fuji. I relaxed there for a few hours and enjoyed the sun while dipping in the water of the lovely Japanese garden. Since my last real shower was at home in Osaka it was more than a nice feeling to get clean again after the Fuji climb. Also my muscles appreciated the hot water and went soft again. I ate lunch in the restaurant and after finishing bath and food there was still time until the shuttle bus was scheduled. Usually Onsen have a tatami room for taking a rest. people just lay down or enjoy a message in a super high tech armchair. Deeply relaxed and clean I took a nap until the the bus took me back to Kawaguchiko. Dark clouds lured over the station and I was afraid to get showered again and hurried to the campsite I stayed before. I arrived there dry. This time the campsite were full of happy people enjoying BBQ and children playing around (no wonder it was the peak weekend due to Obon). The expected rain was missing, so I walked around the lake and got some dinner. I spent a calm evening at the campsite and really enjoyed just being there.
August, 11 th 2019 Kawaguchiko
Houtou noodle. Surprisingly there wasn’t any rain and I woke up in sunshine again. It was my last day, tonight I would take the night bus back to Ōsaka. The initial plan to travel “Fuji five lake region” seemed more difficult than expected. Hoinestly, I had no idea how to travel. I never did it the way everybody does. I was really missing my bicycle and now learned to honor it even more. For sure there were many busses leading to tourist’s hot spots, but these spot usually catching not my attentention. So what to do? Throughing all my money into bus rides (transportation, especially bus is extremely expensive in Japan and I’m not allowed to get tourist’s discount since I’m a resident) only for travel? There were three caves in this region and I really liked to explore them. After some research I found out it is rather a touri trap, so I skipped. In the end, I decided to spent my last day doing exactly what I don’t have time for in Ōsaka. I went to a park next to the lake, in a shady place with a nice view I made a picnic and spent my day there doing some sports and other little stuff. Just enjoying life. I guess this is not what the poeple usually came for. Next time, I will definately bring my bike again, no matter where. In the afternoon I went to the city centre to try a local dish called houtou noodle. These are flatened Udon noodle. Unlike Japanese food, the size of portion was gigantic and it took my a long time to finish. But it was very delicious. At the train station I bought some nicely wrapped cookies as a souvenir for my friends and coworkers (that’s kind of an must do in Japan) until the bus arrived. When I entered the bus, there was a big surprise. This night bus was incredible. Everybody got a single seat with courtains to have privacy. The seats were big and very comfortable. They even offered slippers and a blanket. I was extremely happy about this. This night wouldn’t be a torture. Goodbye Mt. Fuji, I’m looking forward to see you again, but now I’m looking forward to be back home: Ōsaka.