Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Mt. Fuji

My Mt. Fuji adventure was an orange one- the sunrise combined with iron ore rocks gave the mountain descent a lovely warm orange glow. It was a tough climb- we started from the horse's stop (Umagaeshi) below level 1 and then climbed to level 7 where we stayed overnight in a mountain hut before ascending the summit (3756.4 meters) the next morning for the sunrise. Coming down was the hardest part as I had no muscle power to stop myself- it was merely the physical mechanisms of bones falling into place that kept me from face planting and remaining on the the mountain. I thought since I had made it up readily enough that I was over the worst of it, but I had nothing from the minute I went from the summit down to look at the volcanic crater, and I was acutely aware of how long the walk would be. I used poles which kept me upright more than once. My hiking companions were in slightly better shape than I, but we all wobbled down the mountain. We had a good laugh at all of our cries of "ooh" though not one of us offered assistance to the other as we were all just trying to keep ourselves upright. At the end of the day, after a soak in the onsen and hot food, my friend ran down the stairs with her backpack on and called back, "no pain for me!" I could only wobble and continue to suppress my groans as I went down. Alas I got to the top of Mt. Fuji, but it took a piece of me.

While hiking, I kept thinking about Sir Edmund Hillary being asked, "why?" referring to Mt. Everest. I was thinking a lot about that question as I willed one foot in front of another. "Why was I hiking up a mountain?" "Why do people hike up mountains?" There were a lot of people hiking up Mt. Fuji so there had to be some sort of universal draw to it. Could it only be, "it was there?" When we got toward the summit with the sun rising, it seemed part of the answer involved perspective. The view, the quietness, the simplicity of nothing else to do, that is why I found it worthwhile hiking my Mt. Fuji.

Keeping one foot in front of another was at various times me thinking about elephant feet (hiking boots made me feel like I had elephant feet) and the phrase I heard about cows from a Shinto priests, "slow sure steps." That's what got me up the mountain along with having a guide.

I was so happy we had a guide. At first I thought this was a bit of expensive unnecessary fluff. My Japanese friends thought of it as "insurance" as most of the mountain medical services are closed at the end of August- many people climb Mt. Fuji with little to no preparation. It's dangerous. You might get lucky with the weather, but serious hazards await the unprepared & unlucky- the wind whips you up top, the lack of water is serious, and all those rocks to get over in the dark! Our guide had climbed the mountain close to 50 times. He set a very steady reasonable pace. We stopped for at least a few minutes at every level (1-9) and then as we needed; he wanted us to eat and drink at every stop even if only a bit. He had us put on our down coats to keep warm during the stops near the summit. None of our stops were for very long, but it was the point to not get cold. He ate an impressive amount! I could not believe how many onigiri (rice balls) he had in his pack. He told us when to add or remove clothes. I know up there on the mountain being so tired and worn, I would not have had the sense to put on my jacket nor to have eaten and drinken were it not for him. He was worth it!

My Mt. Fuji recommendations- take 5 L of water and drink it, take an onigiri for every meal you will miss in addition to bars and snacks (the power bars made me so thirsty compared to the rice balls), take sunglasses that you can also wear in the dark to keep the flying sand out, wear quick drying gloves- your hands get sweaty, no books, no ipods, birthday cakes OK, and use a guide for a small group.
They brought the cake all the way up the mountain from Kamakura!