The Amazing Race to Mt Fuji
Fresh off the plane and on our way through customs, we stopped and stared at a poster of Mt Fuji. We were still wearing the 37 L ski mountaineering packs we'd crammed into the overhead compartments to avoid extra baggage fees. The stewardess first thought we were doing The Amazing Race, but now with Mt Fuji in front of us, the method to our madness was being revealed. Nevertheless, her comments boosted my motivation for what lay ahead.
We spent the next tens days climbing and skiing in Hakuba, Kita Alps and surrounding areas. Then we set our sights on Fuji. One evening, I asked the owner of the pension Mr. Maruyama about climbing Mt. Fuji, and his eyes immediately lit up. He grabbed his homemade green tea, some paper and pens, and crafted a hand written map of Mt. Fuji. He spoke few English words, and used his grand daughter for translations where needed. He had fond memories of driving to and from Hakuba and Mt Fuji to climb it in a day. “Fuji Attack! Fuji-san Attack! Attack!” I thought I was getting ready for a hockey game, further boosting our motivation.
The bus system in the area is efficient when you know what to ask for. We hopped on the bus to Shinjinku en route to Fuji, where we hit a logistics roadblock when we were told 'no bus to Fuji or climbing'. After scrambling around Shinjinku for alternatives, my brother asked the same people the same questions and sure enough – there was a bus to Fuji that evening. Oh, travelling and language barriers.When got where we needed to be, found a hostel, and lined up a 10a departure for Fuji... just to add to the challenge ;)
Mt Fuji is known as the most visited mountain in the world, with some 300,000 climbers and hikers each year. We met plenty along the way. The Germans were skeptical about our summit bid, and I wasn't giving us very good odds either with a late start and clouds hovering on the mountain.
The backpackers blasted off the bus with their running shoes and cotton t-shirts, while we stood with our gear perfectly prepped for departure at the back door. The jammed back door. Waiting for each and every hiker to unload through the front. Not your usual start to a mountain wilderness experience.
We got on the move, and traversed to a sign that detailed a complete '14 step how-to guide to the summit'. Good to see we were on the right side of the mountain and off to a good start.
Once we hit snowline it was go time and we could safely abandon the signed route and do things the old-fashioned way. Up, up and away, past the T-shirt and running shoe crews.
As I was cresting the crater, a couple of Japanese climbers looked at me from above. No crampons, eh! A couple sporty front point ice moves with no gloves did the trick.
But the true summit was the highest point of the crest, not where we were standing. After some debate with the Japanese about travelling by rock or snow, we of course chose snow. We're from the Coast after all, and snow travel is always faster. So we wished luck to the rock walkers and sprint skinned to the summit to avoid the impending whiteout.
We'd bagged the summit, but the Amazing Race was far from over. We had a plane to catch. We dropped off the summit and skied epic corn on the 40 degree SE Face, one eye on the snow, one eye on the watch.
Despite the rush we missed our 3pm bus and ended up splitting a cab to town with some Chinese students in an equal hurry. Super stoked we pulled it off, even amidst the hustle bustle of Japan. Mt Fuji, check.