Climbing Mt. Fuji, Japan (to the Summit)

So now that you know our thinking on how to tackle Mt. Fuji and the things to know before you go, let’s talk about how our trip up the mountain actually went.  We had started our trip to Japan with a few days of sight seeing in Tokyo (topping over 20,000 steps each day) and of course gorging ourselves on delicious Japanese cuisine before we headed to the Fuji Five Lakes area.

Getting to the Fuji Five Lakes area (Yamanashi Prefecture)

We wanted to stay in the Five Lakes area before we made the climb to do some sightseeing and I knew after the climb we would not be wanting to walk at all! After taking a look at the different options to get to Kawaguchiko (which is the largest and most popular of the five lakes), we decided to take the Highway Bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko which takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes.  You can view all the routes for the Highway Bus here.

I would recommend if you decide to take the bus and also want to do some sightseeing in the area, take advantage of the “Fuji Gokako Enjoy! Kippu” pass.  At ¥4,350, it provides you with a roundtrip highway bus ticket from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko or Yamanakako, a 2 day retro bus and Fujikko bus pass, and discounts at local Fuji attractions.  The pass has a 7 day validity period and can only be purchased at Shinjuku Bus Terminal. The cost is ¥4,350 for adults (the normal cost of the Highway bus alone is ¥1,750 each way ) and ¥2,200 for children.  I didn’t find out until after our trip that you can make a reservation online at the Highway Bus site and still get the pass.  The pass website states that you can reserve online and then when you go to the Bus Terminal, show them your reservation and tell them that you want the Fuji Gokako Enjoy! Kippu and they will get you your pass.  I definitely recommend making your bus  reservation in advance (which also assigns you a seat), we were glad we did as I noticed that some of the morning buses were selling out more than a week in advance of our travel date.

The Shinjuku Bus Station is located across from the train station.  I would recommend looking for NeWoman building, once you see that building, you will go up to the Bus Terminal, which is on the 4th floor.

If you have already made your reservations online, you can just print your receipt and don’t need to exchange or anything. If you decide you want to get the Fuji Gokako Enjoy! Kippu, you will want to visit the ticket office first.  Make sure to look at the boards to see what gate number your bus is departing from, if you ask someone they will also help direct you.

Once they are ready to board the bus, if you have luggage that needs to go under the bus, show them your ticket. Then before you board the bus, you will show your ticket again and they will stamp your ticket and also stamp your name on their roster. It’s really good to make sure you don’t get on the wrong bus!  Do not be late, they leave right on the dot!

Kawaguchiko Station

We ended up taking the 9:45 AM bus.  We started out by making a couple of quick stops to pick up some more people, but after that the first real stop wasn’t until Fujikyu- Highland for the theme park.  We finally arrived at Kawaguchiko station (the last stop) at 11:45 AM, pretty close to the scheduled 11:30 AM time.

(I’ll be sharing the things we did in Kawaguchiko area in another post.)

Fuji Subaru 5th Station

After 2 days of seeing Mt. Fuji from afar, we were ready to get serious and tackle the mountain.  There is easy bus access to Fuji Subaru 5th Station from Kawaguchiko Station, the buses are like public buses in the US, so it’s best to travel light if possible. You should note that they will not sell you tickets in advance for that bus, so we arrived about 30 minutes before the bus departure time to purchase our tickets. You can find the full schedule of the buses here.

As I said, traveling light to Mt. Fuji is a good idea and If you don’t want to lug your stuff around Fuji, and I recommend that you don’t, there are lockers to the far right of Kawaguchiko station (there are also lockers at 5th Station, but would you want to get there and all the lockers are gone?).  There are both lockers in a small indoor room, and also exterior lockers along the right side of Kawaguchiko station.

There are a range locker sizes, Small (55 lockers), Medium (15 lockers), Large (36 lockers), and XL (3 lockers).  We were able to get a medium and large locker to fit 2 rolling bags and one large backpack.  The money you pay is only good for 24 hours, so if you aren’t back by then, you will need to pay again when you return the next day.  Per the signs at the lockers, if you leave your things for more than 2 days, they will be removed.

Here’s a little video of what it was like on our hike, I hope you enjoy it! Watching it now it’s pretty comical, but during the hike, it was far from funny.

We ended up taking the 8:20 AM bus from Kawaguchiko, which got us to 5th station around 9:20 AM.  A good tip at the 5th Station is to use the free public restroom by the observation deck.

If you use any of the bathrooms in the little souvenir shops, they will charge you ¥100, I recommend you save your yen for the hike!  Payment is via the honor system, a little box is outside the restroom and you are supposed to drop your money in there.   You can also use the bathroom for free if you eat at any of the restaurants, so make sure you take advantage.

We ended up walking around 5th station taking in the scenery and looking around at the souvenir shops for our canned oxygen and walking sticks.

There is also Komitake Shrine at the 5th Station, it is a small shrine behind the souvenir shops, so take a walk back there and check it out too.

After we had gotten all of our supplies and finished our lap around 5th station, we grabbed some early lunch, there are quite a few restaurants inside and above the souvenir shops, most offer meals for about ¥1,000.

The hike begins 

After lunch, we headed over to the start of the trail to pay our ¥1,000 Fuji Preservation fund fee.  When you pay your fee, they give you a map, wooden medallion, and we even got a portable bathroom (don’t ask me how that works, we didn’t end up using it, maybe I should test it out so I can share with you how it works!).

We were on the trail at 11:30 AM, it was a lovely 60 degrees and we were all smiles and excited about our hike.

One of the cool things about the hike up Mt. Fuji is that each mountain hut has it’s own stamp (some huts even have 2!) and you can get them branded on your hiking stick for ¥300 – ¥500.  At the end of our hike, we were admiring our hiking stick as it is a great souvenir of our journey.

Well all of that pep and excitement quickly changed, honestly the hike was really rough!  The steep incline and high altitudes had us taking a ton of breaks and stopping for snacks and water.  If for some reason you didn’t stop and get some food at 5th station, you will be happy to know that 7th station actually has real food, similar to 5th Station.  Making sure you stay fueled up is really important.

As we climbed higher and higher, it definitely got colder and colder, by the 8th station it was about 44 degrees Fahrenheit, we were so happy we brought a lot of layers as we ended up wearing everything we brought.  There were points that we were pretty out of breathe and seriously questioning if we were going to be able to make it the 3,450 meters to the 8.5 Station, but in the end, we made it.

We couldn’t have been more happy to finally reach our Mountain hut, Goraikoukan it was a sight for sore eyes.  With my reservation in hand, I went to check in at the front desk.  The staff spoke some English and confirmed our meal choices and gave us a meal time. Then they had us take off our shoes and relinquish our hiking sticks, after that we were shown our sleeping quarters, which were definitely not glamourous….we slept in an attic.

If you want to avoid being banished to the attic, and want to sleep in the downstairs bunks, I recommend arriving earlier to the hut, we arrived around 6:31 PM (putting us at 7 hours of hiking) and we were the first ones placed into the attic.

The bright side is it the hut wasn’t smelly (the same can’t be said for the bathroom), was warm, we got to take off some of our layers and we didn’t have to carry our backpacks anymore.  We were also able to get a hot meal, which was extremely welcome.

Since we had prepaid for the half board and room package, we got dinner and breakfast.  There were 2 versions of meals to select from: Japanese and Western.  The Japanese dinner consisted of fish with rice and the Western dinner consisted of hamburger with rice.

The food was okay, it did the trick to fill our tummies and it was hot, but the meal is not something you would order anywhere else.  At dinner time they also give you your breakfast, which is in a brown bag and ready for whenever you want to eat it. They give you the breakfast early because they don’t know when you will want it, for us, we took it with us and ate it while taking a break in the morning.  The Japanese breakfast is more fish and the Western breakfast was 2 pieces of toast, some jam and butter, jelly cups and apple juice box. I would recommend to skip the meals and buy a bowl of ramen for dinner and pack yourself an easy to transport breakfast.  If you don’t like ramen, then I would still recommend booking the “package deal” as dinner really helped us to perk up.

After dinner we climbed back up into the attic, wiped ourselves down with some wet wipes, snuggled into bed, wrote our loved ones to tell them we loved them (surprisingly our wifi egg worked at that altitude!!), set our alarms for 1:15 AM, and put in our ear plugs (there was some hardcore snoring going on).  By the way, I highly recommend making sure your bladder is nice and empty before bed, because yours truly had to make a pit stop in the middle of the night… let’s say climbing in a dark attic to the ladder and then climbing down the ladder and going outside in the blistering cold to use the facilities was not something I would recommend to others.

Speaking of the toilets….they were not glamorous at all, but hey its better than using the great outdoors.  Everything on the mountain is run from generators and the toilets used recycled water….so the smell was not that pleasant.  On the bonus side, at the mountain hut you only had to pay one toilet deposit for your entire stay!

When the alarm went off at 1:15 AM, all of us just wanted to hit snooze….but we got our happy butts out of bed, and started gathering our belongings.  There were some other early risers, but in our attic area, we were the only ones awake.  It was a little hard moving our backpacks around in the dark and then getting our belongings down the ladder, but we made it and we were back outside by 1:30 AM and boy was it cold and dark! All of us were very sore from the climb the day before and none of us were feeling motivated, but we had to get a move on.  I recommend making sure you eat something before you start hiking again, even if you’re not hungry.  We started our hike without eating anything and all of us felt awful after only a few minutes.  Also, the headlamps were a huge help and so were the heat packs we had brought.  If we had thought the day before was rough, the 2nd day was way rougher! We finally made it up to the summit at 3:30 AM, we arrived a little bit too early because the sunrise didn’t start until 4:30 AM and we were absolutely freezing.

The wind up there was pretty fierce and at that point, I couldn’t even feel the heat from my heat pack, my face, or my toes. The bright side was that we had a nice spot and I was ale to set up my tripod to get some gorgeous shots of the sunrise.  I have never seen the sun rise above the clouds like that and it was really an amazing experience, I just wished that I wasn’t so cold! We ended up leaving the summit around 4:50 AM to start heading back down.  All of us were drained and we could only think of being warm and off of the mountain.

If you have the energy, you can walk around the crater of the mountain, they say this takes about 90 minutes.  Also, it’s a great idea to bring some post cards up to the summit to mail from the summit post office.  Unlucky for us, the post office was not open when we were there (I believe the official opening was 7/10) and we had to mail our postcards from the 5th Station post office.

As we descended the mountain, there was some bottlenecking initially, as the trails are very narrow near the summit.  We took a pit stop back at Goraikoukan. They allowed us to come back inside to rest since we had stayed the night and we decided to eat the rest of our breakfast. We all ordered hot chocolate (at ¥500 each!) …. which ended up being a “Swiss Miss” package, but it was money well spent at that point. We were freezing, and the hot chocolate and warmth from the hut was amazing. We also took a quick cat nap in there, which might have been a mistake.  We really didn’t want to start moving again after the nap.

The descending trail is a different one than you take when you are ascending.  The trail breaks off right after Fujisan hotel, you veer off to the right.  Make sure you are following the signs for the Yoshida trail – Fuji Subaru Station.  It’s easy to end up on the wrong trail if you aren’t paying attention, so be careful and pay attention to the signs.

The descending trail is a giant downward slope that is super gravelly, which made it difficult (at least for me) to walk quickly, there were quite a few times we almost slipped and fell (we actually saw some people take a tumble).  Also another issue with the descending trail is that there are no facilities, there was one bathroom at no 52.  So hope you can make it there or you’ll be making good use of your portable toilet.  It took us a total of 6 hours to descend, which was much slower than most people (generally people can make it in 4 hours).

I had never felt as much elation as I did when we finally made it back to the 5th Station.  It was a magical feeling…. We ended up going to purchase our bus tickets back to Kawaguchiko (the ticket booth is at the same place where the bus dropped you off) and then grabbed a quick bite to eat before our bus.

I was really looking forward to the suite and private onsen at the Ryokan that we had booked. When the bus arrived, we hopped on and just enjoyed not being on our feet!

Resting at the ryokan and onsen

When we arrived at Kawaguchiko station, we called our ryokan, Fuji Onsenji Yumedono.  This ryokan was a little pricey, but we knew we wanted a nice place to rest and the fact that they offered private onsens made it all worth it.

They picked us up at Kawaguchiko and arrived fairly quickly after we called them to let them know we had arrived.  The ryokan is super cute, the staff was very friendly and helped us into our room, provided a quick tour, gave us some tea and cookies and checked us in.

After we had our refreshments, we all headed straight for the showers and were dying to get out of our very dirty clothes (there’s a lot of ash and dirt that gets on you while you are walking).  Afterwards, Scott and I took a nice dip in the onsen and then it was time for a nap before our kaiseki dinner (multi-course Japanese meal) at the on-site restaurant.  Before dinner, I made everyone get into their yukatas and we went to dinner in true Japanese style.  I watched a couple videos on how to properly tie an obi, but I think I failed.  Next time, take an obi tying class!

I love doing kaiseki, even though it is expensive because the Japanese take such pride and really put a lot of attention to detail into the food presentation and the quality of every dish they serve.  There were so many courses that we were extremely stuffed at the end of it.  I would say that the stand outs from the meal were the fresh sashimi, the Yamanashi beef (that we got to cook it on volcanic rock, the meat was really marbled and extremely tender, it literally melted in your mouth ), and the hot Hojijya tea (which is roasted green tea which gives the tea a much darker color and more deep flavor) was really unique as well.  After a nice meal, we all headed to bed nice and early as we hadn’t gotten much sleep and we wanted to get some rest before heading back to Tokyo.

All in all, I would say that climbing Mt. Fuji was a very unique experience.  I think the thing I wish I had taken more seriously prior to climbing was exercising more, so that I was a little more prepared for the incline and just being on my feet and carrying my backpack for 7 straight hours.  I also wish I had brought some more water, I had 3 liters and ran out early in our descent, which is why I put 4 liters of water on my recommended packing list.  I would still say the climb was worth it and we were really proud of ourselves for powering through. The sunrise was definitely one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, but if anyone ever asked me to climb the mountain again, it will be a hard NO! Hope that you enjoyed hearing about our trek up Mt. Fuji and good luck to you if you ever decide to make the climb.

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