George Carter
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Japan ’08 – Day 4/5

| Thursday 7th August, 2008

That was the most miserable I have ever been in my whole entire life so far. It was also the best experience ever.

When I was ten, we went on a cycling trip to the New Forest, camping in the middle of nowhere. For one reason or another, we couldn’t take the bikes, so we kept the same itinerary, but did it on foot, in the pouring rain. My mum said it was not rubbish, it was ‘character building’. Now I understand…

First a quick précis: We went up Fuji, setting out from the 5th station at about 10pm. It rained, we almost died in a landslide, we made it to the top, there was no sunrise, we almost died by being blown into the crater, we came back down. It was hard work.

That quick summary misses a lot. It doesn’t quite capture the essence of six hours of rain. Gore-tex is very good, but does only hold out for the first three hours. It also doesn’t work very well when the ground gives way under you (as it did for H) and you end up lying face down in a river.

It doesn’t capture the bitter cold on top. You can see the mist and hear the wind, but when you consider we were absolutely soaked through, and the temperature was pretty close to freezing, you can imagine just how miserable it might have been.

I’d like to say I didn’t juggle—as I have done on many mountain-tops before—because I couldn’t feel my hands, but that would be a lie. After three hours of freezing, damp gloves, I could very much feel my hands. I experienced searing pain every time I tried to move them.

The summit hut was something else. Twelve of us—four from our coach, eight from the previous day—huddled around a brazier the size of a small waste-paper basket. There’s a guy who lives in the summit station who, without a word from any of us, chopped some wood and prepared a fire for us. He was absolutely the star of the trip.

Three of us decided to make an attempt on the crater. After about twenty paces, the guy who’d come with us declared he was going back. We never saw him again. The wind was such that we were keeping low and leaning into it – steep mountain on one side, steeper crater on the other. There were flattish areas with some cover where we felt it would be an achievable goal. But looking at the map, there were also points where we had to go over the top of very narrow sections. We could have crawled it, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

So we didn’t visit the post office, and the postcards we’d brought up would have to be taken back down again. It was only about fifteen minutes into our descent that the mist lifted and we finally saw the stunning views. It was a pity, but how long can you hold out? We’d already spent ninety minutes on the top, who was to say it would ever clear?

So, after a long, but easier descent we returned to the 5th Station. We bumped into the people who had come off our coach and not made it to the top. Most had flaked around the 8th station, slept there, and begun their descent in the early morning. They made us feel quite clever and capable.

There were a few characters we encountered… Kim was a loud, but lovable American, Mac was a Japanese guy. It’s actually more of a surprise to see Mac there – only 1% of Japanese ever climb Fuji. We’d fallen in with them on departing the 5th station, but soon found ourselves ahead. We thought they might struggle when, even before the sixth station, Kim declared “This is a hundred times harder than I thought it would be”.

Even while ahead, we’d been bumping into them on our breaks. They would arrive just as we were thinking of starting again, but we finally lost track of them between the 7th and 8th stations.

Mac was very helpful – like us, they had booked the midday bus back to Tokyo, but we’d actually all arrived at the station just past 10am. He changed their tickets to the 11am bus, and on discovering we’d made the same plans, skipped the long queue by knocking on the back door of the ticket office and changed ours for us, too. Handy to have a native around!

TOP TIP: Book a bus later than you think you’ll need. The ticket conditions state that if the departure time has passed, you can do nothing and have to buy a new ticket. If the departure time has not passed, you can alter your ticket for no charge (space permitting).

While waiting for the bus, we pegged out the postcards to dry—they were very wet at this point—and posted all but one from the 5th station. We couldn’t post one because the stamp had soaked itself off and couldn’t be replaced.

We took the bus back, Yamanote to our hotel, and collapsed into bed for a couple of hours well-deserved rest.

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