During the hot month of August, I decided to do a solo climb up Mt. Fuji to see the sunrise at the top. If you're looking to check off that bucket list experience but can't find a companion to go with, fear no more. A solo climb up Mt. Fuji is possible and quite an accomplishment. Here's how to climb Mt. Fuji alone!
Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. It's located southwest of Tokyo, but not actually in Tokyo. It is easily accessible by train.
There are 10 different stations that go up the mountain with the first being at the foot of the mountain and the 10th at the summit. Most climbers start from the 5th station because that is where vehicle access on the mountain ends. There are 4 different 5th stations on different sides of the mountain and 4 different trails for climbers to choose from. I chose the Yoshida Trail because of its ease of access from Tokyo and because is the most popular trail. I'm not an experienced hiker, so if anything were to go wrong, a crowded trail would be more beneficial to me.
Mount Fuji Climbing Trails
There are 4 different routes for climbers to choose from, each with different access points around the mountain.
What is the best route to climb Mt. Fuji? The most popular is the Yoshida Trail because it's in the Yamanashi prefecture, which is closest to Tokyo while the other routes are in the Shizuoka prefecture. I am not an experienced hiker myself, and I much preferred the ease of access rather than looking for the challenge of the hike (7-8 hours up a mountain seemed challenging enough to me), so I chose to do the Yoshida Trail.
Starting point: Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station (Yamanashi Prefecture)
Ascent: 5-7 hours
Descent: 3-5 hours
Yoshida trail is the most popular trail of all the routes because of its ease of access from Tokyo. It is accessible from the city of Kawaguchiko, where many people go to view the mountain from a distance. It has different ascent and descent trails, the ascent being a bit tough and the descent an easy run down the mountain. The ascent contains many boulders towards the top which require free hands for climbing. Around the 8th station, it combines with the Subashiri trail causing congestion.
2. Subashiri Trail
Starting point: Subashiri 5th Station (Shizuoka Prefecture)
This is considered the second easiest trail to reach from Tokyo. It starts in the city of Gotemba on the eastern side of the mountain. Buses leave from Gotemba daily during the climbing season. The trail is less crowded than the other routes until the 8th station when it combines with the Yoshida trail.
3. Gotemba Trail
Starting point: Gotemba 5th Station (Shizuoka Prefecture)
Ascent: 7-10 hours
Descent: 3-6 hours
Also starting in Gotemba city, this is the lowest trail on the mountain which means it is the longest trail to hike up. It lays among a field of lava rock with much scenery to look at. Because of the rocky terrain with few obstacles, though, the descent is much easier than the climb up because you can easily run down the side of the mountain with long strides.
4. Fujinomiya Trail
Starting point: Fujinomiya 5th Station (Shizuoka Prefecture)
Ascent: 4-7 hours
Descent: 2-4 hours
The closest station to the summit, and thus, the shortest trail, the Fujinomiya trail is the second most popular. It is located in the city of Fujinomiya. It does not have separate ascending and descending trails which can cause a lot of congestion during the busy season. Also, there is no view of the sunrise until you reach the top.
Solo Climbing Mount Fuji
(To skip the experience, scroll down for more tips on climbing Mt. Fuji)
The 5th station on Mount Fuji is halfway up the mountain. The bus dropped off its weary passengers who might be having second thoughts. While the weather on this August evening was humid and hot at the base of the mountain, the temperatures halfway up the mountain had dropped significantly.
I had just climbed Mt. Iwate the week before which was said to be tougher than what I was about to do. I figured if I could do Mt. Iwate, then I am invincible.
I was about to embark on a journey up Mount Fuji-- alone.
Beginning the climb
With my headlamp in place, I began the climb.
At first, the incline was non-existent, but then there was a crossroad and I watched as the only other person climbing quickly took the steeper pathway. I paused thinking he might be headed on the more experienced trail, but then I saw the sign for the Yoshida trail pointing up and I quickly moved to follow him. I had lost him though and I was for sure alone.
Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. Jesus, is this incline really that steep? Am I really that out of shape? Hard as I tried, I wasn’t able to catch my breath. Air wasn’t going into my lungs fast enough. I took a deep breath, but I still couldn't catch my breath. The way you bawl your eyes out and as you attempt to stop the tears, you just can't seem to take in a deep enough breath.
The altitude was affecting me. Don’t panic. Just breathe. Every time I thought I had taken enough deep breaths, I hadn’t, so I paused every few steps. When I finally made it to the 6th station, not too far away from the starting point, I decided I should spend more time getting used to the altitude before climbing higher. I hung around there for about 20 minutes, the longest break I took the entire trip up.
Continuing the Climb
After I had finally become accustomed to the altitude, it was a breeze from there. I stopped at every station to continue to adjust to the different altitudes. There were not many people so my climb began pretty lonely, which isn't so bad when you are suffering from oxygen deprivation.
Climbing a mountain for about 6-7 hours gives you a lot of time to think. For example, I was trying to come up with ideas of what to title this article, How I Died On Mt. Fuji? The Things You Think of When Climbing Mt. Fuji? Above the Clouds in Japan? Are We There Yet?
Stargazing While Climbing
The glimmer of the city lights on the horizon was difficult to see, well, because I was not level with the horizon, but rising way above it. I was much closer to the vibrant, shining stars. I could see millions more dotting the night sky. The usually familiar constellations were not immediately visible. I looked up, searching for the recognizable shapes among billions of stars. If I had continued to stare up, though, I surely would have fallen backward off Mt. Fuji, so I lowered my head, unable to find the constellations.
The clouds were below me-- dark massive forms floating just off the edges of the mountain ready to devour whatever object crossed their path. As I gazed at the clouds, I finally saw the Big Dipper, straight ahead. I was eye level with the Big Dipper for the first time in my life and it shone bright, each star an unmistakable piece of the puzzle. It took my breath away… but it probably was the altitude.
The Yoshida Trail Combines with the Subashiri Trail
After the 7th station, I began to see more and more people. At the 8th station, two trails emerged and it seemed I had caught up to a tour group. The mountain was packed. The amount of headlamps shining the way made it easy for me to save my own battery and turn my headlamp off.
My fast-paced walking was no longer of good use. Now I was at the mercy of the rest of the travelers: the elderly, a kid, people who weren’t prepared, and people who were overly prepared. Did that guy just pull a gas stove out of his backpack?
Judging by the time I assumed I had at least an hour left, but the guy running the hut at the 8th station stated that we had two hours left of climbing. No one believed him, even I was skeptical. There was a sign that said 50 Min, this guy is crazy. I just wanted a fluffy pillow at that point. Then when I started to climb again, and the people on the mountain weren’t moving I realized that he was right: due to the stop and go of the cue walking up the mountain, it took another two hours to finally reach the top.
Prepare For the Cold
I had been prepared for the cold with 5 layers on me. What I wasn’t prepared for was when my sweat would dry underneath as I stood in line to go up the mountain. I continued to climb using as much muscle and movement as possible to try and break a sweat, no matter how exhausted my body was, to ensure I didn’t freeze.
People had paused on the side of the trail, curled up on the flattest rock they could find, bundled up, trying to bring the heat to their bodies. I don’t know if they made it the rest of the way, but I couldn’t stop.
Reaching the Summit
I almost didn’t believe it when I finally hit the top. Do my eyes deceive me? But it was the top and I let out a small “Woohoo!” but no one else seemed to join in on my victory: “Yeah, yeah, we all made it to the top now shut up and sit down so we can watch the sunrise.” The summit was packed with people. Many were pulling out sleeping bags and foil blankets and cups of noodles and gas stoves-- anything to get warm. I had nothing else.
I was shaking, but the sun was beginning to rise so I found a spot amongst everyone and watched as hints of orange began to fill the sky. The sun slowly rose above the clouds and the mountains in the distance cast shadows on the land below, creating diagonal lines in the already gorgeous scenery. It was 4 am.
I wish I could have watched the sunrise over and over again. But I was cold and my hot coffee was getting low so it was time to climb back down the mountain. It was finally bright out and I could see what it was I had just climbed. It was a big black mountain of nothingness (it is a volcano after all) but that’s ok because I didn’t need to see trees and plants when I was walking at night. As I was sliding down the mountain on the loose rocks, I kept my eye on the view from the side of the mountain as I descended further and further. There was never a point when the view was not good.
*Photos are not of good quality because my camera was faulty, so I apologize for the lack of pictures.
What to Bring
I definitely suggest wearing layers. The top of the mountain is extremely cold and sometimes windy. I was wearing 5 layers on top and 3 layers on the bottom. Then, when the sun rises, and you're descending the mountain it gets really hot, so you'll need to be able to strip down to single layers.
I suggest wearing a good pair of gloves to keep your hands warm, a base layer of thermal underwear, a tshirt, some quick dry hiking pants, a buff or scarf, a fleece sweater, and a lightweight rain jacket.
Bring an extra pair of socks also because sometimes it can rain and you don't want to have wet socks while climbing.
Do not buy new hiking boots. Unless you have the time to break them in and use them beforehand, I do not suggest buying new hiking boots. Unfortunately, people believe that they need new hiking boots for this climb, but the pain of a new pair of boots will be worse than if you had just stuck with non-hiking boots that you are accustomed to. Running shoes, or some kind of shoes with traction on them that you’ve used before or are used to will work just fine.
Also, please don't wear flip flops to hike 8 hours up the largest mountain in Japan. You'll be miserable.
Do not bring more than you need. Even though items seem lightweight, after several hours, they will start to bring you down. Only bring the necessities. A headlamp, a functioning camera that can withstand the cold and you know how to use (I used a GoPro), sunglasses for when the sun rises, a couple of body warmers, and a platypus water pack to keep you hydrated.
Pack these in a backpack that fits on your waist so that all the weight is on your waist and not your shoulders.
Food is expensive on the mountain. Bring a cup of noodles to warm you at the top (they can provide hot water), a few nutritional protein bars and one Snickers bar for that added sugar that you'll appreciate once you've hit the summit.
Tips For a Succesful Climb:
Load up on carbs- At least 8-9 hours BEFORE you climb, eat a full meal. I ate pasta and a beef salad and then bread, banana, and peanut butter for "breakfast" a couple of hours before I climbed. You're about to climb a mountain, you're going to want that energy from the carbs, but not too much that you're weighed down.
- Stretch- Make sure you’re nice and limber.
- Keep a positive mindset- If you are traveling with another person, great, you have someone to help encourage you to keep going. If you are alone, then you need to continuously encourage yourself. A negative mindset will result in negative thoughts, thus a negative experience.
- Rest at EVERY station- Rest for 10 minutes at the MOST, save for the beginning of the climb, so that you become adjusted to the altitude. Besides the 5th station, I rested at the 6th station the longest for altitude adjustment because it’s not far from the 5th station so I hadn’t exhausted my body yet. The LONGER the break you take though, the MORE tired you will be to continue walking up the mountain. Also, I saw a few people skip stations only to pass them later because they hadn’t become accustomed to the altitude and began to feel sick.
- Drink water- Not just in case of dehydration, but also the altitude. It feels like you are about to hurl, so drinking water gets rid of this pain and assists in helping with the altitude adjustment.
- Bring money- Even though everything sold on the mountain is extremely expensive, you will find yourself wanting what they have because you forgot something. For me it was hot coffee. Also, they charge 200 yen for the toilets, so make sure your money is already broken into coins.
- Use the toilet- You’d think that you can hold your pee, but you can’t. Not while walking up a mountain when you are already exhausted, your muscles hurt, and you’re cold. Get rid of one more painful factor and dish out the 200 yen for using the toilets whenever you can.
- Use the toilet at the “8.5th station”- There is no toilet at the 9th station. I made this mistake and had to hold it all the way to the top, which was about 2 hours, and the line for the toilet at the summit is insanely long.
- Use heat packs- I bought one heat pack on the mountain but it wasn’t enough. If I had brought more, I’m sure I would have been a lot more comfortable.
Tips for photography:
Climbing up- It’s dark so the picture might not come out too well, but the view of all the climbers' headlamps makes for a great photo-op.
- More space for a good photo- If you venture further from the entrance of the summit, past the toilets there is a small hill where there are fewer people, that way you can have fewer people in your photos.
- Not just the sunrise- Another very cool sight to see was the people. Their clothing actually. Everyone is dressed in their bright ski jackets of all different colors, it really makes a great contrast against the dark colors of the mountain.
- After-sunrise photos- While descending the mountain the view as the sun continues to rise is just as great as the actual sunrise and there are fewer people descending so you can get a great group photo on the trail rather than the summit
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