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In June of 2013, Mount Fuji was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO, the iconic snow-capped mountain has “inspired artists and poets and has been the object of pilgrimage for centuries.” In fact, about 300,000 people climb Mount Fuji every season and many of them are foreign visitors to Japan. While clients may think that they need to be serious mountaineers to experience this unique Japanese adventure, anyone in reasonably good shape (from about age 10 to 80) can climb this world-famous peak.
At more than 12,000 feet high, Mount Fuji is the highest point in Japan, located near the Pacific coast of central Honshu, about 60 miles southwest of Tokyo. It straddles the boundary of the Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures and is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Visiting the area and taking a climb makes for a great side trip from Tokyo.
It’s too dangerous to climb the mountain during the winter, so the climbing season is relatively short — from July 1 to Aug. 31. While the trek takes roughly six hours up and three hours down, ascending and descending in a single day is not recommended. Most trekkers time the ascent to witness sunrise from the summit. This means that they arrive at their starting point, wait an hour or so to acclimate to the altitude and start the climb in the afternoon. In the evening, they rest in a mountain hut, have dinner and sleep for a few hours before continuing to the summit very early on the second day, setting out again at 1 or 2 a.m. The goal is to arrive at the top by sunrise, around 4:30 or 5 a.m.
The mountain is divided into 10 stations, from the base of the mountain to the summit. Paved roads go as far as the fifth station, halfway up the mountain, which is where most climbs begin.
The most popular trail, Yoshida, begins at the fifth station and is lined with mountain huts and vendors selling water and snacks between the seventh and eighth stations. The huts are not luxurious, but they serve as simple resting spots that provide respite from wind or rain during inclement weather. They are also where climbers sleep for a few hours before finishing the climb after midnight.
Most tours include sleeping hut fees ($50 to $70). Those climbing on their own will want to reserve space in advance, especially for weekend trips. Fuji Mountain Guides can help travelers reserve hut space. www.fujimountainguides.com
A walk around the crater at the summit takes about an hour. For those who have had enough walking, the 360-degree views of the surrounding area are reward enough. There’s even a post office at the top, so clients can mail letters and postcards back home boasting of their accomplishment.
While crowds can be an issue, especially on weekends and around a national holiday, tackling the mountain on a shared trek with people from all over the world can be one of the highlights of the experience.
Preparing for the Climb
Clients who want to attempt the climb without a tour group can do so via public transportation to the fifth station trails. The Fujisan Hiking Bus runs in season from Kawaguchiko Station, on the JR Chuo Line. From Tokyo, the Yoshida Trail is the easiest route to access via public transportation.
Climbers should be prepared for all kinds of weather, as well as slow, sometimes steep, climbing, especially close to the summit. Altitude sickness is a possibility and climbers who feel lightheaded or ill are asked to seek first aid along the route.
Rain gear, sturdy boots, hats, gloves and sunglasses are recommended. Clients might also want to read “Climbing Mount Fuji: A Complete Guidebook” by Richard Reay, available on Amazon.com. Written by an official Mount Fuji guide with years of experience on the mountain, the book can help clients plan and prepare for a successful climb.
Climbers should have a flashlight or, better yet, a headlamp, especially if they are planning to reach the summit at sunrise. There are a number of water and food vendors along the climbing routes, but trekkers should carry snacks, water and plenty of cash. (Water can cost $5 per bottle.)
Most first-time climbers will want to use the traditional wooden climbing sticks sold on the mountain. For a small fee, a stamp is burned into the pole at each station. Poles cost about $20, and stamps cost anywhere from $5 to $10.
Those who don’t have their own gear can rent it from their tour company or from independent outfitters such as Kobe Outdoor.www.kobeoutdoor.com
While visitors can make the climb up Mount Fuji on their own, using a guide who knows the mountain will make the experience more enjoyable.
Most Japanese tour companies offer Fuji packages that include experienced guides, sleeping hut fees and meals.
Viator offers a two-day sunrise climb from Tokyo, starting at about $285 per person, including roundtrip coach, meals, guides and hut space.www.viator.com
JTB USA offers a similar itinerary for about $350 per person.www.jtbusa.com
Fuji Mountain Guides offers several options for tours, including an off-season opportunity. They also rent gear.www.fujimountainguides.com
While anyone in reasonably good shape can make the climb, clients should be prepared for a challenge. The altitude and steepness of the trail will give anyone a workout. But the views at the top and the feeling of accomplishment at having summited this Japanese treasure make it well worth the effort.