Thursday, August 28, 2008


Back from Fuji!  What a beast that was.  It was not snowy like in this photo, but it was just as high. My friend Lauren convinced me to leave the comfort of my tropical island to see what the mainland had to offer. I had in my mind the idea that it would just be a few hours of hiking and snapping pictures.  It was quite a bit more involved than that.

We left the hotel at 2 am to get to the mountain at 4:30 am, bags packed with liters of water, energy goo, tuna triangles (japanese treat) and government issued-peanut butter. I decided to be on the safe side and buy canned oxygen and a walking stick - no sense in being unprepared. 

The hike started out in a foggy mist through a forest, the outline of the trees barely visible in the dark. The only time I actually felt out of breath on the hike was in this initial stage, and I think it was just getting used to hiking with all that junk on my back.  The breathlessness quickly subsided.

You can climb during the day, or at night. Obviously, it seemed a better choice for us to climb in the day light, as much of the terrain was rocky, sharp basalt rocks that required some skill even in day light. But looking back, one of the most mentally challenging parts was seeing a rest stop just above you, thinking it was about 10 minutes away, then not getting to it till an hour later. Also, it always appeared we were at the top.

Then, once you get to that point, the mountain, inexplicable seemed to grow taller. I think I would welcome the cover of darkness just to keep my expectations in check.

After a few hours, we emerged above the cloud line.

Every now and then, there were leveled off "check points" where you could take off your pack and get a brief rest. Towards the top, I started to nap at each one for about 10-20 min, which was not a good sign. At each check point, they would burn a stamp into your walking stick, to show your progress.

Lauren refueling.  We ate about 2000 calories before noon.
Most of the walk was barren basalt with no foliage above the cloud level.
One of the check points
I was really surprised to see so many children on the hike!  I think these kids spent the night on the mountain (the checkpoints have a large room that I think you can camp in).  That way, they could break down the hike and adjust to the altitude. 
They were enthusiastic and even carrying there own stuff! I honestly cannot imagine American kids hiking up hill all day without complaining - especially this American kid....

There were many older Japanese people as well - I'm guessing 60-70. Maybe even older. I read somewhere that one of the reasons Okinawans live the longest on the planet was that extensive walking is part of their daily routine.  This was becoming evident as many of the Americans were peeling off and feeling the pain, getting whooped by 70 year old grampas hiking to the top.

Here we are at 3000 meters above sea level. (9842 feet)

This is about where it started to unravel for me.  I wasn't breathless - and I used my can of oxygen just in case.  My legs weren't even really tired (not until I was hiking down hill, and that was more of a knee/shinsplint issue).  I was well hydrated and well-nourished. It was the altitude sickness.  Basically my organs were expanding.  I had consistent nausea and a migraine that seemed to increase with each foot of altitude. I started to take mini-naps at each stop to relieve the headache, but as soon as I would stand up, it would return. I made it to the last stop before the top, about 300 m, and then decided it was best for me to head down. Knowing I would probably never attempt this climb again, I was a little disappointed that I couldn't make it to the top, but I was afraid I would get really sick. 
Here I am grinning through the pain.  

It's hard to see perspective in this photo, but the clouds were so far beneath me it felt like I was in an airplane.
Lauren powered through, and made it up to the top, and took a great picture, which I will post as soon as I get it from her.  I mean come on, would you expect any less from an Air Force 1st Lt?

I did meet some Army guys who turned around where I did, so I didn't feel so bad. We got to the bottom at 5:15 pm - 12.5 hours of hiking. When we got back on the bus, I overheard a guy say "Why did I think that was a good idea?" That pretty much sums it up. Except that as I was descending as quickly as I could, trying to relieve my altitude sickness, I glanced up at this volcano, and I couldn't believe I'd gotten up so high under my own power. That moment was worth it.

More about Tokyo in next post!


Tracey said...

Wow, that is simply stunning.

mae said...

You're my hero... I just started looking at hiking Kilimanjaro before we have babies. Maybe Mt. Fuji should be on our list, too. How long does it usually take ppl?