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Japan: Mount Fuji

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I decided for a side trip from Thailand to Japan in order to bag a couple of new country high points (Japan and South-Korea) at the end of the year. The winter snow had already covered the slopes of Fuji, and the mountain was officially closed. Perfect timing for being entirely alone on Mount Fuji, and a quite more adventurous climb than competing with the huge crowds of Japanese hikers during summer time.

I flew with Nippon Airlines for a relatively cheap price. At Narita Int Airport I jumped on the airport bus to Shinjuku Station in the heart of Tokyo. This station has plenty of connections to other places in Japan, like Kawaguchiko at the foot of Mount Fuji. It took no more than 3-4 hours after I landed at Narita until I found myself in the nice little village of Kawaguchiko.

When arriving in Kawaguchiko I found a nice hostel (K's House) where I checked in. Then I went to a couple of visitor centers, but both advised strongly against a climb of Mount Fuji at this time of year. The first office even told it was illegal without a special police permit. They also told me that all mountain huts were closed for time being, giving me no other option than to do Fuji as a day trip, since I didn't bring any tent to Japan. But how about an early start then? No, that seemed rather hopeless because the bus from Kawaguchiko to the 5th Station does not arrive there before 10:40 am, fairly late to start such a big climb when the days also are short.

Another option would be to hire a taxi, but 10.000 yen is way too expensive, especially since I did not have anyone to share the costs with. More importantly, one will not arrive the trailhead very much earlier with taxi than with the bus, due to the fact that the toll road from Kawaguchiko don't open before 9:00am anyway at this time of the year.

Next morning I jumped on the bus (600 yen if I remember correctly), actually the first departure in several days after a heavy snowfall some few days ago, which caused the road to close.

The bus arrived 5th station at 10:35am, and shortly after I started to walk at an elevation of 2300m. It was snowy conditions even at the start of the hike. It took me 3.5 hours from 5th Station to the crater rim, at times in knee deep snow and higher up on steep icy slopes which made me put on my crampons. I was not entirely alone. An american guy who started ahead of me, had to turn around at the crater rim after I had helped him up the last hump of blue ice. He had no crampons or ice axes, and even more worrying, he had no warm clothing, thus it would be hazardous for him to continue the walk on the icy and snowy crater rim. His hands were already frostbitten and he would soon go into a state of hypothermia if he continued to expose himself to the icy cold wind on the rim. I was really glad that he turned around at the rim, so he would not cause any further delays for me, or more importantly, cause any emergency situation up here. Ice gear and warm winter clothing is a real must at this time of the year.

After advising the american guy to turn around and also giving him my ice-axe, I continued for another 30 minutes to the highest point, Kengamine Peak (3776m), on the other side of the crater. I was the only guy reaching the top that day. I did not spend any long time up there, because I knew that in less than two hours it would be pitch dark.

The snow conditions made the descent fairly time consuming too. At the end of the steep slopes, I found my ice-axe, and the kind message attached to it from the american guy made me smile. On the final leg to the 5th station I walked in complete darkness. But I had already calculated to be late, so I had brought a headlamp. When arriving 5th station the last bus had departed long time ago. Great luck struck when I got a ride with the very last car standing in the parking lot (an owner of a souvenir shop at 5th Station). So fortunately I did not have to walk the 32 km from 5th station back to Kawaguchiko. If this strike of luck had not happened, I either would have to roll out the sleeping bag and spent a cold night under the open sky at the 5th station, or simply started to walk down again, but this would probably have taken 5 hours or more. Calling for a taxi was as I mentioned earlier, completely out of question because of the high prices in Japan.

He dropped me off K's House and happy to be back I gave him a couple of thousand Yen.
Now as Fuji was done, I could start on my travel in Japan, at the height of the autumn foliage season, with leaves in beautiful colors. The next few days (especially in Kyoto) was a beauty nature of colors that I've never seen before......

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Posted by Lyngve Skrede on Tuesday, November 24, 2009. Filed under , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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