This is the second flashback post featuring my adventures in the early days of being an English language teacher and focuses more on the travelling side. ‘Phili Does Fuji’ was a follow up or sequel to ‘Phili Does Kili‘, which I posted online long ago. But I have never previously shared any video from my climb up Fujisan. I recycled two of the tracks used for the film of the previous mountain climb. It’s self-indulgent and, looking back, I come across as a bit of an idiot. However, for the most part, it remains a good memory, even though this particular adventure didn’t end well.
This is an unedited reproduction of the original post from 4 August 2008, with a few photos and a 13 minute edit of the film.
Fujisan was a 24 hour hike split over 2 days. ‘San’, just as in Korean, simply means ‘mountain’. The highest point in Japan is the weather radar station at the summit (3766m). It is attempted by around 200,000 people every year, 10 times that of Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania. Here are some more differences:
You don’t need porters or a guide to help you climb Fujisan as the routes are clearly laid out all the way. There is no fee to pay to climb Fujisan, whereas you pay a hefty charge just to enter Kilimanjaro National Park. Kilimanjaro has an age restriction of 10 years, whereas Fujisan has no age restriction and is regularly tackled by young children and grandparents. Kilimanjaro is made up of several types of terrain, including lush rainforest, heather, moorland and glacial. Fujisan is mostly rock and shingle, with some grass at the lower levels.
However, there are plenty of similarities, including:
Both mountains are dormant volcanoes and stand alone. Fujisan is a picture perfect postcard volcanic cone. It last erupted in 1707 and is low on the list of those volcanoes likely to erupt again. Both have a number of different routes to the summit. Kili has ‘camps’, while ‘camping’ is not allowed on Fujisan – it has ‘huts’ or stations instead, which include lodgings, which you can reserve in advance for around 6,000 yen. For a lot of the time Fujisan is covered in thick cloud so you can’t see it. I found the same when I arrived at Moshi. I saw the summit of Kili on the following morning, but I never saw Fujisan’s summit before I attempted to climb it. Fuji is “notoriously shy”. Both are usually covered by snow (ice), although Fujisan loses most of its snow during the summer months. Both are used by their respective countries as national, cultural, symbolic landmarks, representations of each country. The back of 1,000 yen note shows a view of Fujisan from Motosu-ku.
After Thursday’s aborted attempt to get a bus to the 5th station, I thought I would try my luck at Mishima, just along the Shinkansen line from Shin-fuji. I woke at 6.30am, having had a solid 8 hours sleep. I left the Onsen around 7.30am and walked the relatively short distance to Fujinomiya Railway Station. Not entirely sure which way it was, I spotted a bus going in that direction. I waited for another, but it never came. I eventually found the station, via Wakayuma Pond and the Sergertaisha Shrine, a starting point for pilgrims in previous times, for climbing Fujisan. From Fujinomiya it was one stop to Fuji station. But i needed to get to Mishima. Instead of walking or getting a bus to Shin-Fuji and then travel one stop on the Shinkansen, I saved money and energy by jumping on a JR train to Shizuoka and back to Mishima, around 9 stops and taking an hour longer. I had a JR Rail Pass so I was determined to make damn good use of it.
At Mishima I took a delayed breakfast and waited patiently for a bus to the 5th station – known as the ‘Fujinomiya/Mishima’ station. I tried to ring the information center to find out if I could any luggage in a locker at the station, but couldn’t get through. In hindsight I should have just left some stuff at Mishima, but like a lot of things associated with this climb, I wasn’t particularly ready or well-organised. I had 5 months to get prepared for Kili. I had less than 24 hours to get ready for Fujisan. I got on a bus at 12.00 midday and boarded the correct bus (phew! relief!). It took 2 hours to get to the 5th station, via a ‘Nuclear Fun Theme Park’. The bus cost 2390 Yen but I hadn’t made any allowances for the return journey. I had not eaten much, I had not brought a torch, towel, raincoat, wipes, and I was already running out of hard currency.
As I got off the bus, I quickly became engulfed in a photo shoot with 17 Vietnamese people. One particularly cute girl got me involved and it was cameras and photos all round. They were all expats living and working or studying in Japan, and part of a Viet/Jap social networking group. I asked to join their party and they were more than happy to make the number up to 18 – 9 boys, 9 girls. I asked them to call me ‘teacher phili’ and they did, every time, from that moment on. I never caught any of their names except one guy, Van Hong Tan, a civil engineer working in Tokyo, who gave me his business card.
Here is an edited part of the film. Bear in mind that some of it is in the dark as we were climbing through the night for some if it:
We started climbing at 4pm from 5th station (go-gome, 2400m). The plan was to stop at each station – there are actually 10 including those below go-gome. After no.5, it’s no.6, new no.7, original no.7, no.8, no.9, no.9.5 and 10 (the summit)!
The first section was easy, a gentle stroll up a clear pathway, a rise of only 100m to the 6th station (shin roku-gome, 2,500m). The group were great fun to be around, they knew a lot of Japanese and could communicate easily with those not from our party. Some had a reasonable command of English, and took turns in talking with me. The group constantly burst into song, which is always good for a major climb, although it often sets it with the delirium of the higher altitude. I joined in and sang too. No-one had heard of either Coldplay or Pink Floyd, however.
Onwards we climbed, to the ‘new’ 7th station (shin nana-gome, 2780m), the ‘original’ 7th station (nana-gome, 3010m) and the 8th station (hachi-gome, 3250m) , where we bedded down for a few hours. We all slept in a line, with the 9 girls, then the 9 boys. I was at the end, next to one of the guys, but was exposed to the elements and the near zero temperature. We lay down around 9pm and set off at about 1am for the final push through the night (just like Kili), in order to make the summit for sunrise. I didn’t sleep at all. I shivered and was beginning to feel overwhelming fatigue.
What had been fun up til then, became no fun at all. My energy level, having not eating much and being exposed to the cold, had rapidly decreased. From the 8th station, I struggled. We carried on, together, each of us taking it in turns to suggest a break. Most of them had headlamps or torches so helped those without, including me. A couple of the girls developed breathing problems, but the group had shown great forsight in bringing 2 cannisters of oxygen. I could breath OK, but my body was draining. I had little momentum in my feet. I was getting sick. Thankfully, a restbite at the 9th station (kyu-gome, 3460m), where they let us sit inside if we bought some hot snacks. I had little money left. I bought a hot coffee and someone bought me the most delicious, satisfying pot noodle I have ever eaten. I had orgasms over it.
I thought this welcome break would give me enough energy for the remainder, but I soon lapsed back into taking tired, stumbling steps. My eyes wouldn’t stay open. At one point I think I was walking back down. I feared I would have to stop and let the others go on without me. However, the camaraderie meant that no-one was going to left behind. So we all made it to 9.5 station (kyu-go go-shaku, 3590m), with others struggling too.
The push for the summit was the hardest part of all – somehow steeper, it seemed to take an age. It reminded me of the launch for Stella Point on Kili – dark, cold, never-ending, done with zero energy. Somehow I got seperated from the whole group. They had also begun to break up themselves. Understandably the others were more concerned now about their own welfare, and we had been walking in concentrated silence for some time. I needed several more stops between the 9.5 and 10th stations and I think I took more than them, hence I became detached, lampless, limping, left alone. I sadly never saw them again.
I managed to reach the summit around 4.30am, just in time for the ‘goraiko(u)’ – the special name for the sunrise of Fujisan. There was hundreds of fellow climbers already there, enjoying the view and snapping away, excitedly. People were recording their joyous moment. For some it is a Japanese rite of passage, I believe. I felt dreadful, however. Shattered. Hungry. Depressed. Lonely. As far away from ‘home’ as I have ever felt. It was more of an anticlimax. I tried to fall asleep in several places at the summit, to no avail. It was no noisy, with bells ringing out, and general chatter. It was as crowded as a Seoul subway station. I just wanted to be air-lifted off the top and be taken to a comfortable bed.
I later worked for a short while in Binh Duong, Vietnam. But that won’t be one of the flashbacks I’ll be sharing in this short series.