I waited months for the climbing season to start (July to early September), so when my visa was granted, I immediately booked a flight to Osaka following my one-week muay Thai session in Bangkok.
To prep for the climb, I did a DIY day-hike in Mt. Rokko (931 masl) a week before. Although the trails of this much smaller mountain are different from Fuji’s, they did their part to make sure I was ready to tackle Japan’s highest peak.
Here, let me share my experience.
My Mt. Fuji Timetable (Yoshida Trail)
July 10, 2017
07:10 to 11:30: Nagoya to Kawaguchiko Station, by bus
13:00 to 14:00: Shuttle to Mt. Fuji 5th Station
14:00 to 14:30: Last minute preparation
14:30: Start of the hike, from Mt. Fuji 5th Station
14:40: Arrival at the Yoshida trailhead
18:00: Arrival at GansoMuro (mountain hut)
20:00: Lights out
July 11, 2017
02:00: Wake-up time
02:30: Start of the summit climb
04:00: Arrival at the summit
05:10: Start of descent
07:20: Back at the trailhead
08:00: Bus to Kawaguchiko
09:30: Bus to Tokyo
11:30: Arrival at Tokyo Station
On July 10th, after a smooth and comfortable 4.5-hour bus ride from Nagoya, I arrived at Kawaguchiko Station at 11:30 in the morning.
I was filled with excitement as I got off the bus, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I was not at my desired trailhead. I went around the station to try to find a trail entrance somewhere, but there was none.
Where are all the sweaty hikers? Some of them should be down here already.
There were other tourists, sure, but they were not in full hiking gear, and they were headed to a nearby lake. I felt lost.
I could have sworn I read online that to get to the starting point of the Yoshida Trail, I have to be at Kawaguchiko Station. As it turned out, I was one bus stop short.
Eventually, when I convinced myself that the only way to get to any trailhead ASAP is to take a shuttle bus, I purchased a ticket.
An hour later, I was at the correct place.
(Mt. Fuji 5th Station)
At Mt. Fuji 5th Station
It was already 2 o’clock in the afternoon when I arrived at the 5th Station. Although I felt a sense of urgency, I needed time to buy some last-minute supplies and to eat. My last meal was at 6 in the morning with only two pieces of onigiri. I needed an energy boost quick.
From one blogger’s account, his team started at 11 in the morning and reached their mountain hut before six. As I quickly finished my ramen, I wondered if I could make it before nightfall.
I spent about 10 more minutes exploring the shops, looking for the cheapest gloves (1,200 JPY) and raincoat (500 JPY). I added a walking stick (600 JPY), but I went for the shortest size to prevent any kind of mishap at the airport.
Yoshida Trailhead to GansoMuro Mountain Hut
Day-hikes (or speed ascents or bullet climbs) are not unheard of. After all, the Yoshida Trail is only 6 kms. long. But because I was hiking the mountain solo, and from what I learned about AMS during my Brahmatal trek in India, I chose not to rush and instead do it overnight.
At 2:30 PM, I started walking.
The first ten minutes was uneventful except perhaps for a few sections that opened up to a view of fields below. I wouldn’t use the word “stunning” to describe the view, but it was still worth stopping by.
Past the first signpost, the trail started to reveal its true features. For a brief moment, I found myself in a wooded walkway, but as soon as I got out, the trail unveiled a path littered with lava rocks. Immediately, my mind wandered off to Mt. Agung where I first stepped on these volcanic remains.
I continued walking until I reached another wooded path. Just like the first, it was a short one, but it was quite steep and dangerous.
Then, two minutes later, I was walking through a tunnel which I’m guessing is designed to protect against rock falls. Several steps away, a man was giving out safety flyers at a Safety Guidance Center.
As I soon discovered, the trail from this point on is fully exposed to the elements. Hikers are provided very little shelter until they reach the first mountain hut at the 7th Station.
Thankfully, the weather on July 10th was perfect. That afternoon, the clouds covered most the sun, so everyone had enough sunlight without burning the skin. The only challenge left was ascending those zigzag paths.
Somewhere along the way, I met a boy named Liam, an American college student pursuing a degree in Environmental Science. I don’t remember when it started, but our conversation became almost entirely about meditation. When I told him I don’t know the proper way of doing it, he kindly taught me 3 ways that he said worked for him.
The most difficult parts of Yoshida’s ascent route are no doubt the steep, jagged sections near the mountain huts. These are where the slowdowns and bottlenecks happen.
At 3:40, Liam and I arrived at the mountain’s first lodge at 7th Station. I was looking forward to having my first stamp, but when I learned that a stamp costs 300 JPY, I changed my mind.
Liam and I continued our ascent and conversation, stopping only when I asked Liam to take my picture. The higher we went, the longer the line grew, and the slower the pace became.
At 5:40 pm, the landscape changed into a completely barren and rocky terrain. The grasses were gone, and the chill in the air made me wear my jacket.
At this point, we were minutes away from GansoMuro where I booked my overnight stay. To my right was a dry slope with a few patches of snow. Looking down below, the views now included clouds that used to hover over us on our way up.
At 5:50 pm, we arrived at GansoMuro.
Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye to Liam. But not without taking a selfie.
GansoMuro is one of the few mountain huts that have an English website. My first choice was Fujisan Hotel, but I ran out of slots for July 10th.
How was the experience?
I don’t think it made any difference had I stayed at another lodge. The crucial part, which was what everyone wanted, was a few hours of sleep before they get up again in time for the sunrise.
At GansoMuro, we were assigned a small bedspace alongside other hikers. In our room, we were crammed in long double-bunk beds. From the blogs I read, I suspect that this is true in every mountain hut.
I paid 7,800 JPY for the night, including two meals – dinner and breakfast. The meals were nothing special. From the words of another hiker, they were “a typical doggy bag in Japan.”
Dinner was served at 7 in the evening. Breakfast was in a takeout container, given immediately after dinner.
(Dinner – two pieces of chicken fillet, curry, and rice)
(Breakfast – Inarizushi, egg, veggie tempura; green tea)
(Gift from GansoMuro – a giant clip)
Climb to the Summit
At 2 in the morning, a staff woke everyone up, but I was already awake before then. It was a challenge to sleep in a small space with strangers on both sides. Fortunately, I was able to hit my 5-hour target. It was too short, but it should be enough for the rest of the climb.
“Do we still have to pay for toilet use?” I asked a friendly couple. The girl explained that the first one was free, but the rest cost 200 JPY. After I took a leak, I went back inside the hut to get ready.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t as cold outside as I was expecting, so when I set out at 2:30, I was happy I could take my heat packs back home.
(Hikers at Fujisan Hotel, taking a break)
There was a long line right from the onset, but it wasn’t slow-moving. And to make sure everyone made it to the summit before sunrise, a man in a megaphone encouraged the overtakers to stay on the right side (close to the edge of the trail).
There were no lampposts anywhere, but thanks to the flashlights and head torches lighting up the paths, I didn’t regret that I didn’t bring my own.
(A patch of snow along the way)
Finally, after 1.5 hours of scrambling through the rocks, I arrived at the summit’s entrance, marked by a torii gate that leads to the Kusushi Shrine several steps up.
(Torii Gate at Mt. Fuji Summit, Kusushi Shrine)
(Kusushi Shrine at 4:00 in the morning of July 11, 2017)
At the Summit of Mt. Fuji
At this point, the first signs of sunrise could be seen on the horizon. I overheard that the full changes would happen at 4:50, so while everyone waited eagerly to see the sunrise in full, I busied myself exploring the area.
(Hikers at the Summit of Mt. Fuji, July 11, 2017)
(Crater of Mt. Fuji)
(Icicles hanging from rocks at the summit)
(Small torii at the summit)
Here’s a video I recorded that morning.
Descending Mt. Fuji
After watching the sunrise, I decided to make my descent at 5:10.
The Yoshida Trail has a separate descent route, which is basically a zigzag path all throughout. The trail is characterized by crushed lava rocks that can be slippery if you’re not careful of your footing.
As if that’s not challenging enough, the inclination tends to be tough on the knees. While some hikers chose to run to finish a segment (to perhaps reduce the stress on the knees), I chose the “heel kicking technique,” something I learned in India last February.
At 7:20, I was back at the trailhead.
(Mt. Fuji, seen from 5th Station)