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Mount Fuji: Part 2 of 3


Read about my Fuji experience in greater detail: Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

To review, I left off last time entering a bus station in the hopes of booking a ticket three hours southwest to climb Japan’s highest peak, the 13,000 foot dormant stratovolcano Mount Fuji.

I went to a ticket booth and after getting a dismissive smile when I asked if the teller spoke English (Eigo ga wakarimasu ka?), I threw at her the only two Japanese words I knew that I felt could help: climb Fuji-san. Then, I added a circling finger, trying to convey that I wanted a round trip ticket. This prompted a flurry of keyboard activity. Moments later I traded 5,200 yen (nearly $45 U.S.) for a piece of paper apparently reserving a seat on a bus departing two hours later.

I wandered Shinjuku for the next few hours, the broken umbrella I had found earlier acting as shelter and companion. The hustle of Tokyo knows no bounds, and the markets and streets surrounding Shinjuku, even in the rain, were full.

Time passed and I lined up, unsure about my ticket. For a moment my worries about being on a bus that would bring me to Fuji were subdued for the same reason they rose again. Around me were some twenty men and women with hiking packs and boots and supplies. If I had a mirror I would see my eyes, refusing to admit being overwhelmed, above a body dressed in a tee-shirt and khakis shorts, clinging to a broken pink umbrella and a bag with nothing but a Temple University sweatshirt, black sweatpants, a winter hat and a camera. If I had been prepared, I would have looked at someone like me and labeled me disrespectful and unprepared and foolish and stupid and immature. I got on the bus, found my seat and closed my eyes.

When I opened them to evaluate the passing Japanese scenery upon the bus’s departure, I was taken by the real example of Tokyo’s international appeal around me. I sat next to a man from an African country my American schooling has left me incapable of knowing, who sat next to a Asian man who was trying to ignore the pestering questions of a particularly talkative European.

I turned and watched the rain darken the skies outside, which was quickly losing the sprawl of Tokyo and gaining a decidedly greener dynamic. In time, the road was fighting elevation changes and there were signs of a war with trees, one in which nature lost. The bus did soon rise upward as the last of the day’s sun evaporated into a coal black sky. Around me the hills couldn’t decide which direction to fall and their lack of grace was only revealed when the various angles of green canopy crashed. This was Mount Fuji.

I was dumped outside, along with my far more prepared busmates, into what I can only describe as a circus. This was the Kawaguchiko 5th Station of Mount Fuji, the most popular thoroughfare leading to the summit of Mount Fuji. The station is comprised of a ranger station and some fifteen shops and food stands, hawking Fuji-related trinkets and overpriced food, water and supplies. Fed by eager-to-spend tourists and the unprepared, it is emblematic of most in-season climbs of the supposedly sacred mountain, especially on this, the final weekend of the climbing season. Being admittedly ill-equipped, I bought a few liters of water, but passed on 2,500 yen ($22 U.S.) rain ponchos.

It was already 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), a change from the high 80s of metropolitan Tokyo. I changed into the sweatshirt and sweatpants, donned the winter hat I brought and took one last disapproving look at the basketball sneakers an old college friend traded me in return for a paper I wrote for him once.

I spoke to a few Japanese climbers who looked serious enough, all of whom questioned my own preparedness. They told me four hours was the fastest the average climber peaks Fuji with good conditions. I walked outside to find a light rain meeting the nine pm hour, and I impatiently started, almost eight hours from the 5am sunrise, which is most everyone’s destination.

I found the beginning of what I assumed to be the trail (it was dark and from what I could see only marked with Kanji symbols and Japanese Hiragana). And, more confidently than was merited, I started.

I had no source of light. Admittedly always with a light source as an option, I have done night-hiking, as I find a certain power in slowly adjusting to the darkness. It is my experience that most of us never give our eyes the opportunity to show how well they can adjust to darkness. Nevertheless, in a steady, cold drizzle and moving too quickly to use the light of the hiking parties I passed, I was questioning my choice to go ahead with my climbing effort as unready as I was.

I came to a fork in the road and to my right, in an assortment of Japanese characters, was a ten foot sign pointing to an ascending trail. Below it was an English translation: “To Mount Fuji Summit.” I began.

The story continues in the next installment.
Jaa mata,

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