Fuji

  • Fuji
  • 3776 m.
  • Japan
  • Highest in Japan
  • Climbed October 23, 1999

Information:

How to get there: This description starts at Narita international airport, prices quoted reflect the end of 1999. There seems to be two options using public transportation:
1) By train. Train (Japan rail) from Narita to Otsuki, then with a private railroad from Otsuki to Kawaguchiko, a village at the foot of Mount Fuji. The cost is about 4000 yen. I had to make numerous changes due to some train accident, in theory one should be able to complete this trip with 3 trains (it took me 6 trains and 6 hours).
2) By train and bus. Take Japan rail from Narita to Shinjuku, then express bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko. The cost is about 3000 yen. I used this on my return trip, it was substantially faster.
In Kawaguchiko, there is a youth hostel that provides economy lodging. I had no reservations, and no membership, the cost was then about 3800 yen per night. Ask directions at the train/bus station, it is about a 5-10 minute walk.
Route description: The Japanese have divided Fuji into "stations", the first being at the very base, the 10th being on the crater rim. There are several routes up, the one I describe is likely the most common. On this route there is a big road leading up to the "5th station", where there is parking and a lodge style cafeteria etc. There are buses that go to the 5th station, Fuji-subaru-line, from Kawaguchiko, but the first one leaves too late for a full day on the mountain in the late fall/winter season. A one day climb therefore requires a taxi (or other means of transportation by car). The taxi ride had a fixed price of 12.300 yen, so it is good if one can share it with somebody.
The official "climbing season" is July and August. In this period there are open huts and services along the entire trail including what looks like a small village at the crater rim. As many as 3000 Japanese make the climb each day, so this period should be avoided.
Outside of the season, there are no services, the mountain is much more quiet, but it is a fine, and not too difficult climb provided that you have the required equipment for snow climbing at high altitude.
Here is a summary of my own observations:
Start from the 5th station (subaru line) at 0630 on October 23rd, 1999. There were traces of snow at the end of the road. The trail actually decends a bit as it traverses left to a point where things finally are pointing upwards. Clearly marked trail with many (closed) huts along the way. I reached the 3000m level at 0810 and the crater rim at 1030. The wind was gusty, some snow drifts, but beautiful weather. Kawaguchiko was in fog in the early morning while the sun's first rays illuminated the mountain in a yellow light. Two stone lions welcome you to the rim where a small "village" of stone cabins filled up most of the available space.
The highest point on the rim is exactly opposite of my point of arrival, so I set out (clock-wise) to complete the crater rim walk. No footprints, about 30-40 cm of snow, enough to notice breathing a bit, in particular in the small uphills. The hike to the highest point was straightforward. From the highest point there are two alternatives, I stayed on the highest ridge and eventually climbed down about ten meters on a metal ladder. One can trivially hike back along an interior route, I decided to follow the rim and that route passes another local summit. This top can be climbed left (or outside, this is most likely the official way) or right (inside), which was what I did.
I left the crater rim at 1230 after two hours without company, but with a magnificent 360 degree look at Japan. Back at station 5 after 1:45, including a significant navigational error at station 8. The trail forks here and the subaru-line trail bears left. I went straight down without much thinking and realized my error in the vicinity of station 7. From here I made a long decending traverse to the left in order to get back on track around station 6.
Comments: The first snow on Fuji fell Thursday morning October 21. It made Fuji appear on the front page of The Japan Times under the headline "zipped up for the winter" which I read on Friday while travlling by train from Narita to Kawaguchiko.
The route I followed has absolutely no technical parts, just hiking on a moderately steep snow slope. It is clear, however, that crampons and an ice axe may be absolutely necessary if the slopes gets icy or develops a hard crust on the surface. The wind on the top was very gusty, almost storm at one moment (with strong snow drift), then calm and quiet a few moments later. After the arrival of the snow, this mountain certainly requires proper mountain winter gear.