What I learned from Climbing Mount Fuji in August
“A wise man climbs Mt. Fuji once, only a fool climbs it twice.”
(一度も登らぬ馬鹿、二度登る馬鹿。) – says a famous Japanese proverb.
And yet I have the feeling that climbing Mt. Fuji once wasn’t enough. Or maybe I’m just one of those fools! ;)
I’m sure you’re here because you want some valuable information about climbing Mt. Fuji in summer. Hang on, let me share my personal experience first. Because you’ll learn a lot from it for your own adventurous trip!
What I learned from climbing Mount Fuji in August
- buy everything you’ll need in advance, NOT on the mountain
- don’t bring your good camera
- wear lots and lots of layers and adjust several times
- your shoes will be the most important item
- you won’t be able to sleep at all in a mountain hut
- you’re fitter than you thought and you’re not as fit as you thought
- if you make it out alive, buy a new pair of knees
- the weather in the mountains can change quickly and drastically
- don’t expect to see the sunset
- don’t climb up during a typhoon
- sending postcards from the highest post office in Japan is a lot of fun
- the Mt. Fuji walking pole with stamps from each station is the best souvenir EVER!
Once you’ve read about my climbing experience, you’ll probably understand all those bullet points.
Climbing Mount Fuji in August 2010 – My Personal Experience
When I set off to climb Mt. Fuji in August 2010, Japan’s tallest mountain (3776 m) was not yet a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
By that time I had already been in Japan for 2.5 years and my little brother came to visit. He wanted to climb Mt. Fuji so badly, so I came up with an itinerary that would allow us to do so.
I had planned everything perfectly. We wanted to take the Yoshida Trail starting from Yamanashi Prefecture. I had reserved beds in one of the mountain huts for us. Bus and train tickets were bought. We were all set.
However, after coming back to our hotel from a long day full of sightseeing, I got a call from the mountain hut. They told us that there was a severe typhoon going on and nobody could climb Mt. Fuji at the moment, so they cancelled our reservation and suggested to stay away from Mt. Fuji. (That might have been the beginning of my “Ame Onna” career …)
We were devastated – especially my brother. He had only a few more days until he had to fly back home. We were exhausted from our long sightseeing day, but had to stay up until 3 a.m. to somehow re-arrange EVERYTHING. We tried the last day and night possible in our schedule and had to reserve tickets and a mountain hut again. No bus tickets available anymore that would have brought us to the Yoshida Trail, so we had to use the Fujinomiya Trail in Shizuoka Prefecture instead. It was INSANE!
When we finally sat in the bus going up to 5th station, we weren’t sure what to do. The bus was almost empty. There were only a few Chinese tourists who looked just as scared as us. The weather outside didn’t show the slightest sign of the typhoon slowing down.
After I got off at 5th station I saw a lot of people coming down the trail. All of them were soaked and full of mud. I asked a few of them if it was possible to climb up at all, but they said NO!
Yet my brother and I decided to give it a try. After all we came that far and the typhoon was supposed to be gone already.
At first, we couldn’t even see our own hands. It was so foggy!
But in the early evening when it was already getting dark, the weather finally became better.
We crashed down into our mountain hut bed. You’re only a few centimeters away from complete strangers. It’s freezing cold and loud. Other people staying there didn’t bother to shut the fuck up. My hair was wet, so I tried to dry my clothes and hair somehow. There was no way I could have gotten any sleep. But at least we could rest our bodies and get them used to the altitude.
We got up at 2 a.m. so that we would make it up to the summit in time for the sunrise. The last 500-800 m difference in altitude were really horrible. I think I got altitude sickness. My head hurt and I just had to stop every few meters as I was out of breath. I refused to buy one of those oxygen bottles for 3000-5000 yen. (That’s why you should buy that kind of stuff before your departure!)
My brother eventually went on without me, but I didn’t give up. I knew it was only a few hundred meters to the summit. Slowly but steadily I made my way up. Actually, my brother was on his way back from the summit when we met again and he was surprised that I had made it this far. He then went to the top with me once again.
We got our final seal for the Mt. Fuji hiking pole, sent postcards from the highest post office in Japan and then started our hike back down.
Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to check out the crater as we had to catch a bus in the early afternoon. “Thanks to” the typhoon our original plan was ruined and we had to rush down.
While I thought I was fitter than expected when climbing up, I immediately noticed how wrong I was when we descended.
Let me tell you that going down is a LOT MORE strenuous than hiking up! At least it was for me. The path is full of volcanic rocks. It’s slippery like hell. And at some point you won’t have any strength left in your feet. Furthermore, my knees were killing me. My brother didn’t suffer as badly, but he’s well-trained. I had to take breaks several times because my legs just gave in, but somehow I made it down.
During our descent the weather FINALLY became somewhat good and for the first time we actually got to see Mt. Fuji and its surroundings. The people hiking up that day were REALLY lucky! ….
Eventually I was happy that I managed the hike and went all the way up to the summit, but at the same time I was really depressed because we didn’t get to see the sunrise.
The majority of people I’ve talked to had good weather and were able to see the sunrise. But I’ve also had co-workers who had to give up halfway due to bad weather and return back down without ever reaching Mt. Fuji’s summit.
Nobody can tell you how your climb will go. All you can do is prepare accordingly. And I want to provide you all the necessary information for doing so:
When to Climb Mt. Fuji?
The climbing season is usually from early July to early September. The best time to climb Mount Fuji is from late July to late August because then the weather is relatively stable. You can check the weather on the summit here. Try to avoid weekends and O-bon (mid-August) as these tend to be extremely crowded.
Most people start hiking in the early afternoon, stay overnight in a mountain hut (on the 7-8th station) and then get up early (2 a.m.-ish) to continue their climb to see the sunrise (around 4:30 – 5:00 a.m.) on the summit, then descend to be back down in the afternoon. You could also start in the morning if you fear that your stamina won’t last. That way you can climb at a slow pace and take lots of breaks.
Some people also start climbing in the evening to reach the summit just before the sunrise. This is very strenuous and the risk of mountain sickness is higher. It is not advisable to do so.
Which Hiking Trail should I choose?
This is probably the most important question. Start planning your hike by deciding which trail to take. There are 4 different trails that lead you up to the summit of Mt. Fuji, check carefully which is the best for you.
Yoshida Trail (Yamanashi Prefecture)
5th Station altitude: ~2300 m
Ascent: 5-7 hours (7.5 km)
Descent: 3-5 hours (7.6 km)
Trail Map: PDF (English)
This is probably the most popular trail as its 5th Station is easily accessible from Tokyo and is not too far away from the beautiful Fuji Five Lakes. It’s also the trail with the most mountain huts and first-aid stations, so it’s the best route to take for climbers with zero experience. As it’s so popular it can get crowded, but luckily there are separate routes for climbing up and down. Also, the sunrise can be seen from this side of the mountain, so even if you won’t make it up to the summit in time, you might be able to see the sunrise.
Fujinomiya Trail (Shizuoka Prefecture)
5th Station altitude: ~2400 m
Ascent: 4-7 hours (5 km)
Descent: 2-4 hours (5 km)
Trail Map: PDF (English)
This is the southern approach (looking down onto the beautiful Suruga Bay) with the shortest distance to the summit. The elevation is also the lowest among all the trails which makes it the second popular route to take. Ascent and descent happen on the same trail, so it can become very crowded.
Subashiri Trail (Shizuoka Prefecture)
5th Station altitude: ~2000 m
Ascent: 5-8 hours (7.8 km)
Descent: 3-5 hours (6.2 km)
You can enjoy many plants and trees up to 2700 m. However, this trail is suited for more experienced hikers as there are fewer huts. The route meets the Yoshida trail around the 8th Station from where it will get crowded. The descent is interesting as you go down a sand slope.
Gotemba Trail (Shizuoka Prefecture)
5th Station altitude: ~1400 m
Ascent: 7-10 hours (11 km)
Descent: 3-6 hours (8.5 km)
The Gotemba Trail is by far the most difficult route in distance and elevation. There are no mountain huts until the 7th station, so it is advised that only experienced climbers take this approach.
Here’s a great overview that will help you decide which trail to take.
There are 10 stations on each trail. The 10th being on the summit of Mt. Fuji. The vast majority of people start at the 5th station where buses will take you from various train stations. They have souvenir shops and you can also buy gear there in case you still need something.
Only hardcore hikers and pilgrims would start from the 1st station. A normal tourist wouldn’t have time to do so, so I won’t go into this option.
Once you’ve decided on a mountain trail, you have to check how to get there:
Access to the trails’ 5th stations. Click to enlarge.
How to reserve a Mountain Hut?
If you have no experience at all, it is highly recommended to stay a few hours at night at a mountain hut. Yoshida Trail has the largest number of huts (around the 7th and 8th station). Expect to pay around 5000 yen to stay and 7000 yen with a meal included. Dinner’s usually curry and rice. Don’t expect something extraordinary, but you’ll be thankful to get some proper food after all that climbing!
You should definitely reserve in advance. In order to do so, you need to contact the mountain hut (usually by calling them). Most of them won’t understand English. You might want to ask the front staff of your hotel or at a tourist information center to get help.
List of Mountain Huts:
- Yoshida Trail (English)
- Fujinomiya Trail (English)
- All Trails (English) – last updated in 2011
- All Trails (English, PDF) – provided by the JNTO
What should I bring? What should I wear?
- Proper Hiking Shoes
I’ve seen people hiking with sneakers or even clogs. Don’t do that! Wear proper hiking shoes which protect your ankles.
- Various layers of clothing
The temperature on the summit is close to the freezing point while it’s hot and humid at the foot of the mountain. Make sure you dress accordingly and wear many layers so you can adjust to any situation easily.
- Rain gear
Weather conditions can change suddenly. You should have proper rain wear with you. Don’t bring an umbrella. Winds are strong on the mountain, so umbrellas are useless.
To protect your hands from the cold on the summit. You’ll also need them for ascending steep, rocky courses and for descending, when grabbing the ropes so you won’t fall.
Here you can see what other people wore.
In case the sun is burning down or it’s getting extremely cold, you want something on your head (hat, cap).
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
I didn’t need that at all, but on a sunny day you better have those with you.
Most people will ascend in the dark to see the sunrise. You’ll need a flashlight – or even better a headlamp or you won’t see a thing. It’s really pitch dark.
Take a lightweight backpack that’s comfortable and just big enough to carry all the things you want to take with you. It’s probably best to have many different pockets, so you won’t have to search long for something (especially in the dark).
You should bring at least 2 l per person, more is better if you can carry that much. You can buy water at mountain huts, but it’s insanely expensive (500 yen+ for 500 ml back in 2010).
- Sports drink
I didn’t have any, but it’s recommended so you can replenish your electrolytes.
- Carbohydrates (snacks)
It’s a good idea to take bars, biscuits and the likes with you. Japanese convenient stores have lots of stuff like that. Buy that in advance as it’s ridiculously pricy once you’ve reached 5th station and above. Anything that is not heavy, but will give you back some energy is great. Mountain huts offer food, but with the altitude the prices get higher.
Of course you want to take a camera with you. Gotta take a photo of that sunrise if you can, right?
I didn’t dare to take my DSLR with me (which explains the low quality of the photos in this article …), because I was too worried about the typhoon and what it would do to my camera.
You don’t HAVE to bring medicine, but you might want to take pain killers, band-aids and whatever you think you might need with you as long as it’s nothing heavy. If you already know that you’ll suffer from altitude sickness, take an O2 bottle. These can also be bought on the mountain huts but are super expensive there.
Please note that mountain huts only accept cash. Make sure you bring enough with you.
You’ll also need lots of 100 yen coins for the toilets and vending machines.
This is not something you absolutely need, but it can be nice to wipe sweat or dry your hair if it got wet.
- Change of clothes
As the weather can change quickly, you might get soaked. You probably want to bring a change of underwear and socks at least.
- Garbage bag
You’re supposed to take all your garbage with you. Please respect that and try to protect Mt. Fuji’s environment!
- Get a Mt. Fuji hiking pole and collect “stamps” on each station of your trail (makes a great souvenir and helps with ascending and descending)
- Don’t wear strange costumes!! ….
Still confused? Fujiyama-Navi provides a good overview of what you should bring with you.
Is it difficult to climb Mt. Fuji?
No. It’s exhausting, it’s tough, but you can do it!
In fact, even older people and small children can do it.
Even without any mountain climbing experience you can climb Mt. Fuji. More important are your equipment and the weather conditions. If you go at a slow pace and listen to your body, you should be absolutely fine! You don’t need to train yourself before attempting to hike Mt. Fuji, but of course nobody will stop you if you want to do so beforehand.
Just be aware that the weather can change quickly and that it’s extremely cold on the top of Mt. Fuji. Bring proper clothes. Altitude sickness is also a problem and can hit anybody – even experienced climbers.
How to avoid altitude sickness?
First, stay at least 30 minutes at the 5th station so that your body can get used to the altitude. Make sure to hike at a slow pace, taking breaks regularly so that your body has always enough time to adjust. DRINK ENOUGH!
You can try to get some extra oxygen into your system.
If you feel any symptoms of altitude sickness such as headache or nausea, slowly descend.
Choose either the Yoshida or the Fujinomiya Trail because they have first-aid stations.
How can I see the sunrise?
Welcome to the club. Everyone wants to see the sunrise from the top of Mount Fuji.
However, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to see it.
You should start your hike in the early afternoon, stay in a mountain hut around the 7th-8th station to get some rest and then ascend further so that you’ll be at the summit around 4:30 a.m. The sunrise in summer will be between 4:20 (early July) and 5:15 a.m. (late August).
What to do on the summit?
If you’re not half-dead by the time you reach the summit, then there are actually quite a lot of fun things to do.
Get the final “branding” for your Mt. Fuji walking pole. Then do the “Ohachimeguri“, a walk around the crater which will take about 1-1.5 h.
You should also check out Japan’s highest point which is located next to the weather station.
Where can I store my luggage?
The train stations that you’ll most likely pass on your way (Kawaguchiko Station, Mt. Fuji Station) have coin lockers, also for large luggage. But if it’s a busy day, there might be no empty coin lockers anymore. Expect to pay at least 200 yen per coin locker and make sure to carry enough coins!
If you stay a few nights in a hotel – or even better – return to the same hotel after spending one night on Mt. Fuji, they’re sometimes willing to store your luggage until you return. Just ask the hotel staff politely. That’s also what I did. And you don’t have to worry whether there’s still an empty coin locker available or not. ;)
How much money do I need?
Since Mt. Fuji was turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site it has become even more popular to climb Japan’s highest mountain. Thus, they’ve introduced an admission fee during the climbing season of 1000 yen per person. The money will be used to preserve and protect the environment on Mt. Fuji despite the high number of climbers every year.
Toilets also cost money (50-200 yen). If you run out of food or water, you can purchase some at each station, but expect to pay a lot more than usually. Your stay at a mountain hut also costs money (~ 5000 yen) and they only take cash.
Depending on your itinerary you also might need money for your return from the 5th station, so make sure you have enough money to do so.
Can I climb Mt. Fuji during off-season?
Erm, yes you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it. From October to mid-June there are strong winds and extreme weather conditions. The summit might be snow-covered and most mountain huts are closed. Thus hiking Mount Fuji off-season should only be done by very experienced hikers.
Also, you have to submit a climbing plan before you can go.
Useful Websites with lots of information
If you still feel unprepared after reading this article, I recommend the following websites. Some of them also helped me planning my Mt. Fuji hike back in the days:
I hope this blog article was helpful and you can now plan climbing Mt. Fuji properly.
If you have any more questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.
I’d also love to hear about your Mt. Fuji story, so share away!~
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