On Top of Mount Fuji
Missed out on the first part of our hike up Fuji-San, then read here.
The clouds had cleared and we could see lake Yamanaka in the distance. Even the sun showed its happy face but barely warmed us at this high altitude. The wind up at this height was quite strong and made it feel colder, we were glad to have brought our gloves and scarves, Jerome even put his hat on. At the summit a visit to the Kusushi Shrine was a must and Jerome received the final stamp on his walking stick. We got as close to the crater as we could but were not able to see much apart from some muggy snow and the different layers and colours of rocks. We had originally planned to hike around the rim of the crater and to pay a visit to Japan’s highest post office on one of the crags but we decided not to attempt the additional hike in the cold.
The Descent Along the Yoshida Trail
The descent of the Yoshida trail is different to the ascent, they try to keep the main trail clear for those ascending with so many people on the narrow path. The trail down follows the track used for the caterpillar vehicles that deliver all the essentials to the huts. It winds itself down the slope in zig zags with wide bends, and the gravel underneath is very slippery like scree. The walking sticks had already proven to be useful on the rocks coming up the mountain but they proved to be even more useful going down. The fine gravel made us slide and sink in every few steps.
We took the turn off to our hut Ganso Muro and were glad to take off our shoes and get a warm meal put in front of us. Dinner was a basic dish of curry with rice and a drink. We watched the sky turn pink outside the hut. Soon after we were shown our sleeping spots, the sleeping arrangement in the huts are Japanese style, on tatami floor. Depending on the size of the huts the beds might be arranged over two levels and the sleeping bags and pillows plus liners are provided in the overnight fee. In case you are a light sleeper bring some earplugs and be prepared to sleep like sardines with hundred other hikers. We were lucky as we got one end of the bedroom area, next to the window and there were only three others sharing the space at that end with us. Despite this it was still tight and I could not close my eye for one minute despite being exceedingly tired and exhausted. The snoring and the constant murmur and light of hikers going past our window made it impossible. People were getting up and down and the dormitory was far from peaceful. At some point it even started to chuck it down with rain and I was glad that we had not decided to hike down overnight.
Watching the Sunrise
Eventually the staff from the hut came to wake us an hour before dawn. Chris and Jerome had already got up and were playing cards with some tea in the hallway. We took our belongings and waited outside for the sun to rise. The sky started to get lighter and we could see the heavy clouds, hanging over the valley and the mountaintop. It felt like being on an airplane, with the clouds below and the sky started to turn blue in the distance. As the sky lightened we started our descent straight away, we just wanted to get back to our car, back to the inn and go to sleep. Jerome was happy to finally use his headlamp for the first part of the descent, as it was still quite dark for a while.
Return to 5th Station
It took us about three hours to return to Mt Fuji’s 5th station, joined by other hikers coming down from the summit on the way. The sun finally came out near Komitake and it was a chance to see the beautiful colours of the volcanic rock, the green pine trees and other plants, glowing in the early morning sun. We were glad to get a drink at the 5th station but knew we still had 3km of road to walk back to the car. Jerome got another flag for his walking stick, which he still has as a keepsake now. The tarmac was actually worse than the volcanic rock in a way and we were really pleased when that last stretch was finished.
It is without a doubt that we were immensely proud of Jerome having achieved such an incredible ascent, of course, we were also probably a bit proud of ourselves too for all having made it to the top of Japan’s highest summit and conquered the sacred mountain. On our return to Fujitomita Inn we went straight to the onsen to soak our sore muscles in the hot water. We then fell onto our freshly made futons and slept like little babies for a few hours.
The Big Question!
A well-known Japanese saying suggests that a wise person will climb Mt. Fuji once in their lifetime, but only a fool would climb it twice. If you would have asked me straight afterwards if I would ever attempt Fuji-san again I would have said “no”, I would probably never climb Fuji again. Now I feel different and I would like to reach the summit again, Jerome and Chris as well. However I would choose a different route than the crowded Yoshida trail and maybe even do it entirely from the bottom to the top with an overnight at the 5th station level and time it for the sunrise at the summit.
Conclusion and Tips for Climbing Mount Fuji with Kids:
It is possible to climb Fuji-san with a child from about the age of eight years, but only if your child is fit enough and has done extensive mountain hiking in the past. If they cannot make an all day hike in normal circumstances they will be unlikely to achieve the summit. The round trip from the 5th station level does not seem long at 13-14km (plus the additional walk from the parking) but it comes with 1400m of ascent and decent on ground that is hard to walk on. Expect to walk 12+ hours in total. The views are superb but the scenery is limited to volcanic ash and frankly a little boring for younger ones.
Make sure you do plan your route and climb carefully. Take all precautions in terms of weather, clothing and equipment. Food, drink, first aid kit, oxygen bottle, a torch, boots, plus very warm and weather proof clothes are all essentials.
Do not rush and take your time. It is better to plan in more breaks and rest than you normally would. Plan for breaks and book a hut for an overnight pause well in advance even if you do not sleep you will probably need the rest.
Get a wooden hiking stick, it is fun for kids to collect the stamps and they also make your climb and descent easier. Take money (200 Yen) to pay for the branding at each station.
Tell someone you are setting out on the hike and if you feel unwell seek help at one of the stations. Take a mobile phone with you in case of emergencies.
Do not attempt to bullet climb (climbing without resting overnight), with or without a child. Allow for altitude acclimatisation and be aware of the risks of altitude sickness.
Avoid the busiest hiking days, Saturdays and the days of Golden Week are usually packed.
Sunrise at the summits are crowded, alternatively watch them from one of the huts.
Last but not least, take lots of 100 Yen coins, you will need them for toilets and stamps.