(Throwback Thursdays are a new feature here at asthejoeflies. They are stories from my travel experiences with zero regard to miles and points. Hopefully they inspire you, either to these destinations or beyond! For Part 2 and our actual hike up Mount Fuji, click here.)
My wife and I hiked Mount Fuji with our friend in July 2010. It was an amazing experience and one I’d recommend to anyone and everyone who is willing and able. Due to logistics, it was a very long trip just to get to Mount Fuji: we went straight from Taiwan to the top of Mount Fuji in about 24 hours. I wish I had kept a travel journal of our adventures, but alas, I did not. If I had though, it might have sounded something like this.
6:30 AM. Outside Taoyuan, Taiwan.
I groggily wake up and start my morning routine. Long day ahead. When you plan to climb Mount Fuji, you usually expect the climb to be the grind, but for me, the journey to Fuji will prove to be just as grueling. My wife and I take breakfast with our friends and then prepare to get to the airport. Taiwan has been a great time seeing friends and family but it’s time for our real vacation to start.
There’s not much to say about the airport, because there isn’t much memorable. Like many things that day, it’s just a blur =whose memories are clouded by a lack of sleep. But I do remember this; three of us board that plane to Tokyo, not quite sure of what lies ahead. The fourth in our party stays behind – she’s expecting and thus won’t be ascending Fuji with us. She’ll take a later flight, have a nice night at the Sheraton in Tokyo, and meet us when its all over. The three of us have a much different journey ahead.
1:55 PM. Narita Airport, Tokyo.
Our plane lands without incident. My attempts at sleep on the plane were waylaid by the adrenaline that has been increasing with every waking hour that day. We navigate the terminal looking for a train to Shinjuku. This is before the days of cheap international data plans, so we are left with just a map. As we drag our luggage through the airport, the crowds seem to be getting larger and larger. Before finding our train, we fill our water bottles, figuring we’ll need them before the day is through.
3:00 PM. Train to Shinjuku.
I go through the plan in my head. Take 6:10 PM bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko. Drop our luggage off at the hotel. Gear up and catch 9 PM bus up to 5th station on Mount Fuji. Hike Mount Fuji and summit by sunrise. I wonder whether we’ll be able to make all our transfers on time, worry about what we’ll do if we don’t. I catch a few minutes of sleep trying not to think about that nightmare scenario.
4:30 PM. Shinjuku.
It feels like I’ve never seen this many people in my life. We are jostled from place to place, feeling completely lost. Nobody we meet speaks English or Chinese. The Japanese speaker of our party is currently on her way to the Sheraton in Tokyo, we think. I follow pictures that I printed out from some online website and ultimately find the bus station. We get our bus tickets; we’ll be on that 6:10 PM bus as long as we don’t drown in this sea of people.
It’s time to find something to eat; we’ve had nothing but prepared Taiwanese foods all day.
We find a random ramen restaurant. You walk in a buffet style line and choose what you want on your noodles. We mostly just point. Udon. Inari. The regulars. Whether it’s our exhaustion, the novelty, or hunger – the food is some of the best Japanese food I’ve ever had.
We take turns cramming into the small bathroom to make sure we have our climbing outfits on. It’s 6:00 PM – T minus 4 hours.
6:30 PM. Bus to Kawaguchiko.
I should be sleeping. Two things are preventing this. First, the aforementioned adrenaline. Second, we’re sitting at the front of the bus driving due west towards Mount Fuji. More like Land of the Setting Sun, am I right?
My companions are asleep, so I just look at the passing scenery. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is industrial. Mostly I just think about how much planning went into this, how many times I’ve run through the plan in my head, and the last few steps. It’s been a long day, are we seriously going to hike through the night? I must be crazy…
8:30 PM. Kawaguchiko
We can’t find our hotel. We’ve walked around for half an hour and have to give up, we don’t want to miss our bus up to 5th Station. I’m frustrated; we’ve walked all the way down a big hill dragging our suitcases and now have to walk all the way back up. We make it back to the bus station with 15 minutes to spare, find some lockers, and cram our suitcases away as best we can. Hopefully they’ll be there in the morning. Hopefully we’ll be there in the morning.
We double check our gear.
Pack – check.
Headlamp – check.
Snacks – check.
Water – check.
Extra clothing – check.
Walking sticks – to be procured at 5th station.
There don’t seem to be many other people waiting for the bus. I thought this was peak season for hiking Mount Fuji? We sit. A crosswalk jingle plays over and over again as the three of us think our own thoughts. Not much to say at this point. The bus pulls up.
9:15 PM. Bus to 5th Station.
Some tourist video plays in the background, but we’re all exhausted. My wife and our friend fall asleep, but at this point my adrenaline is maxed out. This is really happening.
9:55 PM. 5th Station Supply Store
It’s time to buy our walking sticks. Sure, we could have brought some from home, but these get branded at every station on the way up to the summit. Nothing like a souvenir. My friend decides to buy a can of oxygen. Hopefully we won’t be needing that later.
5th Station is deserted. There are obviously many stores that are open during the day, but there is only this one open here at this late hour. In fact, we are the last ones in the store and they hurry us out so they can get home.
We take some pictures outside of the store. The few hikers that were on the bus with us have already begun their summit. We are quite literally the last people to start up the mountain that night. And so it begins.