Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fuji Mountain Adventure (Part I)

I am writing this because I cant get off the couch. Not my usual inability to get off the couch due to Facebook addiction and streaming episodes of Law and Order: SVU. I cant get off the couch today because my leg muscles have decided I am no longer trustworthy enough to make decisions for them, and they quit on me.

As I've mentioned before, I have an aversion to mountains and really any steep incline. So, I thought What better way to spend the Obon holiday than climbing Japan's tallest mountain, Fuji-san?

Two months ago I started planning the trip and invited my two friends Yen and Erica along. I booked a hotel in Fuji city, bought Shinkansen tickets, read up on what to pack. I was totally prepped.

The trip started out pretty awesome. Our hotel had bunk beds. We went out for Kansai style Okonomiyaki. We discussed boys and ate chocolate.

The next day, the day of the climb, we took a the 8:30am two hour bus ride up to the 5th station. Most people start the climb from here. It's the point where trees stop growing and clouds hang out. We heard you should give yourself time to adjust to the altitude so we browsed the wandered the gift shop and bought our walking sticks. The sticks are cool because at each station you can get a seal burned into it that says the name of the station in kanji and how high you are. We stayed at the gift shop for about an hour and started the climb at noon.

After station 5 there are six more (station 6, new 7, old 7, 8, 9, 9.5), than the top, station 10. Why they dont rename them, I'll never know.

From station 5 to six I was feeling good. It took about 45 minutes, and I knew that was the shortest distance between two stations. The ground was packed dirt mixed in with a few piles of rocks to climb up.
The mountain wasnt what I expected at all. I thought it'd be trees with a dirt path going up to the top. It was more like the surface of the moon, gray and covered in rocks.

After hitting station 6 I got a little nervous. From the hut you can look up and see how steep it really is. And I couldnt see the next station, there was too much fog. I think this took us about two and a half hours to climb. The ground was really hard to walk on, it was mostly rocks, and you could fall easily if you didnt watch your step.

As I walked and sweat people would pass me, who were coming down the mountain, would say "gambatte!" I didnt know the appropriate response, so I said, "thank you." In English.

From station 6 to 7 I started having some trouble. I couldnt breathe very well and started to wheeze. I could take about 15 steps before I had to stop and catch my breathe. This slowed us down considerably and I felt bad for my traveling companions (who I warned about climbing with me beforehand!).

Despite my breathing issues I continued on, slow and steady and sweaty. It would be sunny than foggy than sunny. But after the sun set it rained. It really, really rained. I had a rain jacket that I put over my backpack and myself. But, I couldnt button it up now, so my hoodie was getting wet. It was too rainy and rocky to put on my rain pants, so I just kept walking.

We were supposed to sleep at the 9th station, but from station 7 to 8 it got really scary for me. My breathing was bad and my chest felt really tight. It was so dark and there were only a few people around. I couldnt quit, it would be an hour walk down or an hour walk up anyway. Station 8 was the first aid site plus a lodge, so Erica really wanted to get me there to sleep, she was worried about the wheezing.

I should not that on the way down Erica and Yen (far ahead of me) saw a man collapse and possibly die. His family was gathered around saying, "otousan" (father) and pumping his chest. His eyes weren't opening. We didnt pass rescue workers climbing up for maybe two hours.

So, while I was wheezing and wet and trying to make it to station 8 the rocks became really hard to climb. I had to use my hands or the rope most of the time. I was taking breaks and breathing from an oxygen can I bought for 1,200 yen a few stations back.

Now, let's talk about money for a second. I felt like I was at frikkin Disney World, not on the most sacred spot in Japan. Everything cost money. The toilets were 200 yen (about $2), the water was 500 yen. Getting hot water for your ramen cup was 300 yen. A can of beer was 800 yen! I dont know who'd be drinking, but damn that's expensive Asahi!

Anyway, at about 7:30, with station 8 in our sites Yen goes up to the hut to ask if they have room for us to sleep (our reservations were at station 9, and we were supposed to get there by 8pm, not happening). She shouts down that she didn't get rooms and I start to tear up, in my mind I'm thinking I'll just start crying and begging to stay there, there's no way I can make it up another level! It would be another 2-3 hours in the freezing rain, and I can feel my lungs collapsing.

Can I say, as you all know, I was born in South Florida. The flattest place in the world. I lived there at sea level for 16 years, then I moved to Massachusetts, close enough to the coast and probably still at sea level. I had never been this high up in my life. I mean, I'd been to the top of Mount Royal (233 meters high) and driven through Vermont, but now I was above the clouds, and at this point in the story 3,250 meters up (about 10,662 feet, or 2 miles). My body didn't like all this. I wasn't having any muscle pain, my legs and feet were OK, it was just the breathing and chest pain, and the added anxiety that I was going to have a heart attack or my airways would close and I'd faint and no one would save me.


Dan said...

Sounds like an epic journey. I can only assume you survived since this is part one of two - that is, unless you posted this from Station 8 in a last ditch fit of optimism.

Jeannette said...

I did try to write something while I was up there, but I accidently deleted it and didnt have the spirit to do it again.

I can't believe the whole mountain has a Softbank cell phone signal.

ElizT said...

You are a worry, girl!

Rebel said...

Dude! Glad you lived to tell the tale... can't wait for part 2!

Brian Kennedy said...

Awesome!!! :)