“Anthea, are those parachutes?!” my friend asked me. And just like that, I was so excited I practically shook in my dusty, busted sandals. I felt that feeling in the pit of my stomach – the one that usually means I’m about to experience an adrenaline rush. “I think they might be?” I said, looking over the edge at the dark, disappearing shapes falling through the thick, white of clouds circling the top of Mt. Fuji, leaving trails behind them.
“Oh my god, do you think you can parachute here? How could we not jump off Mt. Fuji if given the chance! We have to! Let’s find someone to ask!” I shouted, yanking his arm repeatedly. My friend, being the good sport he is, and more importantly the superior Japanese speaker, went off on a fact-finding mission while I stared into the clouds, trying to discern the shapes plummeting from the side. Five minutes later he returned, along with my favorite factoid about Mt. Fuji– it is Japan’s largest mountain! To me, it constituted proof that horizons are expanded by travel, and it was worth hiking 10 hours in bad footwear, without a jacket to the top of the summit.
You may be wondering how they empty the portable toilets at the top of a 3,776 meter active volcano? Well, let me tell you – they don’t carry packs filled with fecal matter down the side. The terrain wouldn’t support any kind of motorized vehicle. Despite being active, the “pit” of Mount Fuji could hardly incinerate a fly, and incineration as a disposal method of unwanted organic materials might decrease tourism due to aromatic complications.
So, while parachuting off Mt. Fuji is not a tourist option, routine bathroom maintenance of the summit’s facilities, requires parachuting it to the base. It rains poop from the sky! I couldn’t quit laughing as we watched poop parachutes pass us on our hike down.
Odd facts aside, hiking Mt. Fuji was truly a beautiful and surprisingly approachable, even for those nervous about heights. It was one of the coldest nights I’ve spent outdoors! My advice to anyone considering hiking Mt. Fuji–wear a jacket. And hiking boots. And pants. I was not planning on hiking that day. I somehow ended up on a bus to Mt. Fuji. I hiked in a dress, leggings, sandals, and a sweatshirt – very, very stupid! It’s not a particularly physically draining hike if you start at the 5th station where the bus drops off most hikers – shown below.
It takes about a day, part of a night, and then part of the next morning to reach the summit. There are places where you can pitch a tent, if you are well prepared – this is a great option. There are also tea houses where you can pay by the hour to sleep. But they’re very expensive for a budget traveler. It’s also acceptable to sleep out under the stars. But even in the summer, it gets incredibly cold near the top of the mountain, especially at night. Well below freezing temps, even in summer are normal. And sleeping on volcanic rocks is far more painful if you’re shaking from cold. It felt like having a seizure on a board covered in nails!
Did we manage to last the night, and to make it to the summit just after sunrise? Yes, absolutely! It was an amazing experience, with beautiful landscape, lots of interesting people, and stations along the way. There is even an option for hikers to buy a wooden carved walking stick at the base, and have it burned with station markers along the way as you make your way to the top.
Parts of that journey that would have been more enjoyable and warmer, with minimal preparation. Hiking with a jacket, reasonable footwear, and two sleeping bags, would have made all the difference. Reading the list of supplies recommended by Fuji Mountain Guides made me smile, because it seemed like major over-packing. However, the lesson I learned, is the more gear and supplies you bring, the more comfortable you’ll be.
Do you need a headlamp, rain pants and shorts, and gaiters? In my opinion (and I know I’ve made myself seem like a poor resource, but hear me out) you absolutely do not. This hike was not that strenuous, and you can hike by the light of the hundreds of headlamps of other people. Or in the dark – believe me, I did it and I’m not graceful in the least.
You probably won’t be bummed you prepared too well, whereas you can definitely risk chipping a tooth chattering away after the temp drops 30 degrees in the space of a few hours!