Climbing a mountain is hard. There just aint no two ways about it.
On my third trip to Japan I found myself there during the climbing season of Mount Fuji. Considered one of the Three Holy Mountains of Japan, it had been on my travel radar ever since I moved to Japan in 2007. In 2014 I finally made the climb and was immediately in over my head. I wasn't prepared whatsoever and made a handful of rookie mistakes that compounded my enthusiastic misery. Hopefully this little guide can help you avoid my idiot errors and better equip you for what is certainly an amazing experience. Or at the very least, amazing in hindsight.
The climbing season is during July and August; it is a brief window to make the trek, so plan your trip accordingly. Climbing outside those dates can be dangerous as all the summit facilities are closed, including the roads leading up the the Fifth Station where most hikers begin.
Anyone climbing outside the regular season is encouraged to notify the police so they are aware of your presence and can easily locate your ragged corpse when you inevitably are mauled by bears or crushed in a landslide or whatever. You can check the official website for up-to-date information.
There are 3 cities nearby that act as great starting places from which you can base your hike: Fujiyoshida, Gotemba, and Fujinomiya. Specific directions to each are readily available wikitravel, including which places you can access with a Japan Rail Pass.
Fujiyoshida is the most common starting point, and it is where we stayed before our climb. I would suggest the Fujuyoshida route for your first climb, beginning from the Fifth Station. There are regular busses from Fujiyoshida to the Fifth Station throughout the day.
If you ever wish to make the climb again – or are feeling like really testing your limits – the less-populated (and more challenging routes) from Gotemba and Fujunomiya are there for your consideration. Good luck with that.
We stayed at Michael's Mt. Fuji Hostel. It served as a suitable base, pre-hike. There is also a Backpacker Hostel K´s House near Fuji, which is an option for anyone travelling around Japan beyond Mount Fuji. K's House is a hostel chain that offers a decent discount if you stay in a few of their hostels, which are located all around Japan. (We stayed in their Tokyo and Takayama hostels and enjoyed both)
Carpe Diem vs Carpe Noctem
We had intended to hike during the day with the hope of reaching the peak for the sunset. We were encouraged to do it the traditional way by the hostel staff, and so we did that instead. What is the traditional way, you ask? Climbing during the night.
The overnight climb was certainly unique and added some additional challenge to our endeavour. I would definitely recommend the overnight climb to anyone properly prepared for it, though a daylight climb would mean less traffic on the trail and less being afraid of the dark.
Packing List: Key Items
Sturdy footwear (and some sturdy socks!)
Flashlight/Head lamp (for overnight climb)
Toilet paper and 100 yen coins (for toilets)
Snacks! There are a few food stops on the trail, but nothing vegan :(
Sweater AND Jacket
Backpack to carry all this crap in (check out my backpacking guide for tips!)
Probably more snacks?
I met a Belgian expat who did the overnight walk in 12 hours because it was busy and she kept a slower pace. I had also met someone who did the climb in 7 hours, so it is a pretty wide window when it comes to pinning down a time. Not helpful advice, I know.
As I mentioned in my Fuji story, we reached the 3776m summit in 5 hours because it was damn cold and we didn't want to take breaks to sit and freeze. We also got altitude sickness because we really pushed ourselves, so take your time. It's not a race...though, they do actually have a race to the top every year if you are feeling competitive.
The descent is generally between 3-4 hours. We did it in about 3.5 hours, though we again made a stupid mistake and went down the same trail we came up. We were the first ones to the summit that night, and with no one to follow and everything closed we were clueless.
There is a separate trail for the climb down, so make sure you take the right one because the Japanese will be too polite to tell you otherwise.
Make sure you are fit for the hike. It isn't the world's hardest climb, but it is challenging. If you're wandering Japan and want a little warm-up try a stroll up Mount Kuro in Daisetsuzan National park in Hokkaido or hike up Mount Misen near Miyajima. We hiked both and really enjoyed them.
Check the weather before you go, but be prepared for anything. The weather can change quite rapidly on the mountain, with rain, snow, lava, tornadoes, or whatever trying to throw some shade upon your hike.
It was a humid 40c when we left Fujiyoshida and brisk -8c when we got to the windswept summit. With that in mind, be prepared for the cold even if you are there in the summer. A warm hat and gloves go a long way on a cold mountain.
Good luck on your hike up Mount Doom, Frodo. #OneRingToRuleThemAll
For the story of our adventure up Fuji-san, check out our Story Section!