Climbing Mount Fuji

Perhaps the image more closely associated with Japan than any other is that of the perfectly symmetrical snow-capped cone of Mt Fuji. At 3,776m it is the country’s tallest peak as well as being an active volcano; it is also a sacred site for the Shinto religion, the most common religion in Japan.

After an unbelievably fun weekend in Tokyo to watch the Springboks’s opening game of Rugby World Cup 2019, not to mention a sumo tournament and go-karting around the city dressed as cartoon characters, it was an early start on Monday morning as we, the inaugural BURTSandBORTZ tour, made our way to the bustling Shinjuku Station and from there caught a bus to the Gotemba Premium Mall.

It was blue skies when we left Tokyo but that soon changed with dark clouds rolling in and the weather worsening very quickly as we neared the mountain.  While we waited at Gotemba for our bus to the Subashiri 5th station trailhead, the heavens finally opened and the wind really picked up. At first, the bus company was reluctant to take us up the mountain due to the weather, explaining that this was in fact the remains of a typhoon. Eventually they agreed and with each bend up to the trailhead, they must have been doubting their decision as the wind continued to pick up.

Smiles all round on the bus

By the time we arrived at the trailhead, we were clearly going nowhere for the time being so we enjoyed a delicious noodle soup at the only shop/restaurant that was open while we waited to see whether Typhoon Tapha eased up… thankfully it did and after waiting around for almost  2 hours, we were off.

Finally… blue sky and we’re off!

For the first 90 minutes we were walking through a lush forest and so were sheltered from the the worst of Tapha’s tailwind. As expected given this is Japan’s most popular trek, the trail was clear and well maintained and it was relatively easy going.

The final hour, however, was anything but as we left the forest and were exposed to the weather. It was a hairy climb on loose scree and in places we were scrambling on all fours so as to not get blown off the mountain! It was a relief to get into the hut!

Despite looking rather dilapidated from the outside, it was very quaint inside and the owners were very friendly. Like many places in Japan, it had very strict rules on shoes: it was boots off at the door, slippers for the toilet, separate slippers on the concrete floor between the bathroom and bedroom and no shoes in the bedroom or dining room.

Our accommodation

Dinner was eaten on the floor at a low table; it was served in a beautiful wooden bento box and absolutely delicious. Despite there being only one other group with us in the hut and thus lots of free beds, the owners insisted we sleep like sardines so everyone got well acquainted with folks they didn’t know too well.

We awoke to howling winds and the bad weather quickly put paid to our plans to summit for sunrise. We went back to bed for an hour and instead enjoyed the spectacular sunrise from just outside our hut.

After breakfast we waited for the weather to improve and when the wind eventually dropped, we set off under a beautifully clear sky.  It was a steep zig-zagging climb and we enjoyed wonderful views behind us as we were now way above the clouds. The clouds had formed interesting formations like nothing I’d seen before and were particularly beautiful.


The fine weather wasn’t to last and once we passed the 9th station, the clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped and a heavy mist descended over the mountain. We were now struggling to see more than a few metres in front of us and soon decided that the best thing to do, after consulting a local guide, was to turn back. Whilst it was incredibly disappointing to be only a few hundred metres from the summit, it just wasn’t to be and turning back was definitely the right call in the awful weather.

Sums it up!

We descended quickly and at the fork at the 8th station, we partly followed the jeep track back to the hut. From here we took a different route down, which was far steeper than the one up, and we were skiing down more than walking on loose sand and small rock.

Once back at the shop/restaurant we enjoyed a cold beer and an ice cream before making our way via first taxi and then a local bus to Hakone. The tranquil town of Hakone, with its beautiful lake and lovely weather, was a relaxing reward for our two-day trek. Hakone would also be our first introduction to an onsen, a Japanese hot spring, and this tradition would soon become a tour favourite!

Despite the weather not being on our side, it was a really enjoyable trek and experience.  The few glimpses we had of the surrounding views were spectacular and I’m sure many of us will be back another time to summit.

Practical Information

Detailed Trek

There are four trails up the mountain: Yoshida, Subashiri, Gotemba and Fujinomiya with the official season running from mid June to early September. A good map detailing the routes can be found here.

We were trekking 10 days after the season had closed and thus went up the Subashiri Route as it was the only one with an open mountain hut. It’s also the most accessible on public transport.

Day One:

  • Subashiri 5th station (1,970m) to Taiyo-kan Mountain Hut 7th station (2,920m) – 2,5 hours

Day Two:

  • Taiyo-kan to just below the summit – 2.5 hours
  • 45 mins back to 8th station (where the path forks to the right) and then a further 35 minutes to our hut at 7th station
  • 1.5 hours back to the 5th station

Transport (£1=¥131 on 23 May 2020)

Bus from Shinjuku Station to Gotemba Premium Outlets – ¥1,800 (1h30)

Bus from Premium Outlets to Subashiri 5th station – ¥1,490 (1h)

Taxi from Subashiri 5th station to Gotemba Outlets – ¥6,500

Buses run daily and often in season, early June to early September, and on weekends and public holidays until the end of September. The schedule can be found here.

Accommodation

The only hut open out of season was Taiyo-kan (located at the 7th station) – ¥10,260, including    dinner and breakfast. You can’t book online so have a dictionary handy when you call.

During the hiking season there are numerous other options for huts – details can be found here.

* Finally, a big thank you to everyone who shared their pictures.

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