Mt. Fuji – Subashiri route (off-season)
From the Tokyo madness to the silence of the mountain. Mt. Fuji (富士山), the highest mountain peak in Japan at 3,776 meters (12,389 ft). This conic active volcano is a well-known symbol of Japan. How could I travel to Tokyo and not sign up for Fujisan when it’s less than 2 hours away from the city? After my 2014 Mt. Rainier summit experience, I was looking forward to another mountain adventure.
So as they say, there are many paths up a mountain, in this case, there are 4. Some are longer/steeper than others. We ended up taking the 2nd longest route; the Subashiri route which starts at 2000m (6562 ft).
The popular route typically taken is the Yoshida route which starts at 2,305m (almost an Empire State building worth of vertical less); however, it was off-season, and only the Subashiri trail was available to us. I learned about the news of the route last-minute and totally didn’t train as much as I should have. Who is us? I decided to book this trip with MyTokyoGuide. 7 other people booked it as well so we all climbed as a group: 3 from Japan, 2 from Guam, 2 from NYC (me), and one from Tasmania. And what is off-season? In-season is July 1 – September 10, when all the ice has melted and weather conditions are the best for ascending to the top. However, during the summer, the huts are packed (I’ve heard horror stories) to capacity and there are 1000s of climbers on the mountain which can cause traffic jams. In June, although it’s the rainy season and freezing at the top, you get to have the mountain to yourself (I saw less than 10 people on the mountain the entire time). Also, although its possible to summit Fuji and get back down in one day, it doesn’t always work out due to altitude sickness or fatigue. Regardless of when you decide to climb, this mountain has taken many lives so it must be respected and taken seriously. Our group decided to break the climb into 2 days: a casual 700m ascent for day 1 and 1076m ascent + 1776m descent for day 2.
We all met in Shinjuku, dropped our bags in the van, and headed straight to Mt. Fuji. The mountain is divided into 10 stations; however, the trails start at the 5th station. People don’t really start the Mt. Fuji climb from the base of the mountain (Station 1), but our team had the chance to visit it. It has the biggest Tori gate I’ve come across thus far and a shrine.
We also made a quick stop at Oshino village where you can get a good view of the mountain. Unfortunately, it was a very cloudy day and you could not see anything, not even the base. There are plenty of souvenir shops as well. Bathrooms were the prime target though. One thing I forgot to mention is the toilets in Tokyo; they are ahead of their time and have several buttons, not just a flush button. If you are a lady, beware the bidet button. Also, many toilets have a sensor which heats up the seat when it detects someone sitting on it. And it took a few days but I finally came across an “Engrish” sign.
So, the time has come… the trailhead at the 5th station. We met our tour guide Yosuke. He climbed Mt. Denali twice and seen the Aurora so many times, quite impressed. Plus, his English is pretty good. Here is the before pictures before all of the rain, mud, ice, wind, fog, snow, and everything else on Fujisan kicked our butts.
The goal for today was to ascend 700m to the Seto-kan hut around the 6th station. Not many huts were available since it was off-season; however, this one was available, and pretty good. It was mostly a journey through foggy forest and rock. The sun never came out as we were inside a cloud the entire time getting rained on. Which brings me to the ‘preparation list’ for a June climb:
- a large enough backpack (waterproof ideally) to carry the following
- at least 3 liters of water
- good boots with several socks to change into
- rain jacket and rain pants, maybe gaiters (I didn’t need them)
- gloves, cap, warm hat, head lamp (with batteries)
- more food/snacks than you think you’ll need to keep you energized
- hiking poles, your knees will be very thankful
- extra top layers for the frigid nights
- and of course a camera to take the memories with you and to post on blogs
Once we got to the Seto-kan hut, we took a much-needed break. 700m is something like almost 2 Empire State buildings. Did we get anything for it? Yes we did. Almost perfect timing. The rain stopped and the clouds cleared. We saw Mt. Fuji for the first time all day. Photo time!
Dinner in the hut was included, the curry rice was quite tasty. We got to know each other a bit more as the sun began to set, wherever it was. There is something amazing about being above the clouds. A few more pics of this moment before going to bed early. Our summit day start at 4am.
The clouds totally dissappeared at night. You could see the city lights from 2700m high. But still, no stars due to the clouds above. Let’s hope the weather is good to us tomorrow…