Oxfordshire Mind’s Physical Activity Team are offering a ‘virtual walk’, this week the team are back visiting Mount Fuji.
Hello, everyone. What is your favourite way to start the day? For many of us, given the choice, we would spend as much time as possible snoozing in bed. But there’s something very special about those mornings where you rise early, when the world is peaceful and still, and watch the day break. You feel as if you are the only person in the world, in that moment, alone with your thoughts, before the hectic rush of the day begins.
Perhaps one of the most stunning places in the world to watch the sun rise is from the summit of Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan. The symmetrical, snow-capped cone, right at the centre of Japan’s biggest island, Honshu, is so striking that it’s been depicted on thousands of different artworks over the years, and has become something of a symbol of the country. It’s incredible to think such natural beauty is so close to one of the biggest urban centres in the world, but Mount Fuji is actually visible from Tokyo on a clear day. Every year, thousands upon thousands of people, both locals and tourists, make the pilgrimage to the top of this sacred peak, hoping to create an experience that they will never forget. Let’s join them, shall we, and see if it’s worth the hype?
We started our climb up the mountain yesterday. You can spend the whole night hiking to get to the top, if you want to, but most people who climb Mount Fuji split their ascent over two days, to avoid altitude sickness, and make sure they’re not too tired for the summit. You walk most of the way up, then stop for a brief sleep in one of the mountain huts before waking up in the early hours to ascend the final stretch to the top.
Yesterday was a leisurely, ambling walk through the lower slopes. The Yoshida trail is the most popular route up Mount Fuji, but we opted for the lesser-known Subashiri path to avoid the crowds, and because it is one of the most picturesque routes. Unlike the other trails, the treeline extends quite high on the Subashiri route, so most of our walk yesterday was through dense, lush forest, full of the sounds of the wind through the leaves and the gentle trickle of water running down the mountain in hundreds of tiny little streams.
We bought some wooden hiking poles in one of the touristy shops at the bottom, which you can get stamped at various stations along the path to prove that you’ve been there. As the day wore on, the stamps on our hiking poles slowly increased and the forest gave way to steep slopes of black volcanic rock. The going got harder, but we pushed on through the aching in our calves and the burning in our lungs until we finally reached our accommodation for the night.
Now our entire party is waking up in the small, cramped bunks of one of the mountain huts, near the eighth station of the trail. The blinking lights of the huge digital clock on the wall announce 1.15 AM. I know. It will be worth it, I promise. We yawn, stretch and eat a quick, hearty breakfast of steaming rice and curry sauce. Then we dress to go outdoors.
Make sure you don’t forget a single piece of your waterproof clothing layer. The weather is famously changeable near the summit, and at the very least it will be damp and chilly in these few cold hours before the dawn. Ready?
We step outside, into the pitch black of the early morning, and begin to trudge along the trail. In the artificial glow of our head torches we can catch glimpses of the world around us, but the overwhelming impression is one of darkness and cold. We stumble along, half-asleep, and for the first half an hour or so, it’s hard to remember why exactly we’re doing this. Now might not be the best time to mention it, but because of the changeable weather it’s not always guaranteed you’ll be able to see much, or even make it to the summit. For a moment, everything seems completely black.
“We stumble along, half-asleep, and for the first half an hour or so, it’s hard to remember why we’re doing this.”
But somehow we keep on putting one foot in front of the other, settling in to a slow, steady rhythm. After a while the darkness comes to feel almost comforting, allowing us to focus on our breath and the regular plodding of our feet. Slowly the sky begins to lighten on the horizon as we draw ever nearer to the summit.
Look! There’s the sign. We made it. And only just in time, as well. We turn around, and behind us the first rays of sunlight are just beginning to break over the clouds. Wow. We’re so high up here, we’re looking down on a sea of clouds, just like you do on airplane. They look like a carpet- so thick and fluffy you think they would take your weight if you stepped on them. The pinks and golds and oranges of the dawn spill out over them as we watch, like someone had upended a crucible of molten gold on the edge of the sky. Suddenly all the tiredness, the early start, the aching in our legs drops away, and it all starts to seem worthwhile.
Before we make our way back down the mountain, I’ll give you some time to wonder around the crater. You can buy food here, get your walking stick stamped, or simply take in more of the view. There’s even a post office where you can send a postcard back home to prove you’ve been here. Hope you’ve enjoyed the walk today- and see you soon for another walk!