Oh my! What an amazing three days; perhaps the best three days if our trip so far. I’ve gone through an intense range of emotions from elation to wonder to sheer terror. Let’s start from the beginning.
We’ve been in Fuji Go-Ko, or the Fuji five lakes area since there are (surprise!) five lakes that surround the base of Mt. Fuji. Fuji-san is Japan’s tallest peak at 3776m, and is perhaps the most iconic symbol of Japan. It dominates culture here, especially in art, and its presence is overwhelming here in Fuji Go-Ko (and even Tokyo, where you can see it on a clear day, which we never had).
We timed our visit to participate in Yoshito no Himatsuri–the annual fire festival to appease the goddess of Mt Fuji to not erupt for the next year, and to mark the end of the climbing season and give thanks for the safety of the climbers. The festival involves parading shrines and replicas of Fuji up and down the streets of Yoshito, and the ceremonial lighting of 92 torches that line the main drag. It was all so incredible: the ceremonies, the camaraderie, the portable one-ton shrines carried by the locals whose families have been doing this for five hundred years, the fires (which would NEVER be allowed in the States; can you imagine 92 huge open flame fires just lit freely in the streets with hundreds and hundreds of revelers walking around all night?!). And of course, the food!
No festival would be complete without street food and Himatsuri did not disappoint. We gorged ourselves silly with chicken on sticks, gyoza, grilled corn, fried octopus balls, waffles in the shape of Hello Kitty, and corn-flake crêpes. So good! I wish I could have tried more, but after you’ve eaten all of the generous portions of octopus balls and everything else, you feel as heavy as the one-ton Fuji shrine!
On our second day, we biked around Lake Kawaguchiko. In a word, it was idyllic–there’s no other way to describe it. Imagine biking the gorgeous Japanese countryside (with a basket and bell on your bicycle!) and seeing Fuji-san at every turn. We stopped to grab lunch and a cone, and everywhere we went we were constantly in the shadow of the great mountain. Fuji is so demanding of your attention that it’s easy to miss how beautiful the rest if the area is, complete with rice fields, rows of lavender, wild flowers and green mountain ridges hugging the lakes as well. It was the perfect way to relax a bit and have a leisurely day before our major undertaking: summiting Mt Fuji.
There’s a Japanese saying that a wise man climbs Fujisan once; a fool climbs it again. Whoever first said this was the wisest of us all because oh my that was a feat. But we were doing it: Keith and I both included watching the sun rise on top of Mt Fuji on our top travel lists that we created a few years ago.
It’s not that it is a difficult climb, really. It’s complete child’s play compared with Everest or K2. But when you’re a casual mountaineer taking on the 35th tallest mountain in the world, it still feels like a big deal. Especially when you’ve chosen to stay overnight at the highest possible hut, and the air starts to get real thin at around 3000m. We were depleted by the end of the first day’s hike (a mere ~6 hours) that by the time we were served dinner, I was willing to eat anything. What we had wasn’t terrible; it was some burger-esque meal that I inhaled before passing out at 19h30.
Breakfast, though, was the worst thing ever. We received the packaged meal during dinner, and I just peaked at it enough to see it had rice. When we woke up at 2h00 to start climbing again after a terrible night’s “sleep”, we discovered that breakfast was salmon, rice and pickles. Hmmm… I love salmon, but between my disoriented body and a lack of refrigeration for several hours, I opted to just eat the rice. Probably a good call… Keith had a bite of the fish and ended up with a mouth full of bones! My adventure was extending to the summit, not my stomach this time around.
The summit was frigid, and we had a slow, steep climb for the last few hundred meters, but seeing Fuji Go-Ko from the top of Mt Fuji and then the sunrise over the clouds was amazing. The hike was completely worth it all. Mostly.
The way down was not only torture to my thighs, but my sanity as well. For as incredible as it was to be above the clouds, it also made me feel like my death was imminent when we were descending down the switchbacks and all I could see was the side of the mountain above me, a portion of the steep path we were heading down in front of me, and then…clouds. With every step I took at 3700m high up on the dirt path, I slid a little out of control, and just pictured myself tumbling into the clouds and off the mountain.
Was it really so bad? Probably not, Keith was just fine, as were the thousand other people thundering recklessly past me. And it was really more of the other people that made me feel off kilter. But I was cold, oxygen and sleep deprived and my legs were turning to jelly so picturing myself facing death was not so far off! Let’s put it this way: when we finally returned to the ground after the 3-hour descent, I voluntarily ate a hot dog. In fact, it was my idea to order the hot dog. Clearly I was in another state of mind. [Hot dog not pictured, it’s amazing I’m even admitting to eating it, for shame!]
We’re trying not to think about how the end of our time here is quickly coming to a close. Instead, we’ll think about the awesome festival, bike rides and sunrise we had here in Fuji… And try to stretch our muscles back to normal as well as possible!)