One foot in front of the other, torches, hundreds of lights above and below, people of all sorts – old and young, fast and slow. . . . . .
We watched the sunrise at the original 7th station followed by a nap on a bench in our sleeping bags (no accommodation at this station). There’s nothing like sleeping on a hard bench with your feet hanging over the edge of a mountain! Off again. Fran was feeling the altitude so we rested for a couple of hours at the 8th station to acclimatise better (¥1,000 for an hour if we didn’t sleep - ¥3,000 for as long as we liked once we closed our eyes! We closed our eyes and paid the price). The bonus was that we were able to let people descending get past and climb with less traffic later in the day. The downward track is shared for a short distance then veers off away from the ascending track.
The 9th station was abandonded (which would have been nice to know – no drinks/food/oxygen or toilets as the building had been swamped by a landslide at some stage.
We met up with some of the American service guys and girls that we had met earlier. Some of them had to turn back before reaching the summit (so close!) as they had to meet time schedules to return to base but others made it for the dawn.There were so many people on the track, concentrated in a small space and all moving relatively slowly but continually upwards. It was hard going – I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of another – 70 steps before a rest at best, 4 at worst! I slipped and fell at one stage – getting wedged between a couple of big rocks. Not much damage, a big graze on my arm and some potentially good bruises on my hip and legs. I was pretty firmly wedged though and needed a hand to drag myself upright so I could wiggle out of the gap I was wedged in.
The 200 metres to the top sign was a welcome sight (but that is 200 metres of altitude not distance) but the altitude really started to kick in and create problems. Fran really felt the thinness of the air at this altitude, so bad at stages that she was unable to talk even, and had to sit and breathe deeply to draw enough oxygen in (this is where that non-existent lodge at the 9th station would have been handy, we’d discussed buying an Oxygen bottle as a precaution as lots of others were using them). She wasn’t alone with this and people started turning back and heading down but with copious rests we continued on making the summit about 2.30pm.
We had photos taken, our sticks stamped at the shrine, ate ramen and not much else as most things were closed or sold out. The post office closed at 2pm and there is no mailbox because of the weather conditions so the postcards went to the summit and then came back down again with us.
We left the summit and headed back down about 3.30pm. The track wasn’t too bad to begin with and we made good time until dark. The tracks diverged and then criss-crossed back across the upward bound tracks at some (but not all) of the stations until just on dark. We entered a soft, deep sandy patch which continued on and on and ON! It was really hard going, like skiing sideways in foot deep loose snow with boulders to catch you unawares. We caught up and started leapfrogging with an American couple (Will and Sarah) and their daughter (Olivia – whom Will was carrying!). Fran and I had decided to stop and sleep on the mountain again but there was no accommodation available at the 8th station so we went on – only to discover that on this descent track the 8th station was the last until you reached the 5th station starting point! Sarah and Will were on the wrong track, their track was supposed to go to the other side of the mountain where there car was parked but they took a wrong turn at one of the stations (which is a common thing to do) and ended up stuck with us in the endless soft sand (think walking down a sand dune for 7-8 km in the dark!). Finally we came to a break in the soft sandy stuff only to find out that it was worse! Big rocky sections in the dark were much more difficult to deal with (as you couldn’t see your feet or the rocks easily, let alone figure out which ones were stable enough to tread on). Will’s torch died so I gave them my little spare (I think I lost my other headlamp somewhere – or maybe it will turn up somewhere . . .). We were actually glad to see the sandy stuff again after that little interlude!We found a sign that said there was a toilet 40 minutes ahead, it took us about an hour to reach that at our pace – the light was like a homing beacon. Just as we arrived it went off, it was only a toilet and drink stop and closed at 1am but opened again for us and another party who caught up with us. The 5th station was still another 40 minute (hour for us) walk away. We bought drinks then asked the guy running the place if he could take us to the 5th station if we paid him. The guy wanted ¥20,000 to take us all to the station. Will and Sarah had no cash left but the rate was not negotiable so we said they should come with us anyway as it was going to cost the same no matter how many of us went. Sarah (who hurt her knee) almost cried when we said that. The owner closed up, got out his caterpillar truck, loaded the girls in the back then put Will and Olivia in the cab (which was at the back of the vehicle) and off we went. Apparently the guy was drunk but the caterpillar truck was like a homing pigeon and it took about 20 minutes to drive down the dirt tracks to the 5th station. Once there things went smoothly, Will (who is half Japanese) organised a taxi for them to the other side of the mountain and a ride for us with them to a “convenience” hotel which turned out to be an onsen with a large, group rest room – which would have been great except the bathrooms were shut and we weren’t allowed to shower until morning! We washed the best we could and changed into the onsen yukata (in this case shorts and shirt) and headed off to sleep in the relaxation room until the baths opened at 7 am. Poor people who had to share with us!!! It was hard to get to sleep as there were so many sore spots to try and avoid, but once I slept I really slept and didn’t wake up til morning.
Sunday 26th August, 2012
Up and in the onsen promptly as soon as it was open! We soaped at least twice to get most of the Fuji dust off but there were still traces in ears etc. Fran had developed a huge blister on the bottom of her right big toe and the whole toe was red and inflamed. The blister had burst and was incredibly sore so we had to make sure we bandaged it well. Then it was back into our dirty clothes and hiking boots (all our clean stuff was in our main packs – we only took warm stuff to layer with us up the mountain) and a taxi back to the Subashi 5th station to collect our stuff. The mountain lodge ladies were pleased to see us and congratulated us on reaching the summit (our poles tell the story to all who can read the stamps). They waived any extra fee for keeping our baggage an extra night and we were just a about to order some zaru soba when the bus announcement came over the PA that our bus was leaving in 5 minutes. I checked and the next bus wasn’t for hours so, reluctantly we apologised to the lodge ladies, cancelled our lunch order and lept aboard the bus, well- as much as we could leap onto a really crowded bus with tired, sore legs and big heavy packs. The bus was so crowded we stood or sat on our packs all the way to the station at Gotemba. We had 20 minutes to get organised in Gotemba before the train left so we still didn’t get a chance to change into cooler clothes. We went from Gotemba to Mishima, Mishima to Shizuoka, Shizuoka to Kyoto – we had great connections so it wasn’t a hard or harrowing as it sounds. We took a taxi from the station to K’s house but discovered that Fran had lost her rail pass somehow between the station and the backpackers. We spoke to the desk about it and they were fantastic! Miki (one of the girls) rang the station and told them which route out of the station we’d taken, the name on the pass, the time our train arrived etc and gave them contact details in case it was handed in. She also called the police on our behalf – both jobs far beyond my ability and language skills to do by phone. A little later we had a message, the pass had been found! I think that the station people went looking for it even – and armed with directions of where to go and how to reclaim it we headed off back to the station.We met up with Liam and wandered round for ages looking for a restaurant before finally settling on a “fast food” joint – actually not such bad food but fast because the ordering process is streamlined. You choose your meal from the vending machine, pay for it and pass the paid coupon to the staff who assemble your food for you. We headed to the subway for me to discover I’d dropped my wallet in the restaurant – headed back and it was waiting for me (people are so honest in Japan). The WiFi is great at K’s house but we are soooooo tired still we can’t seem to make good use of it. We crashed as soon as our heads hit the pillow!
Monday 27th August, 2012We’re tired and sore still, the blister on Fran’s foot is really bad and my sunburn is too so today was a slow rest day. We slept late, did washing, journals, photo downloads and planned out the next few day’s activities. Lunch was at the café next door – pizza and apple pie with ice cream. On the way to the station we saw THE most impressive paper crane origami. . It was a tiny little shop with a fellow who had a book to sell or lessons to give in how to make the most amazing designs using joined paper cranes all made from only one piece of paper.
We looked at a Ginza walking tour but we did a test run to the station and were moving so slowly that we would never have gotten back in time. Instead we posted postcards (the ones that had been to the top of Mt Fuji and back) and bought boxes to post back our mountain climbing stuff. We went looking for the ¥100 shop at the tower but it seems to be closed down so we bought some souvenirs at the Tower stands on the ground floor then had Chinese for dinner in the basement restaurant before heading back to pack boxes, do more computer catch up and BED!