After an hour long taxi ride the driver parked the car and pointed to the right. As we got out of the car, he barked something to us in Japanese that obviously no one understood. A small sign with Kanji symbols on it stood in front of us. I had a tiny hand-drawn map from the guesthouse owner, however none of the four of us really had any idea where we were going.
Mt. Fuji’s climbing season hadn’t started yet and the Japanese, famous for following their time-honored traditions, most likely wouldn’t be out climbing their emblematic peak that day.
All we could was start hiking up, hoping that at some point we would find signs of others on the mountain. It was now 10 P.M. and we might not see anyone for a while!
The afternoon before Kyle, Chris, Mark, and I had rolled into Fuji-San hoping to get some rest before our sunrise summit attempt of one of the world’s most famous peaks.
For the Japanese watching the sunrise while climbing Mt. Fuji is a holy experience. A couple months prior I had presented this idea for this trip to my three buddies and with a little convincing everyone seemed to be on board.
In reality the odds that the four of us would fall asleep at 6 P.M. was somewhere between slim and none.
Once we saw that our room was bedless and filled with Japanese tatami mats to sleep on, a full on tag team wrestling match broke out. By now it was 7 P.M. and clearly sleep was not going to happen before our 9 P.M. taxi pickup.
After two hours of hiking we still hadn’t seen a sole. It was getting colder. We ducked into tiny mountain huts to shield ourselves from the pounding winds that were growing stronger and stronger.
Hiking an entire night with three of your best friends after no sleep is an experience. By now we had spent a month together, often sharing beds, passing nearly every waking hour by each other’s side. To say that we were comfortable with each other would be an understatement.
Jokes and Japanese convenience store food kept the mood light as we continued upward through the darkness. Finally around 2 A.M. we stumbled into a tea hut where a few climbers were sleeping…our first signs of human life! Unfortunately no one was awake, so there was no help to confirm our route to the summit. We continued upward, trusting that that magical Fuji sunrise that the Japanese revere was coming.
Around 3:30 A.M. the orange glow began. It turned into rays of golden light which warmed our bodies and brightened our spirits.
After over 5 hours of hiking we could finally see where we were headed and were rewarded with expansive views.. The four of us huddled together and revelled in one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. It was one of those moments you lock in your “incredible memories” bank and treasure forever.
Two hours later we were crossing snowfields with the summit in view. Once on top, we peered down into the snow-filled crater and looked out over the bed of fluffy clouds that were beginning to disperse revealing views from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean. Kyle and Mark laid down and immediately fell asleep. A bed of jagged volcanic rocks was no match for their exhaustion after our all-night unguided summit of Japan’s most iconic peak.
After an hour long snack and snooze break we headed down, zigzagging through the snowfields and switchbacks. We were now on autopilot, marching downward with the goal of food and rest. After getting a taxi ride back to our guesthouse, we headed down the street to chow down before crashing. Each of us devoured massive bowls of ramen, which tasted absolutely incredible after having missed a real dinner, breakfast, and lunch over the past 24 hours.
When we walked into our room Mark didn’t even whack me with a tatami mat. We all threw ourselves on the floor. It was 5 P.M. I promised everyone that I would not be waking them up for another adventure early the following morning. Even I was ready for a day without an alarm.
Next thing I remember it was 7 A.M. The following morning light was pouring in the window. We had all slept for 14 hours. My three best buddies were starting to wake up. I smiled and looked over at Mark. Kyle was looking at pictures on his camera and was looking the other way. Mark gave me the look and we prepared to attack. Another tatami mat wrestling match was surely in the works.