Saturday 28th July
Last night, returning from Okinawa, when our coach pulled in at Minasaka we’d been unable to reach Kuzumi and get a lift home but within 5 minutes we’d managed to hitch a lift. Over the next 4 days we do various chores including weeding, masking and sealing walls the walls in the house and other various chores. We catch the tail end of another typhoon with some high winds and torrential rains. To Crip’s surprise I quite like weeding in these conditions, it’s cooler and the ground isn’t as hard as concrete and it’s actually relatively easy removing the weeds.
Tuesday evening we pick up our hire car, we’re going to drive to Mt Fuji and climb it.
Wednesday 1st August.
How easy that last sentence sounded. In reality it’s much different. We decided that we would drive the purported 550km distance to Kawaguchiko, our jump off point for climbing Mt Fuji. This would be cheaper than getting the multiple trains or coaches but only if we stay clear of the Expressway system which has high tolls. Crip had recommended we head to the north coast and then head East. There’s less urbanisation on this coast so hopefully less traffic and fewer traffic lights. Well that was the theory. We also decided to drive up during the night, or as far as possible before we needed to rest. All sounds great. But unfortunately the back roads, even with lighter traffic and less stopping were still just as slow. When we got caught behind a slow vehicle, or someone observing the speed limits (ridiculously low in Japan) then we were sometimes lucky to make 40 kilometers in an hour. Having set off at 7pm we called it quits having covered 490km by 3am, an average of just over 60 kmph. Oh and that 550 purported distance? Well with our northerly route and not using expressways, it was looking more like 800 km to reach our destination! Frustrating, especially as the map reading was very difficult too. We’d even had a sodding puncture after 130kilometers and had driven the remaining night on a spare wheel that looked like it had come off a wheelbarrow!
We got about 3 hours sleep before the baking sun forced us out of our tent. Then the local geriatric callisthenetics group and playing children made us realise we should push on. We grabbed a coffee in a convenience store and later some lunch. We get the tyre sorted, unfortunately it was a hole in the sidewall, so it’s can’t be fixed and we end up having to pay for a new tyre! We are still following a convoluted route through Japan’s northern Alps and it’s not until 3pm we reach our destination. Just as a vigorous thunderstorm decided to unleash itself overhead. We retreat to a restaurant and decide plan B. Plan A would have seen us climbing Mt Fuji tonight for a morning (sunrise) summit. But we are too tired and with only 2 hours sleep under our belts, another sleepless night seems reckless. And the weather is pants. We decide we’ll camp tonight in a local park by the lake then after a restday climb tomorrow night instead.
We come out of the restaurant and it’s stopped raining so we drive over to the local amusement park. We had cycled passed this place on our previous visit and decided against trying some of the rides. But now we wanted to try the “big one”. After 50 minutes in a queue we were strapped into our revolving chairs, the process of locking us down and attaching the safety belts told us we were in for a good ride! Oh boy, I’ve never been thrown, spun, swivelled and tormented by rotational forces so much! It was great, even if I was squealing a bit at the end!
Suitably impressed we head for our camping spot. There’s a covered bandstand so that’s where we pitch our tent incase of more rain and we sit on the lakeside having a quiet drink and some snacks. Mt Fuji looms ominously in the background, waiting for us quietly. After retiring for the evening at an early 7pm we start to doze off. That is until a horde of kids with fireworks, waterpistols and waterbombs descends on the park!!
Thursday 2nd – Friday 3rd August
Remember that bandstand we are camped on? Well the brass band turned up at 7am this morning for band practice, I kid you not!! A youth orchestra with trumpets, tubas and trombones troubled our sleep for the next 2 hours! Fortunately they eventually bugger off and we are left in relative peace for the rest of the day.
We read and snooze, knowing we will be up all night climbing. After a shop for provisions and a late lunch we head to the bus station to catch the bus up to the bottom station of Mt Fuji, cunningly called the 5th Station!
It takes 50 minutes and drops us at the station, which is at 2300 meters. It’s now 8pm and dark. The bus was full, and there’s still more people at the 5th Station waiting to climb. We’ve been told it’ll take about 7 hours to summit, and with sunrise at 440am we don’t want to set off to early, but by 840pm we are chomping at the bit and decide to take a slow walk up! Over the next 2 km the terrain is gently undulating as the path goes sideways alongside the mountain base. We pass several people coming back down. Hobbling and grimacing, in one case an older lady being piggybacked down. That’ll probably be us tomorrow! The trail is volcanic gravel and fortunately we have head torches to light our way. By the time we reach the 6th station the trail starts heading upwards.
There are a number of ‘stations’ on the mountainside, each has a shop selling water, food, clothes and souvenirs. You can even buy cans of oxygen, which we see several people using during the course of the night. There are also lodges where you can rest and have a meal, all at a premium of course. A stay with 2 meals costs about 50 pounds each. Many people have bought a walking staff at the tourist shops along the way, for an extra payment you can get a symbol burned into the wood at each station and at the summit to show you have climbed Mt Fuji. Most have bells and flags on too, their ringing can be heard up and down the mountain. We keep ascending, the terrain now very rocky and at times we are having to scramble up the volcanic rock outcrops using our hands, and even knees in my case, to make headway. There are quite a lot of people on the mountain and when the trail is narrow we end up waiting as people infront climb the next obstacle. We stop at the 7th station for a little snack and drink, but after about 10 minutes the wind makes it too chilly to sit around. We are climbing in shorts and t-shirts and at the outset we couldn’t believe the amount of clothing and gear most people were wearing. Full gortex and long trousers in the late evening heat, with physical exertion… they must be melting! We do have warm clothing in our daysack for later, but it seems barking to wear it all now. Oh and we get quite a few sideways looks and comments on our footwear, yep Crocs to climb Mt Fuji!
By the 8th station the amount of people on the trail is getting ludicrously heavy. Numerous tour groups of 15 maybe 20 people being taken up by light baton wealding ‘guide leaders’ are everywhere! The going is amazingly slow, and we take to walking, climbing and scrambling passed the long lines whenever we can get by on the tight trail. The trail is now just a zig zag of lights up into the distance. Even with all the holdups and logjams we have been making better time than we thought. If we continue at this pace we’ll reach the summit about 3 hours before sunrise! We decide to take a rest and don our warm clothing and jackets. By now it’s down to about 5 degrees and the windchill makes it colder. We snuggle up on a bench and try to snooze. We’re at the final station and we watch people coming by. There’s obviously lots of Japanese, but also many foreigners climbing. Two young Canadian lads sit next to us for a while, they only have shorts and long sleeve tops, no coats or cold weather gear and their funny banter and antics to keep warm makes us laugh. There are people climbing in jeans and trainers, but who are we to criticise in our Crocs. We chat with a few of the foreign climbers, a man from Wolverhampton and his two sons, a girl from Hinckley climbing with 2 Americans. Daz is in a Midlands revival meeting! We are amazed now by the numbers walking passed us. After 2 hours rest we decide to continue. OMG, we round the last of the buildings on this terrace and are met by a queue, not for the toilet, but a queue of people waiting to climb the next section. We look up the mountain and it is ablaze with lights. The trail is now full, 2 to 3 people wide, filling the track as it snakes up the mountain. Progress is slow. Very very slow. Amazingly people wait patiently, shuffling forward slowly over the loose rocks and deep volcanic gravel. Daz doesn’t even bother with his headtorch any longer there’s so much ambient light from everyone elses! We push around along the edges of the trail whenever we can. It seems people are happy to wait to climb the centre of the well worn trail rather than the more precarious edges. Not us!
As we near the top, the thousands of climbers are being encouraged on by officials with bullhorns standing along the trail, they call out in Japanese, and we’re told they are asking slow climbers to keep right! But in the dark and with so many people jammed in it’s impossible! Groups of climbers are sat along the trail edge, resting before the final push making it even harder to get passed. Finally at 4am we pass through a shrine gate and find ourselves at the summit of the volcano rim. Again there are food and lodges here and a huge crowd. The sky is lightening in the East but sunrise is still 45 minutes away so we find a place to sit on the edge of the crater and wait. Everywhere, left and right the summit trail is now packed. Finally the sun rises majestically above the clouds that are below and off to the East. We made it, and it’s beautiful. We can see some of the lakes in the near distance. Below us people are still coming up through the Shrine gate but the majority of our fellow climbers have also made it in time to see the sunrise.
We get up and join the throngs of people now getting ready for the descent. We decide to take a walk around the crater before heading down. Everywhere people are taking pictures against the rising sun or over the craters edge.
There’s a different trail to follow for the descent and weirdly this is much wider than the ascent trail but made up of very loose, deep gravel. No rocks to climb over like on the way up! Unfortunately this is where our Crocs cause us trouble, not from the loose grip, but from the amount of sharp volcanic gravel that gets into them. We have to stop continously to empty them! As we near the bottom we are passed by a couple of bobcat tracked vehicles taking water bowsers up the mountain, that’s how wide the trail is.
Finally after only 2 and a half hours we cross back over onto the trail we had climbed yesterday and continue around to the 5th station. We are just in time to get a drink before catching the first bus back down to Kawaguchiko at 8am!
We return to our bandstand, intent on getting some well deserved sleep. For once there’s no band, and we manage to sleep for a few hours, then doze as the heat builds. By 430pm we call it quits. Our plan is to drive overnight again. This time we are going to take a more direct route but still stay off the expressways. Apart from a brain fart around Nagoya where Daz takes the wrong turn and puts us the wrongside of an estuary the route isn’t too bad, there’s even a few bypasses we hit that are dual carriageway. Finally just after midnight we pull into a Michi-no-eki and put our tent up by some trees.
Saturday 4th August
Hurrah!! Our camping spot is shielded from the mornings blazing sun by the trees and we manage to sleep until 10am. We must have been tired as we slept like the proverbial logs last night. On we drive, and again the going is slow. Finally, 8 hours later, about 6pm we arrive back in Mimasaka. So the one lesson we can give you if you ever come to Japan… save up and use the Expressways!! It’s been a surreal experience climbing Mt Fuji. We are glad we did it, but driving was tough and perhaps flying to Tokyo would’ve been comparable on cost but that didn’t even occur to us. We were amazed by the number of people who were climbing it; old people on oxygen, babes in arms, children, all nationalities, equipped, ill-equipped. It had it all. We suppose that the short climbing season, 1st July to 10th September forces these phenomenal numbers to climb each day. But hey, the sunrise was marvellous!
Sunday 5th to Wednesday 8th August
Crips, Kazumi and Emma are off on a road trip. They are leaving us to housesit for the next 4 days whilst they pootle off on a little holiday. There’s talk of swimming with dolphins and visiting Rabbit islands. Fortunately (or unfortunately) they leave us with a list of jobs that need doing so we won’t be too bored!! Weeding, strimming and watering in the organic gardens and more painting walls with sealant at the house. The walls in the house are covered in a sand textured plasterboard between all the wooden uprights and dados. Crip wants to get this all painted, but it needs sealing first, one to stop the sand rubbing off and two to save the cost of the paint as it would soak up copious amounts unsealed. The biggest pain is taping, there’s so much exposed woodwork it takes ages. Once taped it needs two coats of sealant, then remove all the tape and floor plastic. At some point it will need re-taping and floor covering prior to painting… thankfully we will be long gone!!!
Up at the farm whilst Daz gets on with the sealing I carry on weeding and watering. It’s a mammoth task, especially as the ground has dried up after the rains. The grass and weeds have grown vigorously in this tropical climate and it’s hard going. I weed the peanuts, courgette, okra, beans and a multitude of other veggies I don’t recognise. I hope I haven’t pulled up any proper plants inadvertently. Daz lends a hand with some strimming and also finishes off the steps to the garden using some huge sleeper logs!
In the evenings we raid the fridge and cook up a storm, it’s great having a kitchen to cook in rather than our camping one pot. We’ve made no end of crumbles, a few curries, plenty of salads and flatbreads, frittata and banana cake to name but a few. Our workaway is nearing it’s end and in a few days we will be cycling towards Nagasaki then Fukuoka and the ferry to Korea. We are also hoping to pick up a festival or two over the Japanese August holiday of Obon. Fingers crossed.