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 mt fuji

jugatsu 3 (oct)
The recommended way to climb Mt Fuji, or Fuji-san as it is called here, is to start at midnight, in summer months when the weather is less volatile and extreme. Hikers don lighted headbands or carry flashlights to illuminate the trail. The goal is to arrive at the top for sunrise, then descend early to avoid the heat of day or afternoon thunderstorms. The peak is 12,388 ft (3,776m); the most popular trailhead starts at 7,500 ft (2,300m). And, as you have no doubt seen from pictures and those famous woodblock prints by Hokusai, the peak stands alone, rising dramatically in a classic shape.

Returning fresh from high altitude hikes in Colorado where I live at 8,500 ft, it made sense to me to hike Fuji-san in the fall, rather than in summer, after I had been living at sea level for months. I went for a day hike. These days, I no longer feel like I need to get to the top of things; I came to commune with Fuji-san, not to conquer it. Perhaps another time, if I have a hiking partner or two.

The train ride to Kawaguchi-ko, the town at the base, took about 3-1/2 hours, and the bus up the mountain another 50 minutes. On the way there, the trains passed through mountain, village and farmland. Hay tied in bundles and hanging out to dry on racks lined up in the fields. Trees were heavy with ripening orange persimmon fruit.

It was a typical cloudy day in Japan. You couldn't see Mt Fuji from the city or even from the nearby villages. But during the bus ride to the trailhead, the clouds fell away like a shed skin as we broke through to a brilliant blue sky, the clouds gathered below us. Fuji-san's brown bald pate, no snow yet, appeared briefly through the trees as the bus rounded switchbacks to the Kawaguchiko 5th station. There are 10 stations, or marked spots up the mountain. The trails start at the 5th station, although you could start at the bottom, if you had time and were a purist; the 10th is at the top. While I walked, light clouds swirled around Fuji-san's peak, sometimes obscuring the view, sometimes teasing and tickling, and at times shining with reflected sun. The twisted tree forest was turning yellow and red. Soon the trees disappeared and a chilly wind blew across the wide-open landscape.

In about two hours of relentless uphill on a black and red crushed lava path that narrowed to about sidewalk-width in long zigzags, I made it up to where the mountain huts begin, just below the 7th station. There, hikers can rest or escape the elements for a while on the longer trek. Above this point, the trail changed to a rough, steep rocky climb guided by ropes. From there, looking up, the huts perched one above another on the intensively switchbacked trail, and below, a soft sea of clouds hid the world below treeline. It was a good place to consider a destination. The clouds were moving up and I descended into fog on the way down. It was raining by the time I made it to the bus stop.

oct 8
Typhoon! Fortunately, I had the day off. My university's sports festival was scheduled for that day but later was rescheduled. My corrugated metal shades rattled me awake during the night, the rain tapped in waves with a tinny sound. It was a good morning to stay in, write, study. No one was out on the streets. The clouds were moving quickly outside my window. A ferocious wind swirled around even after the rain stopped - I could hear it howling through my slightly open kitchen window, and a neighbor's wind chimes danced and clanged crazily. By afternoon, it was amazingly clear and calm.

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