Most visitors to Japan see Mount Fuji, but few actually get to climb it. The climbing season is short (July-September) and the climb requires time and physical commitment. Even so, Mount Fuji is still the most visited mountain in the world, with about 30,000 people climbing it every year.
Its popularity is justified by the spectacular sunrise that can be seen from 12.400 ft (3.800 m). Hiking Mount Fuji is very different than climbing any other mountain due to the density of climbers and the mountain huts set up mountainside. The climb is not particularly difficult, but can be quite strenuous to those not used to physical activity or high altitudes. But if climbing Mount Fuji is in your plans, fret not, as it happens, there are ways that even a novice can climb Fuji-san with a little preparation.
10 tips before you climb Mount Fuji
1. Prepare for physical activity a few weeks in advance
You don’t have to be able to run a marathon or even 5K to climb Mount Fuji, but a basic level of fitness is wise. Getting active a couple months before the trip should help you establish a good baseline.
Hiking is 50% physical endurance and 50% mental toughness. However, if you have difficulty with basic fitness or knee issues, Mount Fuji is probably best seen from the ground. There are hundreds of steps, and at times you might need to boulder up some rocks.
With that said, in our group, the age varied from 12-60 years old. Even injured and ill-prepared hikers made it up to the top. One girl climbed Mount Fuji with one foot tied to her tennis shoes from the outside due to a blister that inflammed her foot and made it twice its normal size. That is an extreme example and I would not advise to climb in those conditions, but I wanted you to have an example that if “there is the will, there is a way”.
2. Book a tour
Anyone can climb Mount Fuji without a guide and if you are a seasoned hiker, that may be the way to go, but there are many benefits of booking a tour.
The tour costs around U$150 per person and includes accommodation, meals. private bus transportation to and from Mount Fuji from Tokyo and a stop at the Onsen/restaurant on the way back (Onsen/food fees are extra). You also get an English speaking guide for the entire trip and a mountain guide for the hike.
The cost of the tour is a bargain when you compare it to the cost of paying for the same things yourself. A regular bus from Shijuku to the 5th Station (starting point of hike) costs ~U$55 round-trip and sleeping in a mountain hut will cost $70 per person. Add in the cost of two guides and you actually come out on top by booking a tour.
Solo travelers and novice hikers have the extra benefits of getting to know other travelers and an experienced professional to help if an emergency occurs.
3. Bring your own equipment- boots, headlamp, hiking poles, jacket, etc…
All the equipment needed for the hike can be rented through the tour company and it may be a good option if you don’t already own it. But if you do, it makes more sense to pack it, even if you will only use it for this hike. Hiking Mount Fuji on your own broken-in boots may save your feet days of recovery after the hike. If you are continuing your trip and don’t want to carry the extra weight, you can ship your equipment home very economically and safely from any post office in Japan.
4. Bring essentials- water, wet wipes, toilet paper, money, sunscreen, food, medication, toothbrush, first-aid, flashlight, etc…
Like any other mountain, the infrastructure at Mt. Fuji is rudimentary. Even at the 5th Station which resembles a small town, the bathrooms are paid to use, have no toilet paper and water is scarce.
As you ascend, pit toilets become the normal, and even though mountain huts provide accomodation and food, there is no running water in the restrooms for washing your hands.
If you are planning to climb Mt. Fuji, it is wise to pack all the essentials with you and bring more money than you think you will need. Bring plenty of change to pay for restrooms (Y$100-300 per visit) and avoid buying anything at the top of the mountain where there is a surcharge of 5x the normal price of goods. The closer you get to the top, prices soar. The more effort required to supply a station, the more expensive things become.
Wet wipes are incredibly common in Japan and a great way to keep clean. Don’t forget hiking poles, they will save your knees specially on the way down. Headlamps will keep you from falling over on the final stretches of the climb before sunrise. Be sure to also pack a disposable bag to carry your trash or dirty items.
5. Pack light
Needless to say, the more weight you carry, the tougher the climb will be. If you are not used to hiking with a pack, do a trial run with your bag for a whole day. Walk as much as you can uphill and if at the end of the day you are not able to carry the bag for another day, take out all non-essential items. The only exception to this rule is water and any medication you may need.
Summer is hot in Japan so a heavy jacket is not often required. Dress in layers, a knit hat and thin gloves should keep you warm at the top.
There is no need for sleeping bags if you are staying in a hut, but it would be a good idea if you plan to climb Mt.Fuji and not stay in a hut. It gets chilly on the top while you wait for the sunrise.
6. Get in your zen zone
At several points of the trail you might need to chill out, specially if you are climbing in peak season (Obon Week). The crowds are such that you will be waiting for the person in front of you to take the next step.
If you are taking a tour, get in the group mindset, which means hiking, eating and sleeping together. In the U.S, tours would allow participants to dictate the pace of a hike depending on people’s level of fitness, but not in Japan. The group hikes on the guide’s pace and it is awfully slow! That was the only drawback from booking a tour.
We did the hike up to the 8th station from 5th Station in 8 hrs! It would have taken us less time if we were allowed to climb faster. But straying from the group while on a tour is not an option. A couple times, people were called out from walking faster than the guide or straying from the two line formation. That’s just the way things work in Japan.
There is a very good reason why the pace is so slow: it allows everyone to acclimatize to the high altitude. If you set your expectations that you may have to sacrifice your own pace for the good of the group, you will do fine, otherwise, it will be a long 8 hrs up. On the way back down, it’s a different story, you can go as fast as you want and meet at a pre-designated location.
7. Be prepared to rough it: use pit toilets, hike for long hours and sleep with strangers
If you are used to backcountry hiking, skip this section. If you are not, read on. I mentioned above the restroom situation on Mount Fuji, but it’s actually worse than that. Don’t let this information deter you, but instead use it to prepare yourself.
Don’t forget those wet wipes. They will provide a much needed refreshment after a long climb and keep things hygienic. Hiking for several hours under hot sun, high humidity and volcanic dust will make you wish for a shower before bed.
Instead however, you will sleep in dirty clothes next to strangers in your group in a space that doesn’t even allow you to turn (we had 8 adults, mostly men, sleeping in a space the size of a king size bed). It is uncomfortable, but if you can rough it, it is worth the experience.
8. Don’t miss the sunrise
Climbing Mt. Fuji for the sunrise is a must. Don’t miss it by climbing too early during the day or by sleeping in. Allow yourself enough time to get to the top as you will most likely encounter traffic.
If you want an even better experience, circumvent the top of the mountain so you can see the perfect shadow of Mount Fuji.
9. Leave behind the electronics, but bring your camera
Wi-fi was recently installed on the top of Mt. Fuji, but I would refrain from using it. I heard it doesn’t really work well and that picture or video can be posted the next day when you make your way down. The extra weight will feel like punishment.
I left my DLSR camera in a storage locker in Tokyo and carried only a GoPro and my phone. I think it worked out really well.
10. Bring clean clothes and money for the onsen
The last stop before reaching Tokyo from Mount Fuji is a beautiful resort onsen (public bath). This is optional and intentional. After going without a bath for two days your skin will be ready for a good scrub and hot soak. If you are interested in this, pack an extra change of clothes and some extra money and store it in a locker at the 5th Station. Food and foot massages are also available for purchase.
These are my 10 Tips before you climb Mount Fuji to help you prepare for an awesome experience!
For more information on the tour I booked click here. This is a non-sponsored post.
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