We were up early and caught the Chuo Line to Otsuki and the Fujikyu Railway to Kawaguchiko. This is our starting point to trek the Fujiyoshida Trail up the iconic Mt Fuji or Fujisan. The three hour train ride passed through countryside dominated by farming and rice production. A few local trekkers in full outdoor attire shared the coach with us. They looked serious and well prepared. They disembarked to the numerous trails along the way. The three of us remained.
Kawaguchiko is a small town and also the starting point to the Fuji Five Lakes or Fujigoko in the Mt Fuji National Park. At the station, there were hive of activities. The day was warm and humid. No views of Mt Fuji though. We refuelled with some noodles and caught a bus to Kawaguchiko Fifth Station. It is midway as the summit is the tenth station. The easy access by road meant we saved a good five hours trek. At 2300m, it was cool with fine views of the reddish volcanic Mt Fuji’s summit. Scattered huts clung onto steep slopes. A vague trail was visible. The lowers slopes were planted with pine. A thick layer of clouds hung low below the station obstructing views of the lakes and towns dotted around Fuji’s wide base. With a quick lunch, and prayer around the nearby Komitake Shirne, we began our trek. We were excited but apprehensive. It is the off season and only one hut remained open on its last day. We left the Fifth Station, which by now had swelled with tourist and tours buses, at around 1pm. It was hot but pleasant with a blue sky. Perfect weather to walk I thought. Now this compact station was crowded with a mix of local and foreign tourist whom had arrived by the bus loads. Traffic was heavy. We were glad to leave.
We started our trek out of the Fifth Station at around 1pm. The sun was high and the blue sky promised good weather. I have this mantra when climbing mountains – the mountain is the mountain. It meant, the mountain will behave any which way it wanted irrespective of the weather or meteorological conditions. There is no bad weather if we are well prepared. Naturally extremes do happen though unpredictable. I knew there was very little help once on the mountain. I carefully itemised all the apparels and gear required. The warm weather gear included thermals, and some light food. I was not prepared to take chances with my family. We encountered some tired faces of trekkers’ descending. The marked path eventually led us out of the human traffic and into a forested area. When we emerged out into the open, a zig- zag path led upwards which inclined steeply. Past concrete retaining wall, a collection of seventeen huts clanged onto the steep reddish rocky slopes. The heat was intense and hardly any breeze. Once we passed the tree line, high altitude flora of low lime green shrubs covered parts of the slope. The exposed areas were barren rusted iron volcanic rocks. Navindd impressed me with his agility and strength. I reminded him to slow down. At these heights, altitude sickness can strike anyone. Lee Cheng and I continued with our rather slow pace with intermittent rest and drink stops. The views of the distant land below us were obscured by the dense thick clouds.
“The train to Kawaguchiko led us higher into the mountains and we could feel a significant temperature drop” – Navindd
“Below, the dense green forest was visible, but, when I looked up, all I could see was a steep slope of arid rocks. I thought to myself, are we going to climb this?” – Navindd
Every hut we passed was shut and bolted down. We were alone. We walked, sometimes in silence only to the sounds of accentuated breathing, crushing movements of rock under our weary feet and the gentle breeze. We rested at a station. We seemed elevated in the sky above the clouds. Workers were busy maintaining the narrow pathways and steps. I looked towards the blinding blue sky; the summit was not symmetrical or cone shaped. A red “torii” and a white “torii”, below the summit, were visible. I was tired and anxious as the sun descended behind the mountain. Daylight faded rapidly. Temperature plunged. In the mountain’s shadow, there was a sense of urgency to move continuously. Human voices and clanging of utensils were heard. We had reached the 3200m Hakuunso Hut at the 8th Station around 5 pm. I was delighted, relieved, joyful and elated. Below the hut, a sea of swirling clouds. Though it was not a walk in the park, it’s attainable. This was our family’s first accent of a mountain. Hakuunso hut, the only one open on the mountain and on its last day as well, provided basic accommodation and two hot meals for ¥7200. Booking is essential.