As we entered the hut, we were greeted by about two dozen weary but jubilant trekkers. Natsuko, an English speaker with whom I had booked the hut earlier, grinned brightly. There was one foreigner and the rest Japanese. We warmed up at a small fire place. The hut was basic but adequate. The atmosphere was cosy and jovial. One trekker called out to me to come into the cold and windy exterior. I braved the elements and witnessed the auspicious “Kage Fuji”, the shadow of Fuji reflected onto the swirling grey clouds. Throughout the accent, there were rarely any views of the lakes and towns at the base of Fuji as the clouds descended. After a simple hot meal, we collapsed into our sleeping bags in a long double bunk room, with a capacity of 300, for a deserved rest and reflection.
I did not get much sleep as doors slammed and voices chattered in the lounge. We were up at past midnight. We dressed up in our thermal underwear, layers of shirts, pants and fleece. In the lounge, the other trekkers were already having their breakfast. I topped up my water bottle with boiled water at ¥1000 per litre. We had sushi and a hot bowl of miso soup. I staggered around neither asleep nor fully awake. Lee Cheng had second thoughts of continuing. As this hut was shutting down today, her options of staying indoors’ vanished. Alternatively, is to wait outside the hut in the bitter cold and wind with no shelter or to descend. She pulled herself and decided to trek to the summit. Our final apparels were waterproof jacket and pants, and hiking boots. When the door opened, the icy cold air hit my face. I pulled my gloves tightly and adjusted my headlamps. It was pitch dark and bitterly cold.
We started around 1.45am. Guided only by our headlamps, we walked on the steep terrain. It was slippery and footing at times unsteady. I could see scattered light trails up the mountain slope. We navigated the volcanic rocks, some sharp like razors, and negotiated large boulders. Breathlessness became frequent. Sometimes walking upright was not an option where the climb was steep and required us to be on all fours. Chains anchored to the rock were the only means to move forward. However, it was slippery and terribly icy. I was tired but breathing well. My fingers were especially cold. We passed a few huts, made from metal and wood. All tightly held down and locked. There is not even a shelter from the howling wind. Besides the closed mountain huts, rescue personnel, facilities and transportation, also does not exist. Self- preparedness for an off- season climb is paramount.
Walking slowly with frequent rest enabled us to acclimatise to the increasing altitude. We reached a red “torii” at 9th Station. Physically we felt good but the elements, wind and bitter cold, was a challenge. It seemed like it has taken us awhile to get here. Navindd had been strong throughout.
“Our lights shone onto the ground, and in these beams, I could nearly see the icy wind” – Navindd