Tag Archives: Fujisan

Cycling round Kawaguchiko Lake – 3

untitled-131 untitled-132

Our last stop was the Music Box Forest – a small musical theme park not quite Japanese. An array of musical instruments from the past, imported from around the world, was on display and in fantastic working order. It was quite amazing – organs, violins, jukeboxes, chimes and even a hand-driven music box. The exterior is decorated with manicured gardens, canals and a spectacular musical water fountain. There is also the essential gift shop. The views of the lake, with obscured Fuji, are quite remarkable from here especially during cherry blossom as these trees occupy the waterline. After a six hour ride, we headed back to our hostel, wet and a little bit cold. Nevertheless, it was a great outing indeed. We were later informed that a passing typhoon some distant away was the cause for this gloomy and rainy weather.

“You would have thought this place was in France if you didn’t know where you were!” – Navindd

“……we cycled on through light drizzle, wind in our faces and our bodies warm from the movement. We cycled through flower farms, forests, tunnels and alongside the lake the entire time” – Navindd

The Japanese couple we met at lunch suggested that we have dinner at an authentic local restaurant. Armed with a map, we made our way to an unfamiliar part of town. It was a long walk but managed to locate this place. It was small and with some broken Japanese and usage of the menu, we managed to order some meals. As usual, it was quite good and we were the last patrons for the evening. Fulfilled, we walked back slowly to our hostel. This was our last day in Kawaguchiko.

“The entrance, decorated with ‘noren’, Japanese sheets of decorated cloth on doorways…..” – Navindd
untitled-135Next morning, I looked out of my room window. It was bright. My excitement grew as I wondered if Mt Fuji would emerge from the clouds. I walked towards the main road. There it was, still hidden in a shroud of thick clouds, the summit was clear. Just the mere sight had raised my spirits. I could imagine how it would have touched – all the poets, sages, scholars and ordinary men and women. The thought that we had climbed it came as a relief as well as respectful and humbling. Within moments, Fujisan vanished.

untitled-137

Mt Fuji , Fuji-Yoshida trail – 3

“Then, the final torii or gate stood in front of us, marking the summit. We ran up the stairs with new found energy and joy. Everyone was shouting happily and hugging each other, the cold was forgotten” – Navindd

Slowly but surely we forged on guided only by light from our headlamps. Some trekkers were slumped on the ground with exhaustion. Altitude sickness is a serious issue. The steepness continued. The icy wind battered our faces. Gradually, the night sky turned to deep blue and the horizon was visible. However, heavy clouds prevailed. At 0430, we reached the white “torii” guarded by two marble lion statues. The last leg was a series of steps. We had reached the 10th station, the summit. A cluster of buildings occupied the narrow space including Kushusi Jinga shrine. Today’s few trekkers rested here. All the buildings were shut but rattled in the blowing wind. Tiredness from the walk vanished and our bodies magically seemed revitalised. A sense of having arrived came upon us. Navindd and I walked higher to the crater rim. A series of peaks surrounded the crater with the highest being 3776m. A thick fog engulfed the summit. Within minutes, the deep crater was invisible. Our hands were frozen. A glow emerged between the clouds and the grey sky. For a few precious minutes, we witnessed a magnificent sunrise – “Goraikō”, meaning “arrival of light”. The white clouds below turned to a sea of blue. Two Japanese hikers hailed at that sight. Moments like this, I truly appreciated the holiness of Fuji.

untitled-92

Suddenly, the summit was completely engulfed with dense clouds and a relentless icy wind descended. A hailstorm erupted. With no shelter available, we hastily descended on a slippery rocky trail. The wind and ice battered down mercilessly. Dawn was illuminated but no sunlight. Only a grey cocoon with falling icy stones. After, over an hour’s walk, we sought refuge in a hut. The staffs were in their final stages of packing. With hot drinks in our hands and sheltered, we felt warm. Windows and doors shattered in the wind.

Eventually, the two hour storm subsided. The sunlight on my face was bliss. Everything was now crispy and clear. The sight of the soft morning light on the shrubs, the lunar-like reddish surface and the green pine trees below were uplifting. As we descended, Navindd alerted me to the moon that was just descending behind Fuji. We retraced our trek downhill. We had time to appreciate the terrain we had walked earlier in darkness – the steep rocky slopes, the link chains and ropes, huts, flora and the grandeur of the mountain.

untitled-94 untitled-95 untitled-97 untitled-99

Looking back towards the summit, it had indeed been a pilgrimage on a holy mountain. The cold, icy wind and terrain is now etched in our memories as an experience to savour. It is especially special as we had done this as a family. I am proud of Navindd and Lee Cheng.

“we were so high above the clouds that when we looked up, all we could see was the blue sky, a burning bright sun and the peaceful moon – all in one picture” – Navindd

Today, Fuji relented. This journey would be one of the enduring moments of our lives. With minimum facilities and totally self- reliant, I was anxious about climbing Fuji in the off season. However, it was worth every moment, from start to finish. After descending for four hours, we surrendered to “ramen” and pancake at the 5th Station. We left by bus to the lake town, Kawaguchiko. I looked back at the holy mountain; it was no more – once again, wrapped up in a greyish-white soft cocoon. It was meant to be!

untitled-102 untitled-103

Fujisan trek journal excerpts

23/09/2013
left 5th Station around 1300. Bright sunny and clear day. Reddish slope of Fuji visible. At the base green tree belt but disappeared later. Flora changed to short shrubs and sparse.Trail zig- zagged uphill. Several huts, clingged to the slope.Trail, just barren volcanic rocks. Sun set behind Fuji. In shadow, temperature dropped. Reached Stn 8, Hakunsoo Hut at 3000m around 1700. Rest, eat and Sleep. Good walk, all three in good condition.

24/09/2013
left Hakunsoo Hut at Station 8 around 0130. Other trekkers, all Japanese + 1, around 20 had just left. Pitch dark and icy cold. Slight wind. Only light from head lamps. Trail clear to follow but uneven. Volcanic rocks. At times crawling on all fours. Navindd resilient. Aware of altitude sickness. Some trekkers struggling to breath. Nearly collapsed. Ropes and chains at places. Sometimes vertical climb. Footing need to be good. Uneven rocks. Smooth rocks and slippery. Slightly bright below clouds. Crossed red torii at Stn 9. No idea of time. Pressed on. Navind in good condition, Lee Cheng and I managed slowly but surely. Sight of white torii.

DSC_0260 DSC_0269 DSC_0270 DSC_0272

“You can’t see the mountain when you are on it. Just the unpredictable clouds, rough and uneven rocks and sometimes boulders, steep terrain, fatigue and relentless icy wind, breathlessness, and for good measure altitude. I loved every moment of it”.

Arrived at the summit, just past the white torii, around 0430. Clear but icy cold wind. Explore 10th Station – Buildings shut. Vending machine! Temple. Walked up to the crater rim. Not highest but highest point 3776m. Clouds bright but sun still below. Heavy mist descended and receded continuously. Hands freezing even with gloves. Crater visible, merely 30 seconds and vanished. The horizon changed hue, colour and brightness constantly.

untitled-89 untitled-90 DSC_0276 DSC_0277DSC_0283 DSC_0284

Finally, the sun emerged above the blue clouds – Goraikō, lasted less than 3 minutes. Cheers of joy. Weather turned, darkened clouds. Descended to the base. Family photo blurred by dense clouds that immediately burst into a hailstorm. Haste retreat downhill. Trail slippery at places. On fours at times. Pelted with ice and ferocious wind for over an hour. Well protected with our gear. Only faces exposed. One hut shutting down was open. Hot milo and shattering windows. Storm stopped, bright sunny and clear day. Path, terrain and vegetation now detailed. Tree line visible. Moon just set behind Fuji. Good walk to 5th Station. Kudos to Lee Cheng and Navindd. Proud day for us.

Mt Fuji, Fujiyoshida Trail – 2

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.

untitled-85

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.

DSC_0264   DSC_0260

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

Mt Fuji, Fujiyoshida Trail – 1

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.

DSC_0061

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.

untitled-81 untitled-82

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

untitled-98

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.