“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.
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.
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!