This is Life

Monday, September 12, 2005

View From The Top Of The World

For most of today and yesterday (heck, we might as well throw in the day before) I have been been enjoying the benefitd of my latest adventure - climbing Mt. Fuji. Yes, yes, of course I am talking about the wonderful memories, but more importantly and definitely more consistently am I reminded of how much pain I am in. I can say with great confidence that I ache in every part of my body. But I did it for the memories and the experience, right? Well, at this point I would like to share with you an ancient Japanese proverb ... "He who climbs Mount Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool." I am not yet convinced about the first part, but the second half must definitely be true. I will never climb that rock again.

Perhaps I am being a little to harsh on Fujisan. Indeed, it was a difficult journey, but I don`t think it can really be considered mountain climbing. At 3776 m it isn`t too much higher than some of the mountains I have skied on so the elevation wasn`t an issue. In fact, it isn`t unheard of for old ladies and young kids to make the climb (granted, I am fairly sure they stop to rest at the 8th station (3400m) before completed the final ascent. Nevertheless, with a base at only 300 meters, the remaining 3470+ meters (11,300 feet) of the mountain sit there in beautiful exposure for the eye of the beholder. On this measurement basis (base-to-summit) Fuji is more than twice the net vertical height of any mountain in the Rockies.By the way, no one actually starts at the bottom either. Nearly everyone starts at the 5th station, which is as high as the busses go, or in our case, as high as our $100 USD cab ride could take us. Anyway, it appears as though I was the problem. I don`t think it would be unreasonable to say that I am in the absolute worst physical condition of my life. Because of my knee injury I haven`t really been able to do much in the way of cardiovascular activity and it showed. No, I wasn`t panting and puffing with every step, but I was most definitely "feeling the burn," as they say. Why, exactly, I thought that climbing this mountain was a good idea I cannot say, but I am very glad I did it.

After leaving Muikamachi by bus at 2 PM, we (my colleages, Patrick and Cindy, and I) arrived in Tokyo around 6 PM. We then had to do a transfer here and there and make our way by another bus to a town at the base of Fuji called Yamaguchiko (which literally means "mouth of the mountain lake"). It was there that we discovered that the last bus had already left for the 5th station two hours prior to our arrival. Crap! So, our only alternative was to hire a cab to take us a quarter of the way around the volcano and then up to the 5th station. I had actually been warned of this eventuality, but at this point we had no other choice - we had to get to the 5th station somehow. Oh, by the way, there are 5 different routes that you can take up Mt.Fuji. As it turns out, we were taken to the route that starts at the lowest point, by far, at only 1400 meters above sea level. By comparison, the highest starting point is 2400 meters.

So, we finally got there and I think we started climbing at around 10-11 PM. The idea is to climb overnight and then get to the summit to watch the sunrise. Well, after about 30 minutes of hiking we came upon a lovely little sign that thought it would be good to point out that we were only 6.5 hours from the top. That meant that we had to be quick if we were to make it there for the sunrise. I was already starting to get tired and say ask myself what I had gotten myself into. Nevertheless, the thought of not completing this journey never even crossed my mind. If I had known how frustrating the hike down was going to be then maybe I would have been a little less decisive.

But on we went, for 4 hours in fact, before we arrived at the 8th station (3400m). Now, the eighth station is one of those places that could literally charge any price it wanted for a really bad cup of hot chocolate and people would gladly pay for it AND enjoy it, I might add. In my case, it was about $4 for that and $3 for a snickers bar, which I promptly lost and undoubtedly and inadvertently blessed some extremely fortunate pilgrim. Anyway, the hike between the 7th and 8th station could best be described as agony. It just didn`t end. At each of the stations there is some 1/2-star accomodation for people who have paid between $60-80 for a wooden plank to sleep on inside a building constructed of wooden planks and tape, or at least this is how it appeared to me. The problem is that there are handful of mini stations scattered in between the real stations and they only serve to provide the illusion that you are getting closer to your goal. Anyway, if you ever climb Mt. Fuji and can think of a way to skip the climb between station 7 and station 8 then I highly recommend you take this option. After station 8 there is only another 2-2.5 hours and 376 meters of elevation to cover so at least this final leg has hope.

But aside from the actual climb itself we were blessed with a variety of wonders to behold. The first thing we noticed was the crystal clear night sky that periodically filtered out the fiery meteors that attempted to make earth home. Before long we were far above the clouds and all we could see below us was a blanket of cloud that glowed in every spot where a town slept below it. It was like a sublit pool at night and was quite surreal. These sights kept us company all the way up until the sun began to peel away our night theatre and paint a scene of its own. While my pictures don`t justify it, at one point I remember seeing every colour of the rainbow in this sunrise. I didn`t even know that was possible and maybe the think air was causing me to see things, but it was absolutely spectacular.

At around 5 am we were at the summit and we had arrived literally minutes before the sun broke the horizon. I don`t know what my thoughts were at the moment (well, other than that I was really cold), but I was pretty impressed, to say the least. We took in the view from the top for 30 minutes or so before finally beginning the long descent. Oh, how I rue that descent. It was torture. At least on the way up you can stop at the stations for a break, but on the way down it is a seemingly endless series of switchbacks and steep slopes that have you locked constant battle to maintain control. The worst part was that by virtue of being on a decline for several hours on end, you toes get mashed into the front of your shoes the entire time and are screaming for relief by the end of the trip. Anyway, it sucked, but me and my toes did finally make it.

So, the final tally was 6.5 hours up and 2.5 hours down (which is quite quick, I am told - estimates say the ascent should take 7-10 and the descent 3-6 ... suckers!). No, it wasn`t the most pleasant or enjoyable experience of my life, but I am pretty sure that people don`t climb mountains to say, "hey, that sounds like it will be a great way to relax." People climb mountains because it is an accomplishment. It is something I will be able to tell my grandkids about (as they say) and it feels pretty cool to be able to say "I climbed Mt. Fuji ... once!"

See the pictures ...


At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Crustytuna said...

Well well speedy Gonazales,
Congrats on a job well done. Nothing like climbing a mountain, in poor physical shape no less, to give you that sense of accomplishment. And of course, give you visions that you will never be able to fully capture in film or verbal description.

At 12:39 AM, Blogger Transformational Business said...

Sorry you lost your snickers... Did you ever lose your cookies??


At 7:26 AM, Blogger Jae'than R said...

good post dean.
let us skype it soon


Post a Comment

<< Home