And it may have been the dumbest idea we have ever had. ***coughcoughcoughAndy'sideacoughcough***
We hiked up at night so we could see the sunrise from the top. We didn't quite make it in time. We headed out from home around 8:30PM and started climbing around 10:00. It took us 9 hours to get to the top climbing by the light of our headlamps and the moon on a not-trail. You can't really have a trail when you are just climbing up big rocks and trying to find any foot hold to get up the boulder in front of you.
There are a ton of "huts" which are more like small houses the whole way up. I think that's the only thing that kept us going most of the way. You could see the lights from where you were on the "trail" and we would say "Let's just get to the next hut". Once we got to the hut we'd sit down and breathe and Andy would go get our hiking stick stamps. They would basically brand your stick with a iron they heated over coals.
Most of our conversation on the way up was, "How the hell did they get the materials up here to build such huge places?" "Why do so many people want to do this, this is terrible?!" "How do people get to the top in 4 hours or LESS?!!??!?!?!" and then eventually it turned into "I'm dying." "Me too."
So we missed the sunrise from the top. But we thought we were almost there. But we weren't. We were at the 8.5 station. (labeled Goraikou-kan on the map below)
It was still pretty. Andy maintains that we got a better view than the people at the top because the top was already in a cloud and we were just under that cloud. (But over a ton of clouds)
We got a lot of stories and a lot of advice before we went so we expected it to suck. My really fit, badass friend was like, "It's not so bad, you'll be fine." and my normal friend, who breathes just as hard as me while trying to keep up with our badass friend, was like "That was the worst thing I've ever done, don't do it." So I expected it to be terrible. I was really hoping that I would be pleasantly surprised if I went in with the lowest possible expectations but I was not. It met or exceeded the worst possible thoughts I had about it pre-climb. Hiking up sucked. Hiking down sucked. The only part that didn't suck was walking around the top.
Something no one told us before we left was that it stunk most of the time. The way down was the only time it didn't smell bad. I'm not sure how they deal with waste on Fuji, but you can smell whatever method they use almost the whole time on the way up.
We almost turned around at the ninth station (which is not a station, it's a boarded up shanty). We were miserable. We had missed the sunrise from the top. Looking up from the 8.5 station we though the 9th station was the top, but really the top was still further up in the clouds. It was 200 meters from the 8.5 station to the 9th. It took us almost an hour. We had to stop at every switchback and sometimes stopped in the middle. It was harder to breathe, our hearts were beating so fast to try to carry enough oxygen to our fatigued muscles, and my hip-flexors (of all things) hurt so bad, it hurt to move my leg forward at all. When we got to the ninth station the sign said "400 meters to summit."
At some point we could see people streaming down the return trail. You can see them behind Andy in this picture:
I saw a trail cutting across between the trail we were on over to the trail holding the happy people on the way back to their cars. And I SO. WANTED. to be one of those happy people. I told Andy to go on without me in my most dramatic tone; something like this:
My most chivalrous husband told me he would go back with me if that was what I really wanted, but he thought we would both regret it. Of course he was right. But it didn't make the final hour any less painful. That's right. 400 meters took us over an hour. It was the sight of the tori gate that means you made it and the cheers from people who realized they were finally there, that got us moving at the end.
We didn't beat the 80 year old woman dressed in all pink who passed us smiling with a "Konnichiwa!!" I wish I had taken a picture of her but I couldn't waste what little strength I had left clicking a camera. But we made it. And let me tell you, when we stepped off the last stair to the summit, we felt like a million bucks. I'm so happy Andy didn't let me turn around.
At the top we got our summit stamps and souvenirs and walked to the post office about 15 minutes around the crater. We couldn't see the crater because of a giant cloud and I thought we might blow off the top. It was SO windy. But it was flat and we were happy. I do remember thinking that my mom better appreciate the effort I was going through to send this post card though. ;-)
And we did send our postcards from the highest post office in Japan. (The 3rd highest in the world if you count the tent-post-office at Everest base camp- thank you wikipedia)
We took our pictures (Cincinnati Represent!) and headed back down.
And go back down we did. And that was terrible too. Steepest. Switchbacks. Ever. We stopped to rest after about half an hour and both of us fell asleep sitting. We had been on the mountain for 10 or 11 hours at that point. After I woke up to dirt blowing into my open mouth, I woke up Andy and we soldiered on. And then it started raining. And by then we were too tired and ready to be done to stop and put our rain gear on. so we walked through the rain. Down the steepest trail ever. For another 2 hours.
About halfway down I could tell my ankles were going to be bruised from my shoes. But I didn't care. I wanted to sit down in my car. Shortly after that realization, I told Andy "My big toes are going numb." he said "weird." and we kept walking. My big toes were half numb half pins and needles and I could tell it was from them slamming repeatedly against the front of my shoe.
Just when the switchbacks ended (finally!) we still had to walk another 2 miles back to our car. I'm pretty sure if I wasn't slowing him down, Andy would have run the last mile. That road we walked in on the night before that didn't seem very far may as well have been 20 miles long. I wanted to tell every one of the happy people passing us to start their hike up "Don't do it!! You'll hate it!! Turn Around!!!" And then we could see the buildings! Thank God!!!!!
We popped out in the an incredibly busy circle full of people where it had been practically empty the night before. I saw an ice cream stand and I bought us both vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone. Andy didn't even get to pick. When the lady handed me a sugar cone and I was like "I ORDERED A WAFFLE CONE!!!!!" Andy paid the lady the difference and we walked back to the car with my vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone. I would have cried happy tears if I had the energy.
From there we drove to the nearest Mcdonald's and ate hamburgers and fries and then took a nap in our car. And that was our experience with the majestic Fuji-san. Oh and P.S. My toes are still numb. Ugh.