Land of the Rising Sun
Trip Start Jul 24, 2011
27Trip End Aug 21, 2011
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The lights in the hut go on at 1.30am and people start getting ready to leave. By 2.30am, we've had our breakfast (which is a cup of coffee) and set out for the summit, breaking into the constant stream of people climbing Fuji for the sunrise. There's about 320m of ascent to the very top, but a little less to the rim of the volcanic crater
As soon as I leave the hut, I can see zigzags of tiny twinkling lights both above and below. In fact the traffic on the path is now so heavy that in places we're walking 4 abreast and there are frequent halts due to the congestion, sometimes lasting a couple of minutes before you can begin to step forward again. A few path guardians are patrolling crucial spots, keeping people on the path with shouted orders and by waving red wands. Eventually we're making very little progress indeed.
At 4.15am, just short of the crater rim, I find an unoccupied viewing spot and sit down to watch the sunrise, which proves to be a very good one. There are very few breaks in the clouds below us, but the sun catches a few streaky clouds above us in spectacular fashion and you can also see the Japanese Alps poking through the cloud layer in the distance. Another unforgettable sight - and possibly the only time I'll ever see the summit of Yarigatake!
When it's over, at about 5.00am, I move up to the crater rim in an area which is clogged with people, souvenir shops and a noodle house. About 200,000 people will get to the top of Fuji each year, virtually all of them in July and August
As soon as we start our walk round the rim to the weather station, cloud starts blowing in from the west. At first this provides us with the rare sight of Brocken Spectres, but it soon thickens and ruins the views. The weather station is an unattractive feature, but we stop at the very top for a group photo before continuing around the full circle to our entry point.
It's still only 7.00am when we start our downward journey, walking into bright sunshine soon after leaving the rim, but later into the thick clouds below. It's an unremitting but easy downhill, passing loads of people on the way. A few of them are obviously experienced in the mountains, but many appear to be occasional walkers on their first big trip. There's a lot of new gear around and it's an interesting question as to how much of it will ever be used again. Nevertheless, for such a major walk, we've seen relatively few people who've given up without reaching the top and this explains why we're now seeing some people who are struggling badly, including a few who seem to think that walking backwards is the solution to their aches, pains, or blisters.
As the trail levels out, the mist thickens and by the time we finish the descent at Station 5 (at only 9.30am!), it's gloomy and wet. But at least the sun was there when it mattered!