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On Top of the World - My experience climbing Mt. Fuji.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My goal of climbing Mt. Fuji came about quite by accident. Actually, it's my son's fault. While creating my vision collage, he stumbled upon a photo of Mt. Fuji. I thought it would make a great center photo since it was large. As my collage took shape around the photo, it occurred to me that I could make climbing that mountain my goal. Voila! I had my first lofty, long-term goal. At least it seemed pretty long-term at the time.

Just after making my collage, I met a woman on e-Bay. She was selling some workout DVDs, which I purchased from her. In the process of communicating with her over the purchase, we found some common ground and began e-mailing one another on a regular basis. It is this woman, my new found friend, who took a leap of faith six months later and flew half-way around the world to climb a mountain with me.

Three days after meeting in person for the first time, we headed out at 12:30 am to catch our bus for Hakone National Park, where Fuji is located. We drove an hour, caught our bus and rode another three hours to get to our starting point. With walking sticks in hand, we headed out on an adventure that would strengthen the bonds of friendship. Within minutes the rain came.

The path began easy enough. Our bus had dropped us off at station 5 and before long, we were greeted with a nice view, looking down on the clouds. We walked along on flat ground, talking about our strategy for pacing ourselves. Soon enough, the terrain began to change. During our 6 hour and 15 minute ascent, we zigged and zagged upward. We climbed stairs. We climbed steep boulders. We climbed in loose gravel. Occasionally, we stopped for electrolyte water or organic energy bars or to simply take a short rest. The rests got longer and more frequent the closer we got to the top, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

As we ascended, we passed a variety of people going both ways. One Japanese man even had a toddler on his back. I couldn't help but wonder if he had made it to the top. In retrospect, I don't think he did, but at the time I marveled at his accomplishment.

About 20 minutes into our climb, I asked my friend to pray with me. I gave the climb to God. I asked him to give us the strength to climb this literal mountain, as well as for protection. My friend and I spoke briefly about believing in angels. She felt she had received confirmation of a guardian angel just before we got on the bus. After our prayer, my step quickened. I felt a burst of energy propelling me forward. In that moment, I was more sure than ever that the mountain was already conquered, though my body slowed, my head certainly kept up the mental momentum!

We stopped at every mountain hut to have our walking sticks branded with a unique design. With each stamp, I grew more determined. Inevitably, we would stumble across people from our bus and we'd have a brief exchange. Several times we exchanged "ganbatte" with Japanese people. This word means "do your best" or "go for it".

There are ten stations on Fuji, with the tenth at the top. Around the 8th station, my hands began to get really cold and one of my fingers had turned yellow - a symptom of my Reynaud's Syndrome. I worked to get my circulation back, then put on my gloves and kept trucking. Around this time, we rounded the corner of one of the mountain huts and came face-to-face with a steep wall of rocks. My first reaction was, "YES! Let's do this thing!" In fact, this was a scenario that replayed itself numerous times. Each time, I had a similar "oh yeah!" reaction. It was my own way of cheering myself along. It worked for me.

Somewhere about half-way to station 9 I began to experience some altitude sickness. At first, I only felt slightly dizzy. Obviously, the dizziness only got worse the higher I moved. Within about 30 minutes, I also felt nauseous. We stopped, drank and ate, then began again. We moved more slowly. Though my friend was not experiencing the same effects, she was an amazing support throughout this process. Together, we worked through it taking five steps while breathing deeply, then stopping for two deep breaths. Eventually, I did begin to feel better and our pace quickened somewhat.

For the last 1.5 hours or so, the wind and rain picked up. A storm was rolling in. At times, the wind was so harsh that we had to brace ourselves against our walking sticks and lean heavily into the wind to keep from being blown over. Just when I thought the climb was never-ending, we ascended the last flight of stairs, passing under a red, shinto tori gate. We had arrived!

We stood in line to have our walking stick stamped with two special red stamps, then stepped out to find the crater. The wind was blowing so hard and fog was covering the crater. It had become dangerous and we were told not to go to the crater. We could not have seen it anyway. We planned to travel around the edge for however much time we had left, but ultimately could not for safety reasons. It was hard to come all that way and not see more of the crater and the view around Fuji.

After making a quick bathroom break, which was really a squatter, we bought some fresh, dry gloves, took some pictures at the pillar monument and decided to head down.

Compared to the ascent, the descent was only 2 hours 45 minutes. It was also zig-zagged, though the terrain never changed. It was loose lava gravel. My toes pushed into the toe of my boots. Over time, my big toes became quite sore. In the end, I finished the descent with one cracked toenail and a blister between two toes. Not bad, I think.

During the hike down, I realized we were surrounded by some beautiful plants. They were so lime green that they almost appeared to glow. The rocks were lovely as well - a rainbow of colors, but mostly red and turquoise.

There was one truly inspiring story I saw unfolding on that mountain. On the descent, we passed a young Japanese girl moving very slowly while her family encouraged her. This girl had one foot that was inverted, like a club foot - yet she made it up that mountain! My friend and I wanted to cry. It made all our obstacles pale in comparison.

Once down the mountain, we stopped for something to eat and did a little souvenir shopping. I had an "American dog", a.k.a. corn dog. It was much different from a true American corn dog, but I was thankful for it. Finally, I stopped at the post office to mail a few post cards before heading back to the bus.

I slept awhile on the ride back to base and woke up just as they were playing a video - "Touching the Void". It's a documentary about the perilous and near fatal climb of two friends. It was an appropriate topic and made me wonder if I could ever do the kind of climbing required to scale a 20,000 foot mountain. I'm not convinced that's an undertaking for me, but I won't rule it out. Like Confucius said, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". This was my single step. I'm just not sure yet where the journey will lead. I'm excited to find out!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    What an amazing and inspiring story! I love that you met a close friend through eBay! And congrats on summitting Mt Fuji!
    938 days ago
    What an awesome story! I can identify with a couple things you wrote about. I too made an eBay purchase and kept in touch with the woman for a long time by email, although we have never met. I also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2007. That was not a one day trek! I can't imagine tackling 12,000+ feet in one day! You are truly an inspiration!
    2527 days ago
    I love it! Such a wonderful story to tell and accomplishment to carry with you as you tackle anything and everything life throws at you. I am not much of a traveler so don't see Mt. Fuji in my future, but I know there are "mountains" a plenty out there just waiting to be conquered. Thanks for the inspiration. emoticon
    2527 days ago
    Your story was so inspiring, and it made me cry. I am so filled with believing I, too, can lose the 50 lbs I am setting out to lose. I have already lost 26. I can't and won't give up because those are NOT options for me! I WILL succeed! I don't know if climbling to the top fo Mt Fuji is what I would set my longterm goal to be...Maybe for me, going to a Sandals beach resort in Jamaica in the hottest bikini ever with my husband would be enough. I would feel like the sexy little thing I know I am hiding underneath all of this chub. I am unhappy with my body and I want to change that. I too was/am an emotional eater. I don't quite know when or how it started, but I am putting a stop to it now! Thank you so much for sharing this inspiring story, congrats on your weight loss, on sharing that special moment with your son, and for becoming a featured member! xo HUGS and blessings to you!
    2527 days ago
    Great adventure! Great accomplishments!!!! So incredibly impressive!!!
    2527 days ago
    I want this to be my long-term goal!!
    2528 days ago
    Wow, this is such an awesome read. Thank you for sharing.
    2654 days ago
    Congrats, Mt Fuji is an awsome mountain. I did the climb many years ago (29 or 30 years ago) and saw the early morning sunrise from the top. Stll have my walking stick with all the station stamps on it. It will always be an experience I'll never forget. I'm still climbing mountains tho is so much harder now that I am 61 and carring too many pounds. You have instipred me to try to get back into better shape and loose some pounds. Thanks.
    2655 days ago
    Wow... great recap of a fabulous mountain climb. I am putting this on my "to do" list!

    2655 days ago
  • LISED58
    Hi. What an inspirational read. Thank you so much for sharing. My son and I went to Japan in '07. A photo of us is on my Spark page ... you might notice the little snow-covered hill behind us! We'll be going back to Japan and I hope that we can schedule the climb this time around. Just driving up was a thrill. The day we arrived we had to turn back because we couldn't even see what it was we were driving up the cloud cover was so dense. The next day from the lodge we stayed at I looked up after breakfast and that is what I saw - awe striking. God bless you for your the courage you shared in your climb to your current success.
    3180 days ago
    You are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing your story. emoticon
    3181 days ago
  • STIPER23
    Wow! Climbing a moutain! How tall is it? I drove my son to the top of the Sandia Mountains outside of Albuquerque a few weeks ago and he likes to now point to the mountains and tell people he has been to the top...but we drove not climbed.
    3181 days ago
    I visited Mt. Fuji when I lived in Japan, but never climbed it...congrats to you! My Dad, at 70, climbed Mt. Mitake and got the markers for his climbing stick...I still have that!
    3181 days ago
    Very inspirational!
    3181 days ago
  • KATV865
    Very inspiring story. Just goes to show that you can do anything if you put your mind to it, even if it seems impossible at the time. GOOD FOR YOU!!
    3489 days ago
    Fabulous story! Thanks for sharing!
    3500 days ago
  • SUNNY745

    That was truly inspiring and I admire your faith! :)

    3543 days ago
    3545 days ago
  • MYRNA929
    Wow! What a wonderful story the verse about being renewed and soaring like wings of eagles definitely comes to mind (Is. 40:31).
    3545 days ago
    Ok, went through a couple of kleenex to wipe the tears! This is stupendously, wonderfully, awesomely awesome. Thank you for sharing this story. It helps me realize that without a doubt I CAN do it!!!!!
    3546 days ago
    Your story was very inspiring to me. Congratulations on your success and all you have accomplished.
    3546 days ago
  • JENNY888
    Thank you so much for posting this story. I makes me realize that there are no goals that are unreachable if you really work at them.
    3635 days ago
    What an incredible story. When I went to Mt. Fuji, in 2002, it was my desire to climb the mountain one day. Many years have passed and I now doubt it will ever happen.
    I LOVED your story, and wish you continued success.
    3663 days ago
  • no profile photo SLIMSISTERS
    How wonderful!!! Nothing changes if nothing changes. When you make changes, everything changes! Blessings!
    3684 days ago
    Wonderful story. Very encouraging. Congratulations on climbing Mt. Fuji.
    3685 days ago
    This is a great story, thanks for sharing. I visited Mt Fuji in '08 but as with you was unable to see it secondary to fog. However I was trying to enjoy it from the edge of Lake Ashi. Congratulation on your accomplishments. You are an inspiration and great storyteller. emoticon
    3685 days ago
    Very inspiring. Congratulations on climbing Mt. Fuji, and all of your "mountains".
    3685 days ago
  • KOI239
    Great and inspiring!
    3685 days ago
    Completely loved this! Tears in my eyes! emoticon
    3685 days ago
    What a great accomplishment! Congratulations!!
    3713 days ago
  • no profile photo SPUNKYGIRL7
    I throughly enjoyed your inspiring story. I wonder what you will have to share with us next time! emoticon
    3766 days ago
  • MTER67
    My husband has climbed Mt. Fuji several times--we have a couple of the stamped walking sticks in our garage. I walked parts of it back almost 12 years ago with my son when he was 2. It was (as all of Japan is) truly amazing. What a terrific journey! I think it is remarkable that you met an internet friend to climb the mountain together.

    They say that once a visitor climbs Mt. Fuji, he/she will never return to Japan. Do you have plans to go back someday?

    Congratulations on your amazing accomplishment. And thank you so much for sharing it here!
    3820 days ago
  • MACS706
    Praise GOD What a Great accomplishment. Proof that nothing is impossible with GOD... Inspiring indeed!
    Congratulations! emoticon

    3820 days ago
  • CATSTANCE cool!!! Congrats!!!
    3820 days ago
  • no profile photo FITBYFORTY
    Congratulations!! Had my son not also climbed Mt Fuji last summer, I may have breezed past this story. I'm glad I stopped to read it and congratulations on your journey!
    3820 days ago
  • JOYCEB136
    Congratulations on your accomplishments!!! May God continue to strengthen you as you continue your journey of life. emoticon
    3820 days ago
    Loved your blog. I am heading to Yokota and Fuji in three weeks. I am so ready to do this.
    3820 days ago
    Wow! Thanks for sharing!
    3820 days ago
    Wow, Congratulations.
    Not sure I will ever leave the states, may have to be happy with my Grand Canyon accomplishments. :)

    You are an inspiration!

    3859 days ago
  • MAGIC764
    What a great story! Thanks for writing it!!
    3860 days ago
    What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing this! You totally made my morning (a year later, but still inspirational!)
    3863 days ago
    Congratulations on your achievements and best of luck with the twins.
    3864 days ago
    You are an absolutely amazing human being and I stand straight and tall and Salute You!! Kip
    3865 days ago
    You are absolutely amazing! Congratulations!
    3865 days ago
    I climbed Kilimanjaro with my son in 2005. It is a powerful experience to climb a mountain. Machu Pichu is next on my list, but I'll consider adding Mt. Fuji!
    3870 days ago
    That was MOST inspiring. I think you may have helped me set my next 3 big goals. In 2002,, at 205 I went up to Machu Picchu via the train. My 21 year old son did the 4 day trail. I always wanted to do that but thought there was no way I'd ever be in shape to do it. Maybe I could, since I've now lost 45 pounds and have been swimming and doing gym work since summer...goal 1.

    I JUST learned to swim this summer. My form is getting pretty good and I noticed I'm getting faster. I'm even competitive. I try to beat someone who started 1/3 of a length in front of me...and do. I'm 56 but I think I can do a triathlon within 2 years. That's goal 2.

    I will put Mt. Fuji as Goal 3. I saw it from the bullet train window. That's it. Before reading your blog entry, I was considering much smaller goals, like which jeans to buy. Thanks again for pushing my thinking.
    4014 days ago
    Wow amazing and definitely inspiring, congratulations on all your achievements!
    4016 days ago
    We climbed Fuji-sama in July of 2005, shortly before leaving Japan in November that same year. It took me a year to grow back my two large toenails. I know what you went throguh, and what a sense of accomplishment it is to make it to the top! (Though if I'd known how hard it would be, I'm not sure I'd have done it!) Helle
    4020 days ago
    What a fantastic accomplishment, and really such a metaphor for the journey we're on! Wonderful! Congrats!

    :) Erin
    4022 days ago
    This is SO awesome! I wasn't sure if you lived in Japan or just there for this climb. What an inspiration you are to everyone around the world now thru this & your swimming! I am 20 yrs ahead of you in age, but 30 behind you in cour-age!
    4124 days ago
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