In my most ninja-like manner, I have cheated death once again. This time a mountain tried to kill me, but after a long battle it stood in defeat and I lay upon the floor, writhing in agony and victorious.
The summit of Mount Fuji is 12,395 feet in the air, and while that number is real easy to type, it is not particularly easy to climb. Jose and I began our ascent at 5:30 in the morning. It was a beautiful, semi-sunny day when we began, and we were cheerful and motivated. Why shouldn’t we have been? We could walk and breathe then. We strolled through a pleasant wooded area and began climbing up the slope on a rocky red dirt switchback path. That went on forever.
The trail up has several little huts along it, places where hikers can sleep overnight and pay an average of double price for a bottle of water. You also have to pay 200 yen to use the bathroom. A fun thing to do is buy a walking stick at the start of the hike, and for 200 yen each hut will burn a stamp into your stick. I purchased a stick and did this, because it makes one feel victorious every time you receive a stamp. Not to mention, it’s a sneaky way to steal a break from hiking.
On a clearer day you can even see the top of the mountain, and you think to yourself, I got this. I am a mountain climber. But the higher one goes, and more energy it takes to move forward. Past the seventh of nine stations, I was literally shuffling along like an old person with a walker. I would put one foot in front of the other, count ten steps, and every ten steps I would assess whether or not I needed a break. I quite frequently did. To breathe took conscious effort. The last 400 meters of climbing took me one hour. Jose and I reached the top at 11:30, and I felt certain that the stupendous-tasting bowl of ramen I ate at the summit saved my life.
I wanted to take a big fat nap at the top, but instead we faced the task of coming back down. The path down is a gravely mini-landslide haven, and by this time neither Jose or I could stand without having our legs shake violently. We switch-backed to and fro about thirty times in the pouring rain, only to reach the bottom and the three-kilometer hike it takes to make it back to the trailhead. When we finally reached our bus, I considered giving up walking for the rest of my life.
In the end, we accomplished a major life goal and only suffered massive pains in our legs, backs and arms and a severe sunburn. Don’t forget your sunscreen folks, and when you borrow it, don’t forget to remind your beloved husband to apply it to his pasty-white legs. (Jose the editor’s note: They’re not pasty white anymore.)
The mountain is officially open for only two months in the summer, and lots of folks come to climb it. But when I took a sampling of my Japanese friends and asked if they have climbed Mount Fuji, most of mine said no. With a look of you-must-be-crazy on their faces. I take this to mean that a lot of foreigners who don’t know any better climb this mountain every year.
However, my student Katsuhiro-san informed me that he has a 65-year-old relative that climbs Mount Fuji every year, and still has enough energy left when he reaches the top to send his friends and family a postcard. Yeah, yeah, Katsuhiro-san. We all know everyone here is related to a ninja.