How to climb Mount Fuji: A comprehensive guide

Japan Times -- Jun 01
Mount Fuji. At 3,776 meters high, it’s Japan’s tallest mountain: standalone, vast and beautiful. A little over 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, and well connected by public transport to the capital, it is also one of the world’s most popular climbs — in 2018 alone, almost 300,000 people attempted the climb in the summer season.

Despite the numbers, and the infrastructure that has been built to serve them, the mountain is not without its challenges. Altitude is one of the most significant; there is little chance to acclimatize on the hike and, approaching 4,000 meters in height, the mountain is easily tall enough to induce altitude sickness in even the fittest of climbers. Another is exposure: Above the treeline there is very little shelter, Fuji is so prominent that nothing blocks incoming weather, and conditions can change very quickly.

However, to summit Mount Fuji is a great challenge, one that should be relished. The view of Japan from the top is unparalleled, especially when sunrise is thrown into the mix. With this guide, you should have an idea of what to expect from the mountain, and what is needed to make a successful summit.

When to climb

The climbing window for Mount Fuji begins July 1 each year, when the Yoshida Trail opens, and lasts till Sept. 10. The other three trails open July 10. During this time, all trails are well serviced by public transport, mountain huts are open and emergency services and first aid are more readily available. Bear in mind that weekends are much busier than weekdays, with Saturdays the most crowded.

It is possible to do an off-season climb of Mount Fuji — and even ski the mountain during the snowy months — but that requires specialist equipment and knowledge that is beyond the scope of this guide. In the off-season, huts are closed and there is no available public transport. Multiple fatalities occur each year among people trying to summit the mountain in the off-season.

Climbing strategy

Many people aim to summit for sunrise. This means climbing throughout the night — or at least a portion of the night — depending on your strategy.

The most direct way to climb is known as the bullet ascent — beginning your climb before midnight and climbing nonstop to the summit for sunrise. While this has many advantages, speed and low cost among them (and is my preferred method of ascent), it is not recommended by the prefectural governments that manage the mountain as it increases the chances of altitude sickness.

Each trail has a number of mountain huts, and a second strategy is to climb a portion of the mountain in the early evening, have supper and sleep at a hut, and then wake before sunrise to complete the ascent. This gives the body greater time to adjust to the altitude. A night at a hut with meals included will set you back around ¥10,000, depending on the day you climb, with weekends more expensive than weekdays. Huts are basic and often crowded; most offer little more than a futon on a tatami floor. Advance reservation is necessary if you hope to stay at a hut.

If you climb overnight, time your arrival at the summit to mere minutes before sunrise. Take it from experience that it becomes very cold, very quickly if you’re hanging around for hours waiting for the sun to rise.

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