Ascent of Fuji-san on 2015-07-24

Climber: Peter Stone

Others in Party:Jill Stone
Twm Stone
David Stone
Ceri Stone
Patrick Stone
Date:Friday, July 24, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Elevation:12388 ft / 3775 m

Ascent Trip Report

On a family holiday to Japan we were mostly engaged in sightseeing, visiting temples, shrines and gardens, sampling exotic cuisine, relaxing in onsens, maximising the use of our Japan Rail Passes on the Shinkansen (bullet trains), revelling in novel cultural experiences and getting to grips with the language. However, I did manage to sneak a few mountain ascents into our itinerary...

Our base in the Fuji region was a gorgeous ryokan in Hakone Sengoku with typical simple Japanese accommodation, its own natural hot spring onsen and very welcoming, but non-English-speaking hosts. From there we took the Odakyu Hakone Highway bus to Gotemba where we bought hill-food from the 7-Eleven near the train station / opposite the bus terminal before catching the 10:35 bus to Subashiri-guchi 5th Station (¥2,060 round-trip). The weather during this early part of our Japan trip had been predominantly very hot, humid and overcast with heavy rain showers and sunny intervals and indeed we were thoroughly drenched in Gotemba and experienced thick cloud all the way up to the 5th Station (1,950 metres).

We started hiking at 11:45 just after the rain had stopped, taking the usual Subashiri Ascending Trail up to our overnight mountain hut, Tomoe Kan, at the 8th Station (3,400 metres). This route is very pretty, well graded and much less busy than some of the others such as the Yoshida Trail that it joins towards the top of the mountain. You are soon away from the busy bus terminus, past the small Komitake shrine and into the forest. Route finding is never a problem: just follow the trail, the roped edges of which stop you wandering over the lava fields, and remember that each route is colour-coded; Subashiri being red. Fortunately we had no more rain that day and the cloud started to break up above us once we reached the tree line, giving extensive views up and across the mountain if not over the land below. We arrived at the hut at 16:00, so 4 hours 15 minutes ascent time including all drink, food and photo stops for a mixed family group.

We'd booked ahead but there were still spaces available so it seems booking isn't absolutely essential. Dinner was served at 17:00 prompt; a burger with curry sauce on rice - significantly modified for western tastes compared to the food we had in other mountain huts in Japan. In the last few hours before sunset the cloud below us cleared completely allowing wide views to the North, East and South, including the coast and metropolitan Tokyo with its skyscrapers and Skytree clearly visible in the far distance.

As is usual in Japanese mountain huts futons and duvets or sleeping bags are provided, obviating the need to carry one's own bedding up the mountain. Sleep was difficult given our residual jet lag and the remarkable noisiness of some other western hikers (earplugs recommended), furthermore there was prolonged overnight rain beating on the roof of the hut, so the next morning when there was thick cloud all around we decided to delay our departure till after the main rush of climbers had left at about 03:00; they weren't going to get much of a dawn experience today.

After a few snacks we set off at 04:00 and made steady progress up the rocky path until just below the crater rim where we hit the end of a stationary queue with marshals with megaphones trying without success to cajole slower and faster hikers into two lines. We reached the rim at 05:10 but could have done this portion of the hike 20 minutes quicker had it not been for the density of people. Of note all distances and timings on the lower trail signs seem to be to the crater rim rather than to the true summit and many climbers are content to reach merely this point, take their selfies, have a celebratory drink and have their wooden hiking sticks stamped there with the traditional branding. The cloud was still all-enveloping as we jostled among the crowds by the monuments, shrines and tourist stalls so we started a slow clockwise circumnavigation of the crater rim, passing the tops of other routes, the Post Office and eventually made the true summit at 05:40. Remarkably the cloud started to clear just at this point and we were rewarded with atmospheric views to the west, north and east and with clouds swirling in and around the crater revealing the multi-coloured volcanic rocks, steep internal cliffs and persistent snow fields. The summit has a weather station, geographical marker and several monuments and plaques. The very highest natural rock (3,776 metres) had a small pile of Yen coins on it.

Continuing clockwise around towards the subsidiary top of Hakusan-dake (at 3,756 metres only 20 metres lower than the true summit), we climbed this peak at 06:30; a marvellous spot for quiet contemplation with great views back to Fuji-san's summit, it even has its own summit marker and torii gate. Returning to the main crater trail and after taking yet more photos we eventually left the rim at 07:10 (so a leisurely 2 hours on the top), descending back to the hut for our pre-prepared bento box breakfast at 07:50. We finally started the main descent at 09:00, taking care to follow the red Subashiri signs rather than the yellow Yoshida ones. 2 hours 30 minutes down the Subashiri Descending Trail; the sand run was fast and fun (although walking poles would have been useful) and given the recent rain remarkably non-dusty.

We made it down in good time for the 11:50 bus back to Gotemba and then the 13:10 bus back to Hakone.

Relaxing in the ryokan onsen that afternoon I reflected on the famous Japanese proverb: "He who climbs Mount Fuji is a wise man; he who climbs it twice is a fool", and decided that I must be intellectually suspect as I'd be very happy to do it all again!
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The summit of Fuji-san from the northern side of the crater rim (2015-07-24). Photo by Peter Stone.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5990 ft / 1825 m
    Route:Subashiri Trail
    Trailhead:Subashiri 5th Station  6398 ft / 1950 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Hut Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads

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