Climbing Mount Fuji
Mt. Fuji is one of the must-see sights of Japan, with beautiful scenery, cultural significance, and plenty of activities around the base for you and your travelling companions. So what better way to enjoy Japan's most famous icon and tallest mountain than to climb it?
The Mt. Fuji official climbing season is from July to August, the best weather of the year. This means no snow, warmer temperatures, less slipping and sliding, and unfortunately a whole lot of people you need to share the mountain with. In 2009 about 300,000 people climbed Mt. Fuji (thanks, wiki!), so be prepared to share the track, and, in extreme circumstances, even queue on the paths to the summit. Despite the number of people, this is the safest time of the year to climb Mt. Fuji, and so definitely worth battling the masses to the summit. Several climbing websites have suggested that the best time to climb (in order to avoid the crowds), despite the fact that it might be slightly colder, is early July on a weekday.
If you want to climb Mt. Fuji out of the official season, however, be prepared for icy-cold temperatures, dangerous conditions (avalanches are not unheard of on Mt. Fuji) and a whole lot more money for a guide. You will also need to fill out and submit at the trailhead a climbing plan so if anything goes wrong with your hike rescue parties know where to find you. To make things even harder, the overnight mountain huts that provide dormitory-style accommodation for climbers in exchange for a hefty sum of money are also only open during the official season. A few huts, however, do remain open until September (one is even open until mid-October), while some also open just before the start of the official season.
It is, however, considered extremely dangerous to climb the mountain from the October to May period. No-one, not even seasoned climbers, should try to climb Mt. Fuji during this time as the dangers the mountain presents (extremely low temperatures, avalanches, altitude sickness, etc.) can potentially result in death (as they have in the past). Seasoned climbers may, however, choose to make the climb in early September or late June. Climbing during this time should not be attempted by amateur or intermediate climbers and is dangerous and extremely taxing on the body. Don't forget to bring your own portable toilet if you're attempting a climb during this period as the toilets on Mt. Fuji are closed in the off-season!
Want to climb Mt. Fuji during the July-August period but don't want to be hustled and jostled by other climbers? Why not consider a different route. There are five routes which lead to the summit of Mt. Fuji, all of which you can start from the volcano's 5th Station. The most popular trail is the Kawaguchiko route, due to its number of mountain huts and accessibility by bus. This is one to avoid if you don't like crowds. A pilgrim trail is also available if you want to walk a route with historical significance. There are also a few other trails, like the Ochudo Route, which do not go to the summit of Mt. Fuji but are pleasant for a walk if you don't have the time to do the summit walk.
While climbing solo sounds like fun, it can be taxing to make all of the necessary arrangements for your trip by yourself (especially making reservations at the mountain huts, which fill up extremely fast during the season). You may alternatively choose to join a Mt. Fuji climbing tour group – the guide for these groups will typically pick you up from your hotel in Tokyo so you won't need to worry about confusing train times and whether you have the right ticket for the right train and so on. They usually will also give you lots of info about the mountain while you walk, book your mountain hut stay, set the walking pace for you, arrange pick-up and drop-off from your hotel, and so on.
A Few Tips for Climbing Mt. Fuji
- Make sure to pay the trailhead entrance fee of 1000 yen. This is used to help update safety measures for climbers on the mountain and protect the environment.
- Don't be surprised if your guide tells you that you will be walking through the night. If you want to see the sunrise from the summit of Mt. Fuji, walking in the pitch dark for a while is a necessity.
- Consider taking out some insurance just in case anything goes wrong on your trip – it's always best to be prepared.
- To climb Mt. Fuji, certain hiking items are highly recommended by many guiding companies. These items include but are not limited to good climbing waterproof shoes and socks, comfortable, warm clothes, gloves, beanie, raincoat, head lamp/torch, hiking poles, trail mix/snacks, backpack, drink bottle, camera, coins and cash, hat, sunnies, and some sunblock.
Pack your bags, grab your hiking poles and get planning your Mt. Fuji trekking adventure!