Practice makes perfect.
That last one translates roughly as “An idiot never climbs Mt Fuji, and you’d have to be an idiot to climb it twice.”
So, yeah. This year I made my third trek up the tallest volcano in Japan, Mt Fuji. The photo above was on my way up, just above the 8th station on the Fujinomiya trail. This was my second time up the Fujinomiya trail. Even though it’s more difficult to get to from Tokyo, it’s less crowded, and the way down is the same as the way up, avoiding most of the sliding scree field that the Fuji-Yoshida down path is. This time, also, I spent the night at the 10th Station Yamagoya, a “mountain hut” that for about 6,000 yen will let you sleep on a piece of their floor. I’ve learned a lot of lessons from my previous trips, and I’ll get to that, but let’s first get into the things I’d do differently than this time:
- I’d choose a different yamagoya. That’s no hack on the 10th Station yamagoya. But they don’t allow you out until 4am, and I’d like to have been in place and shooting by 3am. Also, I think sleeping at 3700m of elevation is hard if you aren’t fully adjusted. I suspect sleeping at or below the 8th Station, while meaning an earlier wake-up, and a hike against the clock to get to a spot before sunrise, would be much better for avoiding altitude sickness. I don’t think I’d choose to do the non-stop “bullet climb,” climbing at night, shooting sunrise, summiting, and hiking down without sleep. I’ve done it before. It’s not horrible. But I think the yamagoya are a good option.
- I’d bring an eye mask. It’s new this year, but there were people with no respect, and every time someone checked their phone in the middle of the night, it was glaringly bright in the dark yamagoya.
- I’d bring an extra liter of water. I only brought two because I was altitude sick my previous climbs and didn’t drink or eat at the top. This time was my slowest ascent, getting to the 5th Station at 9:30, and getting to the 10th Station yamagoya at 6pm. The slow speed wasn’t due to anything but a choice… going slow to give our bodies time to adjust and avoid the worst of the altitude sickness. My two liters made it up and back down to about the 7th station. Then I was out, and wishing I had a bit more.
My bag was a total of 14kg this this, 2kg lighter than two years ago. Not sure exactly what the difference is, but let’s get right into the nitty-gritty of it.
I brought three hats. Climbing up or down in the daytime, you’re going to need a sun hat. Mine doubles as a rain hat, thanks to the miracle of Gore-Tex. I also brought my wool bicycle cap with ear flaps. Great for making sure you have an insulating layer between you and that yamagoya pillow you don’t know how they clean, but also wool is key for mountaineering. Mt Fuji may be mountaineering with training wheels, but they don’t say “cotton kills” for nothing. Even wet wool will keep you warm, and so this is my base layer for the cold at the summit, with a synthetic blend toque to go on top of that. Because the top is cold. Normally. It wasn’t this time. I ended up never using the toque. But don’t plan on that. Plan on it being brass-monkey-cold at the top.
I brought three layers of gloves. I wear bicycle gloves on the way up and down a lot because on my first trip, I cut up my hands a bit on the sharp volcanic rock. If you put your hand down anywhere, it’s probably going to be on sharp rock. The wool gloves are for warm. The last pair are a thin rain shell glove to keep my dry in the rain. Again, this time, it was pretty warm at the top, so I ended up not using the wool gloves, but I did use the other two. Plan for rain on Fuji, always. It will get you at some point.
Rain gear is key. Tops and bottoms. Besides being statistically likely that you’re going to be in the rain at some point on Mt Fuji, rain gear is a key wind-breaking layer to keep you warm at the top.
Speaking of keeping you warm at the top. I’ve always been cold at the top, so this time I brought my heavier down jacket, which still isn’t anything fancy. I got it for 5,000 yen off the clearance rack at an outdoor shop in Shinjuku. Never heard of the brand before, but it does it’s job. Under that was my trusty Uniqlo fleece.
Due to the landmark Supreme Court case Sun v Guns, while the sun is out, guns must be prominently displayed. So my bottom later is a tank top. It’s a super-moisture-wicking, super-light layer, because you are gonna sweat. Last trip up, I was extra crispy, and then extra peely afterwards, so to avoid the sunburn, I started putting on more layers as I felt the sun getting to me. I had a short-sleeved rash guard, two layers of long underwear, and a long-sleeve moisture-wicking running shirt to put on or take off as necessary.
On the bottom end of things, I had a layer of cotton socks which I used on the way up, and then in the morning before leaving the Yamagoya, put the wool socks over them. I would have been ok with just the wool socks this year because it was warm, but if I had the money, I would have had two pair of wool socks. Two layers of Uniqlo long underwear because it’s what I have, but a nice wool long underwear probably would have been better. I had one pair of hiking pants, they’re light enough so when you’re hot and sweaty on the way up, they’re a good option, and then you can put the long underwear on as it gets cold, and then the rain pants over the top as you get really cold on the top. My Merrell hiking shoes aren’t my favorite pair of Merrells that I’ve owned. There’s too much rise in the heel. But they’re shoe enough for Mt Fuji. As long as you’ve got the wool socks to make sure you stay warm in a rainstorm, you don’t really need to go with one of the full mountaineering boots.
I was carrying everything in a Millet Prolighter 30+10, a lightweight bag that does it’s job amazingly well. My last trip up, I used a Millet Elium 25, and I felt it was just a touch too small. Also, I can see light through the bottom of the Elium 25 now. Because I’ve used the heck out of it. It was probably a good time to get a new backpack. I love the Sea-to-Summit Ultra-Sil pack covers. They’re as waterproof as you can ask, and they’re super adjustable. I use the medium 50-70L cover, because I stretch it over my F-Stop Tilopia with the tripod attached to the outside, or in this case, the Millet with the tripod attached to the outside, or even just my laptop backpack when kicking across Tokyo in the rain. It’s that adjustable. I love it.
I’m one of those people who can eat, or not. So for food on the hike, I bring a bag of mixed nuts, about a quarter bag of dried cranberries, and a box of coconut milk. Calorie dense foods, and I barely ate any of them on the mountain. But I was glad to have them, just in case. I had hand wipes, both with and without alcohol, and hand sanitizer. Because bathrooms are gross, even when they’re not dealing with the logistic issues of being on the side of a mountain without proper running water. Speaking of proper running water, brush your teeth at the 5th Station, before you start the climb. Because that’s the last time you’ll get a good place to do it until you get back to the 5th station and complete your climb. The watch is useful if you are worried about your yamagoya’s curfew time, or getting to the right spot in time for sunrise. You can totally use your phone. It’s just easier to use a watch and not pull your phone out of your bag/pocket/whatever. Also, I’m a watch guy. I like my watch. I’ve used it forever at this point. Sunglasses are definitely required gear. Polarized is nice, but I’m not 100% convinced it’s necessary for a summer Mt Fuji hike. Sunscreen is necessary however. Use a lot of it, and use the sunscreen-capable chapstick as well. I had some, but it isn’t pictured.
My climbing poles were the cheapest I could find. I got them on clearance in a pop-up market sale at Mt Takao. They were cheap because they were ugly. So now they’re red to match my raingear. The magic of paint! A Leatherman is the sort of thing that isn’t necessary on Mt Fuji. Unless things have gone horribly, horribly wrong, and then it can be lifesaving. That’s my sad little first aid kit there. It’s some Vetrap, Band-Aids, Neosporin, and some sterile packaged gauze. The sticks can be used as a splint in an emergency, and Mt Fuji is mountaineering on training wheels. You’re never far from someone that will go and get help, or a mountain hut that will have access to the mountain rescue infrastructure. It wouldn’t hurt to bring more, but I went light this trip. Speaking of light, there’s my headlamp, and my extra batteries because nothing ever works like it should. The extra batteries were unnecessary on every trip I’ve taken up Fuji. I will still take them up next time, too.
A towel is good. Every hoopy frood knows where his towel is. The phat battery for my cell phone is because if you need your phone in an emergency, you’re going to feel like a jerk for having killed the battery catching Pokémon. And you have to catch ’em all. ‘Em all. It’s an imperative. Yes, there are Pokemon on Fuji, and gyms. Mostly at the stations. At the 10th station there’s a post office where you can buy postcards and stuff, so bring a pen, because it’s crowded and if you have your own pen, it’ll buy you some freedom while you write. That’s my backup flashlight there, because dark is bad, and things break. I’m a Platy guy. It’s cool if you’re a Camelbak guy. They scare me because in my mind the horror of all that water dumping out onto my camera through that big opening is super scary. Maybe unfounded, but scary. Either way, hydration pouch is way better than bottles. 2L this time wasn’t quite enough. A 3l would have been too much, but you can always fill it to 2.5L.
This pic is for the yamagoya sleepers. Earplugs are a necessity. I’ve never heard so many snorers in my life. So is the air mattress – that’s mine on the right. The yamagoya don’t have the softest floors, so the futon, which isn’t bad, isn’t enough. Not for me. I didn’t bring my sleeping bag liner this time out of space considerations, but I wished I had. I’m just kinda weird because I don’t know how well or often they clean the futons in the yamagoya, and that insulating layer between my body and the mystery mattresses would have been appreciated. And again, I should have brought an eye mask.
And here we go, getting to the meat of why I’ve made three trips up the same volcano. My camera gear all went in that cushioned bag on the top left there. My D800 has been a lot of places, and now it’s been on top of Mt. Fuji twice. Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF-D, Tamron 24-70 f/2.8, and Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T lenses. An extra battery. A SD card memory case with 160gb of memory cards, with another 128gb in the camera’s two slots. Lens cleaning pen, tissues, cleaning solution, microfiber cloth, remote trigger, and blower. Also, Dutch Girl, for my Instagram thing that I’ve been doing. That’s my wallet there, and my coin purse for Mt Fuji’s 200 yen toilets. Bring all the 100 yen coins you can. The 551 Horai bag is illustrative, it wasn’t the actual garbage bag I brought with me. But bring a bag with you. It doesn’t have to be a 551 Horai bag. No, I don’t know how even a vegan as bad as I am ended up with a 551 Horai bag. I’m guessing it’s my college roommate Tracy’s fault. She visited earlier this year. I’m fairly certain it’s not old enough to be my old friend and occasional house guest Brad Crawford’s fault. By the way, Brad, I did eventually throw out the tea you left in my fridge. I figure there’s a 6 month or so limit on those sorts of things.
Not naming any names, but at some point in my life, I was on a mountain with this tripod. And another photographer chose a light-weight tripod. We both took photos, and mine turned out because it was stable, and the wind wasn’t bouncing the camera around. I know that this tripod, which has been with me all three times I’ve climbed Mt Fuji, accounts for fully 14% of the weight of my backpack, at 2kg. And it’s totally worth it. It’s why I can bracket, or do long pre-dawn exposures. Sure, you can spend more money and get that weight down, but this tripod’s been a trooper. I’ve had it almost 10 years, bought it used for 10,000 yen, and it’s got leather grips that the previous owner must have paid to put on themselves. It’s a champ, and absolutely essential gear.
There’s one more piece of gear that is mission-critical, but isn’t really gear, per say. The weather forecast at http://tenkura.n-kishou.co.jp/tk/kanko/kad.html?code=19150004&type=15 is priceless. It is updated constantly, and it breaks it down super easy: A = Good for photos. B = Bad for photos, fine for climbing. C = Yuk.
I’ve climbed in C. It didn’t feel dangerous, but it did not feel fun. I have vivid memories. It’s one of those things that I still talk about. On the reg. With the photographer I was with at the time, 5 years ago. We pretty much agreed to never do that again. It was wet and cold. I’ve never ever seen a coin toilet as crowded as the Marunouchi morning rush trains before or since.
I think that’s everything. If I’ve forgotten anything, chime in and let me know. There’s a future post incoming with all the photos from the trip. If you climb this year, stay safe, and enjoy it! This last photo was taken by a Mt Fuji Tour guide who’s a smart cookie. He just volunteered to take everyone’s photo at the summit because that made the line go faster, so his clients could get their photos faster. Thanks, unknown guide dude!