Conquering Mt Fuji isn’t as easy as you may think. For us, getting to the top of old Fuji-San was all at once treacherously difficult, breathtakingly beautiful, and extremely gratifying! Yes, we got there but it wasn’t a walk in the park by any means. Read everything you need to know about how to climb Mt Fuji.
About Mt Fuji
Mt Fuji is located about 1.5 hours southwest of Tokyo. With it’s nearly perfect symmetrical cone, Mt Fuji has a summit elevation of 12,389 ft (and 3 inches). It’s the tallest mountain in Japan and yes, it’s an active volcano. It last erupted in 1708 so knowing that it was probably nearing it’s time to erupt again made this climb a little terrifying. What if it decided to erupt as we were climbing it? Nevermind the science that can almost predict when volcanoes are likely to erupt. All that mattered was an eruption was possible while we were climbing Mt Fuji. But, you only live once and the odds were in our favor. So off we went.
Climbing Mt Fuji: The Climbing Season
Mt Fuji has a climbing season, July to early September. Any other time of year climbing Mt Fuji is prohibited. Once the weather starts to cool, the trails close down. Snow would make it too dangerous. Let’s be clear, even in August if the conditions are right it might snow on Mt. Fuji. We were told to prepare for all types of weather from sun to rain and even snow. We had done our research about how to climb Mt Fuji so we packed our backpacks with everything we might need. At 3:30am we, along with 36 others, loaded up on the bus from our hotel in Tokyo for the drive to Mt. Fuji.
Mt Fuji Trails
Mt Fuji has 4 different hiking trails that lead to the summit of Mt Fuji. Each trail has it’s own name and is color coded. Yoshida is yellow, Subashiri is red, Gotemba is green, and Fujinomiya is blue. Each trail starts in different locations anywhere from 4600ft -7900ft high. Some of the trails intersect each other at some point up the mountain so it’s important to pay attention to your trailhead color to make sure you’re climbing Mt Fuji on the right path.
Each trail is slightly different from the others and takes betwen 5-7 hrs to ascend and another 3 hrs to descend. Along the trail up to the summit are huts with food and toilets called stations. All of the hikes begin at the 5th station and end at the 10th station (the summit).
Arriving at Mt Fuji
We arrived at the 5th station of the Yoshida Trail (yellow) just a little after dawn. The 5th station is as high as a vehicle is allowed to drive and would be the starting point of our hike. We exited the bus with all of our hiking gear and made last minute preparations for the hike.
Station five has a gigantic store with restrooms, food, drinks, and souvenirs. The only souvenir we wanted was our hiking stick. The Mt Fuji hiking stick is a MUST and will become your prized possesion of proof that you made the climb and reached the top. Along the hike at the stations are people who brand your stick with a special brand for that station. You definitely want this. We paid about $10 for our stick plus another $3 for a Japanese flag to tie to the top of the stick.
We also purchased some snacks and water. You definitely want to buy them at station five because the higher you get up the mountain, the more expensive these items become. You can even buy bottles of oxygen if you think you might need them. We skipped those. After we were sure we had everything we needed for climbing Mt Fuji, we hoisted on our backpacks, grabbed our sticks, and prepared to hit the ascending trail.
Our guide informed us we had until 1:30pm to reach the summit of the mountain before having to turn back. In other words, if we were not at the summit by 1:30pm, we weren’t going to make it. All 38 hikers were to meet back at station five by 6:00 pm. The bus would be departing promptly at 7:00 pm. If we weren’t there, the bus might leave us behind and we’d have to find our own way back to Tokyo.
We were warned that in the past, some climbing Mt Fuji had gotten lost and ended up on the other side of the mountain. This is why you have to remember your trailhead color. We were given a descending trail map and an emergency translation card. The card read: “I am lost, can you please get me back to station five”? Undaunted, we were ready to hit the trail.
How to Climb Mt Fuji: Start Of The Hike
The first hour or so of climbing Mt Fuji was easy. In fact, I remember thinking to myself that all this talk of Fuji being a difficult climb was a bunch of nonsense. I figured the stories had been written by people who were out of shape or generally not your active type.
It wasn’t long before I began to understand the wisdom of the old local saying. “He who climbs Mt Fuji once is a wise man, but he who climbs Mt Fuji twice is a fool”. After about two hours of relatively easy lava-rock-ridden inclined trails, things began to get a little rougher. There were larger rocks, steeper inclines, and more treacherous drop-offs the higher we went.
About every 45 minutes or so, we would reach another station. There are 10 “official stations” on the trail. However, there are many “unofficial stations” along the way. Restroom facilities at each station were archaic at best, good news being they did exist! We knew we were approaching a station as the smell rolled down the mountain. As we hiked, the smell of the station houses actually began to provide encouragement! It meant it was almost rest time.
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves focusing not on reaching the summit, but on simply reaching the next station. By now the air had become very thin and progress had slowed to a pace of short focused steps. We would hike for three minutes or so, then stop to catch our breath, removing our backpacks and actually sitting down for a rest and some water.
Branding our Sticks
As we reached each official station, we would have a progress stamp branded into our hiking sticks. These brands are a must for a cool-looking stick to hang on your souvenir wall after conquering Fuji. Each stamp cost between $2-3. The station attendants burn in each stamp just above the previous station’s brand all the way to the top of the stick.
The exterior of the station houses resembled nothing more than shacks affixed to the side of the mountain by the weight of huge lava rocks piled upon their tin roofs. The interior of the stations were very nice and Tatami matting covered the floor. You had to remove your shoes if you went inside.
Despite a reputation for spirit-breaking weather and a forecast that called for afternoon showers, Fuji-San smiled upon us this day. We had perfect weather for climbing Mt Fuji the entire hike! This is a rare event to say the least. However, we soon realized that the clear weather was both a blessing and an omen. Looking up toward the summit was very discouraging as the top of Fuji never seemed to get any closer.
We pulled ourselves up the mountain digging our hiking sticks in and filling our lungs with air, step by sluggish step. As we got nearer to the ninth station, we were completely taken aback by the site of some hikers sleeping out on a cliff, resting up for the final quarter of the hike. Ten paces out was a drop straight down!
The Final Stretch
We pressed on. After what seemed like an entire half day, we looked up and saw two Toriis. One was rather close, the other very far off in the distance. We immediately questioned others in the group on their significance. The veterans verified that yes (at last!), the second Torii was the top of Mount Fuji! With that, we were encouraged and caught our second wind. We would need it. The last quarter of the trail would be, by far, the most difficult and treacherous.
There were jagged rocks and round marble-sized lava rocks, steep drop-offs, and dizzying views down the rust-colored side of Fuji. We dug in and continued climbing Mt Fuji. We passed one Torii, then at last seeing the final Torii within 100 yards or so. Up at the top, successful Japanese climbers looked over the edge and triumphantly waived their flags from side to side, shouting encouragement to their weary tour mates down below.
With a few more steps and a few more gasps of air, we found ourselves at the top of Fuji-San standing in awe at the massive crater. It takes about 1 hour to walk around the crater of Fuji. Knowing we still had to hike down, we chose not to do so, opting instead to enjoy the view as long as possible vefore descending. We had made the climb in 5.5 hours, leaving 1.5 hours to spare! We made sure to get all of our stamps (there are several different ones available) and sat down to eat and rest before beginning our 3 hour descent down.
Climbing Mt Fuji: The Descent
One would think that getting back down to the bottom of Mt Fuji would be simple. Wrong. The entire descent trail is nothing more than a deep bed of lava rock. With each step, the heels of your shoes crunch down about 3 inches and the balls of your feet almost roll out from under you as the soles of your shoes glide over the rocks. Those individuals wearing low cut shoes spend most of the trip down emptying out stones.
The crunch, crunch, crunch of the downhill stride is never-ending and wore on the senses quickly. While facilities were archaic but plentiful on the trip up, there is only one restroom on the way down. It’s located somewhere around the bottom quarter of the trip. The good news: It’s the cleanest and best-maintained restroom on the entire trip.
After zigging and zagging back and forth downhill over deep lava rock for what seemed like an eternity, we finally found our way down to the seventh station. Shortly thereafter, the descending trail rejoined the ascending trail and all those on their way up got to take a good look at us. Dripping wet with sweat, covered in red lava dust, bright red from the beating sun, but triumphant and in good spirits. We had conquered climbing Mt Fuji!
Read all about another active volcano hike: The Santa Ana Volcano Hike in El Salvador
Climbing Mt Fuji: The Packing List
Below is an extensive list of items you might need for climbing Mt Fuji. Since you won’t know what the weather on Fuji is like you need to be prepared for anything. Do not underestimate this mountain.
- High-top hiking boots – a must for no pebbles on the way down.
- 2 pairs of socks – you will probably want to change them for the descent
- Thin warm up bottoms or pants
- Rain proof pants
- Light short-sleeve t-shirt
- Light long sleeve shirt
- Rain proof jacket
- Thin gloves – will help to prevent blisters from the hiking stick
- Cold weather gloves
- Cap or hat with brim to protect from the sun
- Sunblock – even if it’s cloudy you need this since you are at a higher altitude
- Bottled Water
- High carb snacks – granola bars, trail mix, jerky, crackers, etc…
- Good backpack
- Towel for wiping sweat
- Toilet paper – trust me
- Tylenol for altitude sickness headaches – take this at the beginning of your hike
- Band Aids and Blister pads
- Ziplock bags for food, toilet paper, money, etc… in case it rains
- Lots of Yen – we spent about $60 per person – sticks, flag, stamps, snacks, etc… Bring more just in case