Written by Annie Love, a Geocaching HQ Employee
This article was originally published in the Portuguese “GeoMagazine.”
I had heard August is the worst time of year to travel to Japan. So what did I do? I scheduled my two week holiday in Japan at the end of August. Naturally, the only reason I’d do something so silly is because of geocaching. I also wanted to climb Mt. Fuji and the window for doing so safely falls right around this time.
After cashing in airline miles for a free ticket to Tokyo, I started planning my big adventure. I knew I’d need help from locals over there, so I reached out to every contact I knew in Japan. After some months of planning, I decided to join a group of local geocachers at GC5VHCG — A CITO event that would take place on Mt. Fuji. Every year a group of Japanese geocachers makes the trek with the goal of giving back by cleaning up trash on the mountain.
While you can climb to the top and back in a day trip, the group wanted to catch the sunrise on top of the mountain, so it would be an overnight adventure for us. We left Tokyo by 8am and were at the trailhead at 11am. There were 11 of us total. Even though only three of us spoke English and I only knew four words of Japanese, we had little trouble understanding each other along the way.
We started off on the trail and were welcomed by the greeting of “Konichiwa” from every climber we passed along the way. Since the climbing season is very short on Mt. Fuji, there were plenty of climbers heading up and down the mountain. The clouds were low and a mist was falling, so we weren’t treated to great views in the first few hours of our trek.
The Fuji climb is broken up into stations, which provide naturally good rest points every 45 minutes. We started at the 5th station (2400 meters) on the Fujinomiya Trail and had booked a hut at station 9.5 for spending the night. The goal was to reach this station around 5pm, have dinner and head to bed early. We’d get up before dawn and finish the last half hour of the hike to the summit to see the sunrise on top.
I’ve done a lot of hiking over my lifetime and I must say, it’s very rare to run into places that will sell you snacks, water, or even beer mid-hike! Each station on Mt. Fuji did just that, along with providing other climbing gear, souvenirs, or just a warm, dry place to rest. For 200 yen (€1.50), you could even use a vault toilet.
Most of the climb feels like you’re walking on a Martian landscape. Everywhere you look, there’s beautiful red and black volcanic rocks and soil. We took the shortest, steepest route up the mountain. Some consider this the easiest route as I learned other routes tend to be filled with so much loose rock or scree that every step you take, you slide down the hill.
At around the 8th station, the higher clouds lifted and revealed a spectacular view of the side of Mt. Fuji and a never-ending sea of clouds. These are the types of views that make it all worth it.
We reached station 9.5 (elevation 3250 meters) on schedule around 5pm. From here, we could see the Torii (traditional Japanese gate) at the top. I could almost reach out and touch it, we were so close! After getting settled into our hut and having a nice warm meal with beer, we settled in for the night.
In the middle of the night, I woke up to sounds of the wind and rain outside our hut. I worried that this storm wasn’t going to go away by the time we were to make our summit attempt.
My worries became reality when the heavy gusting winds and rain were still there at 5am. The workers at the hut warned us that conditions were only worse on top and that it would not be safe for us to summit. My heart sank. We had worked so hard and were so close. With all the planning and effort that went into making the trip and climb possible, getting turned around by bad weather was very hard to take. But safety must come first.
Sometimes on an adventure you don’t win the “prize” you originally set out for, and that’s okay. The journey you take, the friends you’ve made, and the memories you keep make it all worth it. Now I just need to figure out when I can go back and try for the summit again. I told my new geocaching friends that I would be back someday. After all, the geocaches on the summit are still up there waiting for me!