Part 1: The Basics

There's a saying in Japan that describes two types of fools: "The fool who never climbs Mt. Fuji, and the fool who climbs Mt. Fuji twice." By that standard, I'm a complete idiot -- this was my third climb up the mountain.

I first climbed Mt. Fuji on my second trip to Japan in 1994 at age 13. I climbed with my father and his colleague Katsumi Matsuura, and although I had proposed the adventure, I soon regretted the journey. As we neared the top as I came down with a terrible case of altitude sickness that had me wrenching countless times. I swore I would never do such a stupid thing again.

But it was a hollow promise. Jon Swanson, a classmate from high school exchange in Wakayama, wanted to climb when we were both in Japan in 2001, just before I began my studies at Ritsumeikan. This time, we climbed during the afternoon, slept on the mountain and saw the sunrise (the first climb had been a day trip). But yet again, I came down with an awful case of altitude sickness and promised me I would never climb again.

Earlier this year, Michiko expressed interest in climbing Mt. Fuji, and I agreed to take her with some friends. Jon, who was working in Tokyo as a computer programmer, also eagerly agreed to join (he had climbed again by himself in 2003). Jon and I both gathered friends and we ultimately had a party of twelve people: three Americans, four Japanese, and five French nationals! It was the third trip for Jon and I; everyone else was experiencing the mountain for the first time.

There are several routes up. Previously, I have taken the east route. This time we took the southern Fujinomiya route, which is shorter in distance and time, but a more difficult climb because it mercilessly goes straight up.

But this time we were thoroughly prepared. We had plenty of energy food and water, canisters of oxygen, hiking sticks, and real mountain climbing shoes. The oxygen was a wonderful counter to altitude sickness, and no one notably suffered.

This satellite map taken from Nasa World Wind shows the route that we climbed. All twelve of us took the same route up. Michiko and I took an unusual route down together, and didn't meet up with our party until we arrived at the fifth station (as the last ones off the mountain).

That's the summary -- now for pictures. We left at 11:30pm and climbed until we reached the top at about 4:30am. The pictures I took of the night sky didn't come out, but once the sun came up I was able to take many pictures.

Click "Summit Sunrise" for more!