Every year between July and September, tons of people hailing from all over the world set off to climb Mt. Fuji to check one thing off their bucket lists. But this check could easily be missed if one is not well prepared!
This is a list of essentials that every hiker should minimally have or prepare for a fun, smooth sailing experience. It mainly touches on schedule, clothing, food, transport, and emergency supplies.
Even though the official climbing season is from July to mid-September, experienced and well-prepared hikers may also attempt to scale Mt. Fuji at other times of the year. Nonetheless, hikers have to be cognizant of the risks involved, as there are portions that may be icy and slippery. During winter an alpine axe or other ice tools are needed, as conditions are much harsher. The wind is equivalent to that of peaks at an altitude of 8000m, and there may be a possibility of avalanches. As such, non-experienced hikers are highly discouraged from going at those times.
As for the timeframe of the climb itself, the normal duration is 5-7 hours for the ascent and 3-4 hours for the descent. A popular choice is to start at night and reach the summit to watch the sunset. Lodging at mountain huts is available but not necessary in my opinion. And of course, day trips could also be fun as well.
As it was already summer at that time, temperatures were still manageable with 3 layers on top: a t-shirt, a fleece jacket and another shell jacket, and 1 or 2 layers for the bottom: pants and/or tights. This is recommended for July to mid-August, but perhaps one more layer would help as it gets colder in September. I got a sturdy raincoat poncho from the convenience store, both top and bottom for ¥1000, but fortunately it did not rain. People who have chronic injuries or weak joints are advised to have proper hiking shoes, but I just wore tennis shoes that I use for jogging.
Hiking poles are optional, and could also be bought at Mt. Fuji and stamped at every station as a keepsake. Mine was an awesome homemade bamboo one! A beanie or wool cap would be good to have as well, not only for the cold but because the headlamp could get pretty uncomfortable pressed up against the forehead. Sunglasses are also very useful for the descent, when the sun gets in your eyes.
If you’re planning on an overnight climb, it is advisable to have a meal at the 5th station before setting off. When speaking of trail food, GORP or muesli/energy bars come to mind. But in Japan, onigiri rice balls are the de rigeur choice. I brought 4 nectarines, senbei rice crackers, chocolate, canned tuna, 10 onigiri and 2 liters of water in an Eastpak backpack. Well, I later discovered it was too much food, and gave my climbing mates a hearty surprise. 2 liters of water was not enough though, but if you don’t want to carry more the stations on the way up and also at the summit sell 500ml bottles at ¥500 a pop.
Snacks, hot drinks and even cup noodles may also be purchased. There are no trash disposal areas anywhere from the 5th station to the summit, so be prepared to carry them home. Bring some loose change as well as the bathrooms on the way up cost ¥2-300 per go.
For transport, we caught wind of a JR pass deal that was a steal. Naturally we were going to take the Yoshida trail, as it is the most popular because of its accessibility from Tokyo. There are 3 other trails that start from different sides of the mountain and vary in difficulty. The pass included 2 consecutive days of unlimited rides on the local and rapid trains from Tokyo, on the Fujikyu Railway and on the Fuji hiking bus. We got to ride the Super Azusa from Shinjuku to Otsuki, and also the uber cute Fujisan Express! All these for just ¥5600, almost half the price if we were to buy the tickets a la carte, and may be purchased at the JR Travel Service Centres.
We all know about the effects of the notorious altitude sickness: nausea, sleepiness and even delirium. As the air gets thinner, the body takes in less oxygen and the brain gets impacted. It cannot easily be prevented, and affects people regardless of their physical fitness or strength. One way to circumvent this would be to take the hike slowly, and allow the body to acclimatize and gradually get used to the altitude. In addition, bringing along oxygen cans could be very useful.
Another emergency supply is first aid, including a standard kit of bandages and gauzes, alcohol swabs, etc. A good-to-bring item for the kit is heat packs, which may be purchased at convenience stores for just ¥100. It needs to be put in contact or close proximity to the body to retain heat, and may last up to 12 hours. It provides much comfort when it gets unbearably cold!