Day 13: Mt Fuji to Kyoto
Continuing from yesterday…
About 1am: The girls are both starting to feel a bit dizzy and headachy; another sign of altitude sickness. We stop at the 8th station (I think) and enquire about mountain-side sleeping; 5000 yen! ($NZ75). We find a small space next to the hut and snuggle up together; Teri has a emergency blanket that looks like it would do nothing but actually works really well. I get an hour of half-sleep. When we wake again the girls are feeling better and we press on. I make a joke about turning two girls and an emergency blanket into a "comfortable" bed on the side of Mt Fuji.
Approaching 4am: In theory the distance between each station is getting less, however the guideline times obviously aren't made for us regular humans. Towards the top things start getitng pretty congested and we can see the sky starting to lighten. Around us we can hear people getting impatient but there isn't much that can be done; the hill is getting very steep, and the moon rocks are a terrible surface to climb on, they just slip and slide. That path is only wide enough for single-file, and often it isn't that much of a path. I remember very little of this part of the climb, having entered (like most others) a kind of hiking trance, just putting one foot in front of the other and scaling whatever is in the way.
Although I don't remember getting to the top, we did eventually get there. Suddenly everything flattened out and a terrible wind was howling around; Anna's pocket thermometer/compass said it was 0°C and that's without windchill. The nearest crest had a big crowd of people and we could hardly see a thing over all the heads. Anna peered around and said "come on, I haven't come all this way to get stuck behind people!" and charged off down a side path. We lost Teri within seconds but I stayed hot on Anna's heels. We soon found a reasonable area without anyone in the way. There were two conveniently placed boulders and we used them to shelter from the wind.
Rather quickly over the next 20 minutes the sun started to climb into the cloud and the sky turned beautiful rich shades of blue, and the clouds went golden.
At 5:03am the first rays of sunlight started peeking over the clouds.
Within minutes it was all over. The crowds started dispersing and we suddenly realised how ridiculously cold it was. As the sun rose we suddenly could see how big the crater was.
Although cloudy, the view was pretty amazing. From where we were standing, it looked like with a bit of a run and jump, one could leap from Mt Fuji and land on the clouds; I wasn't quite prepared to try this though!
We wandered back towards where we had left Teri (it didn't really cross our minds how many people there were up here) and stopped to peer at the crater some more.
We found our way back to the top of the track and visited the toilets (200 yen tip). There was one heck of a queue! By the time I'd emerged Anna had already tracked down Teri. It seems girls are far more efficient at high altitude rest stops then men are. Teri had been located in the cafeteria (yes, there is one on the top of Mt Fuji, albeit selling only simple food like soup and hot tea). We joined her there and promptly fell asleep on the tables! We were definitely not the only ones doing this and I was quite surprised when I woke up a while later. It was still pretty cold, but we were out of the wind and a little bit of sun was starting to filter in. Weird to think that 24 hours earlier we'd been sweating it out running to the train on another island!
Teri wrote some postcards while I did my best zombie impressions. Outside a girl was looking very unhappy and was being treated by one of the mountain guides. In the hour or so we were up the top she hadn't moved, and the mountain guide had given her quite a bit of oxygen. I guess that is what altitude sickness looks like; I was glad we were fine!
We took a few photos at the top under the large wooden "gates" that you pass under, and posted our letters. Although our legs really didn't want to, it was time to head down the mountain. The one positive of descending the mountain was that it would get warmer and less windy as we headed down.
So off we went. Now that we could see where we were going, I was rather shocked at what we'd climbed up; it was not easy to get down! I ended up on my bum more than a few times. The moon rocks just rolled out from under you and over you went! The further down the mountain we went the shorter the breaks became. Anna was setting quite a pace, she was determined to catch that 11:30am bus!
Here is a photo of the path…
… at times these rocks are like ball bearings. The next time it rained I discovered that the rocks are also pretty sharp and had taken off a good deal of tread from my shoes!
The lower we got the more people we started passing. I was pretty shocked at some of the people we passed; old people who were having trouble picking their way around what I considered to be good parts of the track, and people hiking up with tons of gear on their back. Most of all, I couldn't believe these people were doing the hardest part of the climb in the sun! Doing it at night had been fantastic because of the cooler temperatures. Even just descending it was getting pretty hot.
To help slow us down the rope next to the path became our best friend, as did our gloves. I was very happy I'd packed them! For the curious, here is what the path looks like:
This is quite close to the bottom where it is much flatter and not nearly as rocky as it is around the top. Looks fun doesn't it!
We trudged on, trying to go as fast as possible. I was shocked at how far we had come during the night. In our trance like hiking mode on the way up, whole hours had flown by, but now that we were coming down, we were quite aware of every hour.
Finally we reached the bottom!We had made it!!! It felt pretty novel to step onto firm ground! From start to finish it had taken us around 15 hours and 5 minutes, and we had a brisk walk to the bus, where we could finally sit down and collapse.
Next thing I remember Teri was waking us up saying that if wanted a shower and bath we should get off here. So we did and we went into the onsen. This one was completely different to the one at Asahidake in Hokkaido and I didn't do an especially good job at it, managing to think I'd been locked out of bathing area, only to discover (once the cashier had come to my aid) that I was trying to slide the wrong half of the door. I felt pretty stupid. Looking back I am going to put this down to extreme tiredness, after all if I can climb Mt Fuji surely I can master a simple sliding door!
It felt good to shower, although I wasn't especially sweaty from the climb. I finished up and soon the girls came out and we got back on our bus. I remember feeling determined that I wouldn't fall asleep on the bus this time because, well I can't remember my reasoning and it was only minutes before I was asleep again. Every so often I would wake up and we'd be driving very slowly around some fairly backwaterish looking town, or trying to do a U turn in some parking lot, always fun in a big coach.
At long last we reached Shin Fuji train station. Our bus ride had taken 2 hours from Mt Fuji, which after the lightening efficiency of JR felt like a ludicrous amount of time. We found our locker and were delighted to find that it hadn't given up on us and unlocked itself. We repacked our bags on the floor of the train station. I assume being the closest station to Fuji-san we wouldn't be the first to do this, though no doubt we still turned a few heads.
We had a bit of rubbish and ran into a slight problem here; the Japanese don't believe in rubbish bins it seems. We couldn't find a single general purpose rubbish bin anywhere in the station, or even outside, or even at the 7/11 down the road! We managed to shoehorn some plastic bottles into vending machine recycling hole. My only suggestion for our other rubbish was that that Shinkansen all had bins on them. The girls went and asked the lady at the visitor's center. She asked if we were catching the Shinkansen shortly… yes… ok well they all have rubbish bins on them. I had to laugh here; the "solution" to our rubbish problems was to catch a 270km/h train!!!
We also asked about their "free wifi" sign prominently displayed outside the visitor's center and the answer was equally as weird: they didn't know they had free wifi, they had never used it before, they didn't know the name or password of the network, and they didn't know if anyone else in the station would know! And yet every day they place this sign outside… who knows, maybe "free wifi" is Japanese for something completely different?!
Having given up on rubbish and wifi, we went and caught our train. Anna had an unreserved seat on a Shinkansen back to Osaka, and Teri and I ended up on the same train too, albeit in the reserved section. We said our goodbyes and boarded the respective carriages. (Yes we disposed of our rubbish!)
In the train I waited till we'd gone two stations then went on a discrete vending machine hunt that just so happened to take me through the two unreserved carriages. I couldn't see any Annas in carriage 13, and carriage 14 was almost empty. I was beginning to wonder just where Anna had got to and then I spotted her, fast asleep. I snuck back and used one of Teri's postcards to write Anna a thankyou letter, and signed it "lots of love from row 15, carriage 12". I crept back into carriage 14 and carefully placed it under her hand and tried not to look to suspicious about it.
About half an hour later a very surprised Anna appeared at row 15 carriage 12 and excitedly told us about how she'd woken up and in her half-slumber had slowly worked out what on earth this post card was doing on her lap! While she was telling me this Teri passed out, mid sentence; it was quite amazing to watch, I had no idea someone could crash into sleep so quickly! However later when Anna had gone and I was writing on my laptop, I jerked awake to find I'd just typed an entire row of kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk. Evidently we were a little tired!
Our station came and we hopped off; the little girl in carriage 14 was fast asleep and we were going to run on and say bye, but the doors started beeping so we didn't have time. Hello Kyoto!
We found the info centre and they found us a hotel and even phoned up to reserve the last free room. They also gave us arm fulls of pamphlets and then in the blink of an eye they were closed. As we stood in the station foyer wondering which way was "south" one of the now off-duty info centre staff came by and pointed us in the right direction. Typical Japanese, so very helpful, even when they don't have to be.
Kyoto station (I think…)
We found our hotel and checked in to find Taylor Swift playing on the reception radio. I remember being in the USA when that first came out!
Our room was very nice, a Japanese style room with two little roll out futons. We put the air con on "cripsy" and admired the very Rapunzel-esque emergency escape device in our room.
For dinner we found a "cook it yourself" restaurant. Teri was a little unsure about the massive hot plate between us, as was I for that matter, but figured if we could scale a the tallest mountain in Japan, we could probably survive a restaurant. However it took me about 3 minutes to work out how to open the Japanese Lemonaide I'd ordered; it funny how the small things in life… bottles, doors, rubbish… seem to be the most difficult to master!
We managed to cook our fried rice without too much trouble, and it was pretty yummy. Our okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza, has a base of batter and cabbage and various toppings) was very nice and very filling and thankfully was cooked for us.
Back at the hotel we decided to try and plan what we would do tomorrow, after all Kyoto is a pretty amazing city with many many things to see. Instead we slept for about 12 hours straight!