Fujisan (富士山), Japan's highest mountain, needs no introduction. The outstanding symbol of Japan on a billion postcards, woodcut prints, calendars and fridge magnets worldwide, this sacred, symmetrical snow-capped cone has held a special place in the Japanese cultural consciousness since time immemorial.
As of June 2013, that cultural significance has been internationally recognized in the form of UNESCO World Heritage status, noting Mt. Fuji's defining role in Japanese art, religion, tourism and popular imagination. And if you live around Tokyo, commute on its trains or expressways or hike in its mountains, then chances are that every now and then, when the horizon is clear of clouds or smog, there Mt. Fuji will be: a timeless landmark, a stalwart constant, standing firm in an ocean of endless upheaval and change.
A few friends and I decided to climb it. At night. This post is as much to provide information and useful advice for those hoping to do similar as it is a commentary on our trek, because at 3,776 metres high, climbing Mt. Fuji is a serious undertaking.
Mt. Fuji climbing season is open for only two months per year – July and August – when the mountain huts and services are running, regular bus routes serve the trailheads, and hundreds of thousands of people from Japan and abroad pour in to attempt the climb. Even then, when Tokyo scorches in thirty-degree summer heat, Fuji's upper reaches and summit may fall below freezing amidst battering winds and shrouds of cloud. In winter these winds become extreme, temperatures plunge to minus thirty, and severe snow and ice bring a perpetual risk of avalanches, making an ascent not far from maniacal.
Ascending at night adds darkness and fatigue to this mix, but will reward you with one of the most magnificent experiences, natural and cultural, in the entire sum of what Japan has to offer: the rise of the morning sun, as witnessed high above the clouds and peaks of the mortal world.
Make no mistake: you'll bring your mortality with you and be reminded of it as it clatters against you on every step of the way – especially as you straggle back down the next day on thirty hours without sleep. Click below to see the full account.