“He who climbs Mount Fuji, is a wise man. He who climbs it twice, is a fool.”
– Japanese Proverb
I walk to Kawaguchiko Station and buy a round trip ticket to Mt. Fuji’s Yoshida Fifth station. At 8:10 p.m. the bus pulls out of the station. The sun has been set for a few hours by now and the chill of the night begins to settle in. I recruited a girl from my hostel dorm room to make the climb with me tonight, so we chat and get to know each other more as we head to fifth station. The road is constantly winding for an hour as we ascend to 2300 meters.
Bullet climbing or as the Japanese call it “dangan tozan”, is climbing Mount Fuji through the night and reaching the summit at sunrise. You must do this climb with great caution and preparedness. I tried to sleep during the day before, but wasn’t able to. That was the beginning of my downfall (see my blog – Altitude Sickness to read what happened).
We unload from the bus and decide to hang out around the shops there to acclimatize to the altitude. We met a couple from Los Angeles and chatted for a while. At 10 p.m., we all headed to the trail. When we arrived at the station’s trail head, we paid our entrance “donation” of 1,000 JPY (about $9 USD) per person. Head lamps and gloves on, boots laced up tight… Here we go!
Around 10:30 p.m. we reach sixth station. We see signs advising against bullet climbing Mount Fuji. 🤷🏻♀️
Between sixth and seventh station, my new friend Lauren, and I take our time to ascend. We both are having some stomach upset/pain. We take frequent breaks during the constant switchbacks between the stations, stopping to admire the INCREDIBLE amount of stars. The sky was so clear we could actually see the Milky Way in the sky. It was so beautiful.
We arrive at seventh station at 11:55 p.m. We have a seat on the benches, chat with some fellow bullet climbers and have a snack. My stomach is still not feeling great so I force myself to eat a banana. After about ten or fifteen minutes, we head back out on the trail.
We found (and after talking to others, they agree), the climb between the seventh and eighth station is the most difficult. It is very physically challenging, it’s a long course and involves more technical abilities of navigating over large rocks, boulders and scrambles. This section took the longest to complete. With it being night, we can only see as far as our headlamps. I was absolutely elated when we arrived at the eighth station at 2 a.m.
Eighth station sits at 3100 meters, and there is a sign saying “three hours to summit”. Sunrise is at 5:15. We are right on schedule, but we know that we can’t be taking long rests anymore. After a quick break and some pictures at eighth station, we’re back on the trail, headed to the original eighth station.
At 3:30 a.m. we arrive at the original eighth station, 3,350 meters in elevation. Still 1.4 km from the summit. We take a ten minute break and have some snacks and water. Lauren and I are feeling the altitude sickness settling in again. Both of us are suffering from stomach upset, but we keep trekking (make your own conclusion about that – we were stupid or determined. Maybe both? ha!).
The final push. We reach ninth station around 4:15 a.m. The sky is beginning to lighten, the stars are slowly disappearing, and we’re still a little ways from the summit. We have one hour until sunrise…
We reach a sign that says “200 meters to summit”. We begin to see mountain officials that are trying to keep people climbing continuously because sunrise is fast approaching and there’s a queue forming on the trail. Everyone’s trying to get to summit by sunrise. Lauren and I reach the summit shrine at 4:55 a.m. We quickly walk around the area at the summit trying to find a good viewing point. We find one!! I set up my GoPro and start my time lapse. Lauren and I take a seat on the lava rocks and enjoy the sweet taste of victory: Hot chocolate, snacks and sunrise from the top of Mount Fuji.
The summit is very cold. I’m outfitted in a tank top, a long sleeve tech shirt, a long underwear style long sleeve shirt, a fleece hoodie and a down jacket. Oh, and two pairs of gloves haha. But the view is incredible. As soon as the sun peaks over the clouds in the distance, we can feel it’s warmth. Luckily, the wind wasn’t too strong and the sky was incredibly clear. We stay at the top enjoying the view and taking pictures for just over an hour. At 6:15 we begin our descent.
The descent is no walk in the park either. While it’s entirely switchbacks, they are very steep and composed of loose rocks and dirt, making for tricky footing. We descended pretty quickly (our knees weren’t happy with us for that either). During the descent we made sure to enjoy the rapidly changing views. One minute you are above the clouds with a gorgeous view of the rising sun, then you’re in the clouds. There the temperature drops and you can barely see the end of the current switchback you’re on. Next, you are below the clouds, where you have incredible views of the Aokigahara forest (commonly called “the sea of trees” and “the suicide forest”) that lays at the feet of the mountain. So much green. We got back to the fifth station at 9 a.m.
9:30 a.m. we board our bus back to Kawaguchiko. Forty-five minutes later we’re pulling into Kawaguchiko station. We unload and Lauren and I begin our one mile walk back to our hostel. Our bodies are sore and are screaming at us with every step. We walk in silence, we are so exhausted. Back at the hostel, I immediately take a shower. Oh what a glorious shower. It’s 11 a.m., I put on my pajamas and crawl into my bottom bunk and pass out for a few hours.
Overall, our Mount Fuji endeavor took fourteen hours, from hostel back to hostel. The climb is a real challenge and should not be taken lightly. I’m so happy I was finally able to make it to Japan and make the climb. Another adventure to check off the bucket list! ✅