When you leave Japan, a strange feeling, something like homesickness gets you. Almost a year after I left that magical country I decided to start a brief but surely interesting new adventure in the country of the rising sun. I knew the city, even too much maybe. I had lived there for so long that, back then, I could not get myself into the tourist mentality anymore.
However, there was something that had to be done yet. Something that was close to that area and I had still to experience. I just needed a mate, a lifetime companion for me in that part of the world. I composed a text, putting my proposal in the right way. A bit of introduction to the subject and then:
"Hey Yoi, would you like to climb Mount Fuji with me?"
July 25, 10:37. I find myself observing from downward a mountain that appears majestic and a bit fearsome: Mount Fuji. The highest mountain in Japan, 3776 meters high, represents a beloved symbol of this country.
On the coach taking me to where I am now, the big mountain was appearing to me little by little, instilling in me that feeling of respect mixed with a bit of fear for what I was about to do. Now that I could see it clearly, although I still have confidence in my skills, my worries have grown and I start believing that maybe it will not be that easy. I take a look at the trail map. There are ten stages associated with a shelter. Thanks to the bus we have passed five of them already with of course some meters of ascent included. “Only” 2000 meters are left.
My adventure mates and me start our challenge without waiting too much. Until the sixth stage, the path does not look that demanding, much of the stamina is still used to joke and laugh together. From the sixth stage on, our attitude drastically changes: the ascent starts being steeper and the vegetation gradually disappears. The shades of green around me are substituted by grey rocks on which it is asked us to climb, and the clay color of the volcanic ground now fully covers my boots. The landscape makes me imagine climbing Mount Doom rather than Mt. Fuji, and I can finally understand why Frodo had to be carried by Sam up to the top of the mountain at the end of the movie.
Our ascent proceeds slowly and with some difficult moments. Because of that, after the seventh shelter I decide to leave behind my crew in order to find a rhythm more suitable to me. I will wait for them later. “Step by step”, “little by little” is what I repeat to myself. The confidence that was still strong enough at the beginning of the adventure, now completely left me. Only the wonderful view helps me remember why did I decide to start this endeavor.
When I reach a point above the clouds, the world is down there, under my feet, but I am still far from dominating that extraordinary volcano that unperturbedly still observes me in pain. The altitude gradually changes and I start feeling the difference. The air gets more rarefied, the wind and the cold hit me with more strength. In addition, my lifetime hypochondria smashes all my certainties about my abilities, and I am now tempted to buy that super expensive oxygen.
I arrive at the eighth stage completely exhausted. Here, some Japanese people, after have looked at me in all my discouragement, try to make me feel better by starting talking with me, and by reserving me some really nice words about my country. They even give me some sweets and they encourage me to continue on. Thanks to them I am a bit more relieved and I have enough energy to reach the intermediate shelter between the stage eight and nine where I will spend the night. I wait for my friends left behind and judging from their faces they did not have a better time than me.
After few moments of rest, we talk a bit about what is best to do. Although, it is still afternoon, our plan is to sleep as soon as possible and then to start the last 400 meters of ascent during the night. We want to see the sunrise from the top. We fall asleep, one close to the other in our sleeping bags, under the characteristic roof of the shelter: the sleep soon catches us; making us forget for a moment what it is yet to be done.
Around 1 a.m. we are ready to start walking again. We are not alone though. An astonishing multitude of people precedes us, and slowly climbs up to the top. We were supposed to reach it in one hour and a half, but soon we realize that the time needed would have grown drastically.
At 3 a.m, we are now on the steepest side of the mountain but more than climbing it looks like we are waiting for our turn at the supermarket cashier. We do not move much, and because of that very reason the cold is unbearable. It is windy with no pauses and although it is July I think the temperature is around 0 degrees Celsius. My head is killing me. I repeat to myself, it is nothing but the cold, that no altitude effects are actually effecting me. Every once in a while I try to exchange a few words with my friends, but no one of us feels like talking too much.
Around 4 a.m. the light starts increasing. I see the top closer and closer and some guides encourage everyone to resist giving up: ten minutes left to our goal. The last moments of ascent are a mix of happiness and huge efforts. My confidence is now high though; no one could fail at this point. Meter after meter, we climb incessantly until we reach a torii guarded by two komainu that only for this occasion look welcoming to me. I cross the threshold where a guide gives me a high five.
While little by little the light rises and brings with her a bit of heat, I find a spot among the crowd that collected at the top. I now wait for the natural show to start. I think about all that happened on the way to this point; of all the time spent in order to reach the summit. We reached our goal in more or less ten hours. Ten infinite hours with a path that sometimes appeared impossible to dominate. I am proud of myself, but in some ways unsatisfied. Although the view is wonderful, the landscape is desolate. No nature shows on the Fuji, only rocks and sand.
While reasoning on that fact though, something with its arrival makes me suddenly change my mind: the sun rises. The very important guest of the event appears in all his vermillion beauty. The time seems to stop, and in a moment of astonishing wonder, cuddled by that light, my face is caressed with infinite sweetness. Listening to the notes of the kimigayo anthem I get my strengths and energies back. I look around me. I try to grasp all the details of that incredible experience and I am stunned but that solemn atmosphere of respect toward the nature that surrounds me.
"Ohayougozaimasu! Banzai!" an indistinct individual screams far from me. I made it. I climbed Mount Fuji!
At 5:17 a.m., after a brief stop at one of the small souvenir shops on the top and after a hot miso soup that seemed the best one in all my life, we are ready to descend. I take a look at the crater, but when I realize that one of my friends is starting to feel some of the symptoms of altitude sickness, I hurry with him down the mountain. Now the path is maybe the opposite of the ascent. The descent is fast, even too fast, and we have to be careful not to slip on the volcanic ground that now is nothing but sand. I soon notice that the worst part is gone. Sporadically a bit of grass starts showing again and before even realizing it, I find myself in the woods close to the point where the adventure started.
At 8:30 a.m., completely exhausted, my friends and I all are sitting on a bench at the starting point. All with a cold drink held in our hands, we look at each other. We are tired, but as soon as someone starts talking again, the laughs and smiles appear on our faces again.
We are proud of ourselves and honored that we had the possibility to witness that great natural show. One thing is sure: we will never do that again! Because as the ancient Japanese proverb says: "A wise man will climb Mt Fuji once, a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice."