“A wise man climbs Fuji once. A fool climbs it twice”, says the Japanese proverb. Don’t let the sight of children and grannies trudging up lull you into a false sense of security: this is a tough climb. There are several routes up the volcano, with the ascent divided into sections known as stations. Most people take a bus to the Kawaguchi-ko fifth station (go-gōme), about halfway up the volcano, where a Swiss-chalet-style gift shop marks the end of the road. The traditional hike, though, begins at Fuji-Yoshida; walking from here to the fifth station takes around five hours, and it’s another six hours before you reach the summit. Many choose to climb at night to reach the summit by dawn; during climbing season, the lights of climbers’ torches resemble a line of fireflies trailing up the volcanic scree.
Essential items to carry include at least one litre of water and some food, a torch and batteries, a raincoat and extra clothes; however hot it might be at the start of the climb, the closer you get to the summit the colder it becomes, with temperatures dropping to well below freezing, and sudden rain and lightning strikes are not uncommon. You can rest en route at any of seventeen huts, most of which provide dorm accommodation (no need for a sleeping bag), with an option to add meals; it’s essential to book in advance during peak season (August). The huts also sell snacks and stamina-building dishes, such as curry rice. For a full list of the huts and contact numbers, go to the Fuji-Yoshida city website, which also has lots of information on climbing the mountain. Once you’ve summited, it will take around an hour to make a circuit of the crater. If you’re too tired, just take part in the time-honoured tradition of making a phone call or mailing a letter from the post office.
Mount Fuji’s official climbing season runs from July 1 to the end of August; during this period all the facilities on the mountain, including huts and phones at the summit, are open. You can climb outside these dates, but don’t expect all, or indeed any, of the facilities to be in operation, and be prepared for snow and extreme cold towards the summit.