When planning my 40th birthday trip, I wanted to incorporate exploration and adventure while finishing it off with an epic ending. As I stood at the summit of Mt. Fuji at 4:39am, watching the sunrise over the horizon, I felt I couldn’t have asked for a more epic ending than climbing and summiting the tallest mountain in Japan.
Reaching the summit at sunrise was such an inspiring experience, making me feel that there are other mountains I could conquer that I previously thought out of reach. It’s amazing how when you go outside your comfort zone and accomplish something big, the fear that almost kept you from doing it actually propels you to want to do more.
I wanted to share this experience because if you have an active lifestyle and have ever considered climbing a mountain, Mt. Fuji is a great mountain to conquer first.
How to Reach Mt. Fuji & Where to Stay… and Eat
The mountain is a short two hour bus ride from Tokyo station in the heart of Tokyo to Kawagachi station. You buy a second bus ticket for the 45 min ride up to Subaru Line 5th Station. It is very commercial at the 5th Station, so you see a wide variety of people and can buy any supplies you may have forgotten (Hint: extra water and snacks). There are many people who come to the 5th Station to snap a couple pictures and enjoy the view for a few hours before taking the bus back down. Then there are hikers like me, with a mix of excitement and nerves, ready to conquer the mountain ahead.
The most popular trail is the Yoshida trail, marked in yellow, which most people begin at Subaru Line 5th Station in the afternoon. On the trail, there were people of all ages from children to senior citizens who had the same goal of reaching the Summit by sunrise. The difference between each person was simply how fast you are able to ascend and then descend the next morning. For example, you are told that it takes 4 hours to get from Subaru Line 5th Station to Station 8, where the majority of the sleeping huts are located. I was able to climb it in 2 hours, however a family I met at Station 8 said it took them 5 hours. You can climb at any pace your skill level and lungs allow, since it is a lot of vertical climbing up rocks and overall a steep ascent.
There are a number of different mountain huts you can stay at for dinner and sleeping for a few hours before starting for the Summit in the early morning. They fill up weeks in advance so I highly recommend reserving your spot as soon as you decide you are going. If you are staying at one of the huts, they request you are there by 6pm so you can get settled in for the evening and eat dinner. After hiking for a few hours, it was not too hard to convince me to be in time for dinner!
Since I got to Station 8 (Taishikan Hut) earlier than I expected and still had some energy left, I dropped off my backpack and kept climbing to continue exploring before coming back by 6pm. The sleeping is dormitory style in sleeping bags they provide, so after I had dinner, everyone was in their sleeping bags and going to sleep by 7:30pm. I was surprised how easy it was to go to sleep that early, but between hiking the past couple hours and the higher altitude, everyone was exhausted.
Mt Fuji Packing Tips for Climbers
When planning to climb Mt Fuji, I would recommend a couple things to bring which helped me throughout the trek. First, the temperatures at the bottom of the mountain and at the top are very different, so you will need to bring layers, even if you climb in the middle of the summer. I climbed Mt Fuji in July and although it is the busy season, the big benefit is the great weather which gives you the best chance of reaching the summit. You start out the day very warm (80-85 degrees), but as the night falls, it gets progressively colder with the temperatures at the Summit (12,776 ft) around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
You will want a hiking stick since it is mostly vertical climbing. There is a special wooden hiking stick that is sold at Station 5, which many people purchase because you get a special stamp at each Station on the way to the summit. It makes for cool piece of memorabilia from the mountain and something you use on future hiking adventures.
I recommend you bring a headlamp since you start the climb for the Summit around 1am and everyone has headlamps, so it makes it hard to see the rocks and trail without one. The headlamp is the one thing I didn’t have, but I was able to befriend a fellow hiker who was willing to light my path with his headlamp in exchange for water. I also shared my extra gloves with him, since I was extra prepared for the cold. Everyone on the mountain is friendly and willing to help each other out, so my extra supplies helped me barter for something else that I needed!
Reaching Mt Fuji’s Summit
I reached the Summit around 4am, with the last 45 minutes of the climb being very slow due to adjusting to the altitude and volume of people on the trail. I was happy to get there early since it gave me plenty of time to find a good spot and catch my breath before watching the sunrise. Although there are a lot of climbers at the summit also enjoying the sunrise, it is a large crater so there is plenty of room to find a good spot. The summit huts sell hot soups and drinks, which was a great way to keep warm while waiting for the sunrise. I had never wanted miso soup before dawn in the past, but when you are cold, it definitely hits the spot!
Around 4:30am, it was spectacular to watch the sun slowly appear on the horizon and the colors of the sky begin to change. Especially being so high above the clouds, it was a unique vantage point which I will never forget. The hum of the early morning conversations became nearly silent as everyone stared and enjoyed the beauty unfolding in front of our eyes.
After the sunrise, I enjoyed exploring around the crater before saying goodbye to the summit and my new friends in favor of making my way down the mountain and back to Tokyo. The surprising thing was that the descent was difficult too since it is so steep. Your quads start to burn after 30 minutes since you are ‘braking’ with your feet and legs most of the time. The volcanic rock is crumbly and dusty which makes for slippery terrain on the way down, since the descending Yoshida path is a different path than how you ascend. I was happy that I wasn’t in a rush so I could take breaks along the way.
As I sat on the bus on the way back to Tokyo, I was exhausted and dusty, but mostly happy and proud of what I had accomplished. I climbed the tallest mountain in Japan by myself as a way to commemorate my 40th birthday and accomplish something I wasn’t sure I could do. I had found the epic ending to my trip of exploration, adventure and conquering fears.
About the author: Amy Button loves traveling for work and fun. She constantly seeks out new adventures and unique travel experiences as she explores the world. She hopes to inspire others to go beyond their boundaries. Follow her adventures on Instagram.