I managed to trek to the top of Mt Fuji during the high season, almost all by myself. How did I escape the other tourists? I only passed four Japanese people and two Germans on the way up to the eighth station. And on my way to the top, I managed to avoid the mobs of people to enjoy the sunrise with few people around.
Mt. Fuji is one of the most popular volcano mountains to trek in the world. In Japan it is one of the three “holy mountains” together with Mt. Tate and Mt. Haku. It is also part of the World Heritage Cultural Sites and one of Japan’s top 100 mountains. Just for the beauty alone, one has to go there! The views of Mt. Fuji from afar are truly spectacular but the views of the nearby towns and lakes from the top of Mt. Fuji itself are breathtaking, specially during sunset and sunrise.
This place is visited by around 400,000 tourists a year and most of them visit during the official (peak) season from early July to early September. This mountain is well prepared for tourists with medical stations, mountain huts, bathrooms and shops along the way. Most of these are located on the popular trail of Yoshida. The one to avoid if you can…
There are four trails on the mountain. The Yoshida trail is the most popular one, chosen by the majority of Japanese and foreign tourists. The fastest climb but with the most elevation gain is the Fujinomiya trail; which is frequented by people that want to go up and come down during the day, in one day. The other two are a lot less popular because they take a bit longer and have steeper ascents, the Subashiri and Gotemba trails. For more details on all four trails, the climbing season and other specifics please visit the official Mt. Fuji site at www.fujisan-climb.jp
If you really want to avoid the crowds and not spend a lot of money, then you should climb the mountain at night. You can begin from the base of the Yoshida trail at around 8:30 pm and reach the top to watch the sunrise just before 4:30 am. It is cold and very windy at the top so if you can afford to spend a bit more money, then I would recommend doing it during the day. Here are some of my recommendations based on my very enjoyable experience:
– Avoid the weekends and go up on a weekday. You will find less people on the mountain.
– Avoid the Japanese school holidays and go as close to the end of the official trekking season as possible. I went on August 31st.
– Trek on the Subashiri or the Gotemba trail. The Subashiri and the Yoshida trail unite after the eighth station but you can avoid the crowds for the summit (see later point on this).
– If you opt for the Subashiri trail like I did, take the 8:30 am bus from Gotemba railway station and begin your climb by 10:00am from the 5th station. Don’t go earlier or later to avoid crowds. I was by myself 95% of the time up until the eighth station.
– If you can afford it, spend the night at one of the mountain huts on the eighth station. It will allow you to get some much needed rest to get ready for your final push to the top. It will also aid with acclimatization. Don’t expect much from the mountain hut. It is a dorm-like accomodation for almost US$60/night, everything here is expensive from the food to the bathroom use, at least for the budget traveler like me.
– Wait to do your final ascent until everyone else has gone up by leaving just before 4:00 am. You will see the sunrise just below the crater by yourself or with just a few other people. This side of the volcano gets the same view of the sunrise no matter where you are- at the top or just below the crater. It is the same! There is no need to rush to the top and have to fight others for a spot to enjoy the sunrise.
– After you enjoy the sunrise, go around the crater, visit the highest point on the volcano and go down after the mobs of people have left. Most people seem to just reach the crater and go down immediately.
– Take the Subashiri or Gotemba descent trail down. It is a bit tough on the knees but it is easy and quick as you practically slide down on volcanic ash and rock all the way down. I made it down to the 5th station in less than four hours (with a bad knee) and was able to catch the 11:50 am bus back to the Gotemba railway station.
I hope these recommendations will be helpful for you. I truly enjoyed my trek up this volcano and I can honestly say that it has been one of my favorite hikes ever. The scenery from up there is pretty spectacular. I have read many blogs on the subject and have read a lot of complaints about the mountain being extremely crowded. If you follow some of my tips, I think you will really enjoy it and be by yourself most of the time. Happy Trekking!!!
A bit more on the Subashiri trail- it is well marked all the way to the top with signs indicating any important point, ie. stations and junctions. You do not need a guide on this trail, it is easy to follow. I was by myself most of the time and did not get lost. This is the 2nd least crowded of the four trails. I saw about six people on my way to the eighth station. At the huts you see more people as the trail merges with the Yoshida trail. The actual climb up is fairly easy on volcanic rock with pine trees all around, up to 2700m. Get your supplies in advance as things can get expensive on the mountain, specially the higher you go. The water is 300 yen at station 6 and then it goes up to 500 yen after that. I made it to the top in 4.5 hrs taking a few short breaks along the way. The bathrooms were 500 yen so I had to find spots a bit off the trail to pee for free (I did not leave traces though). At the mountain hut, impossible to get away with this as the bathroom entry has a turn-style machine that only works with money! 200 yen up here, at least it was a bit cheaper. The beds are mats with nice thick blankets one next to the other, you can’t even turn or you will be on your neighbor. These are very cozy quarters. Keep in mind, there is no heat, no showers. Not one Western girl here and only one Asian with her husband. One night at the hut; which is located at 3400m (approx. 10,300ft) cost $59.90 and $83.50 with two meals, a beef curry with rice meatloaf ball, pickled cabbage and two small sausage links, and water served at 4:00pm. Breakfast is a boxed lunch with juice given to you as soon as you arrive. It is soooo cold and windy up here that it will be tough getting up at 2:30 am (or 3:30 am like I did) to see the sunrise. I ended up buying feet warmers, gloves and hand warmers for $7. At the hut I was only one mile away from the crater summit but I decided to stay the night to acclimatize a bit more. I am not so good at altitude. If you don’t have issues with altitude then I would recommend doing it all in one day hike and saving some money. They sell headlamps for $15 but they din’t look to be of high quality so they may not last more than a few months.