Friday, August 18, 2017

Mountain Fuji

Jude has been calling it "Mountain Fuji" since we got here, so I have a hard time dropping the -ain. One of the first things I put on my mental bucket list when we moved here was, "Climb Mount Fuji." I said it somewhat jokingly, never intending to actually do such a thing. 

And then I met Merri. 

She has a way of making really crazy things seem doable. Like go karting through one of the busiest cities in the world, dressed as a cartoon character. And climbing an active volcano. And visiting an onsen. When she asked if I wanted to climb Mount Fuji, I answered very quickly without thinking terribly hard about the question. 

I should've guessed at the difficulty level when no other newbs joined in on this crazy scheme. This was Merri's third climb and Nina's second. 

 At the 5th Station:
 A bus from base shuttled us up to the 5th station with 12 strangers from Yokota. 
 Look how smily and fresh we looked. Obviously, this was pre-climb. 
 This was the first little stretchI thought. I was all, "What's the big deal? I can totally do this." As it turns out, this was just the path leading to the climb. This is how they trick gullible people into climbing things. 

 It rained and rained and rained. 

 I really liked the boulder parts of the climb. I mean, at the beginning. By the end I was over all forms of rock.  


 Yes. This. 

 I thought the first leg of our trip would never end.
 Nina was amazing. She just trudged through. I don't think she stopped! Every time I looked at her, she was steadily plodding along. 

 We made it up to our mountain hut at 4:30. Out of the 15 people in our group, only 2 beat us, and not by much. We made it in 4.5 hours, which I'm told is very good time. I was pretty proud to keep up with Nina and Merri. 

 We stayed at Fuji-san Hotel. The clouds broke right about the time we got our dry clothes on. 

 That's our guide Kuni at the end. He's a pro athlete here in Japan. The dude is 50 years old and can make it to the summit in 2 hours. He makes it back down in 30 minutes. I honestly cannot fathom how he does either. Nicest guy ever! And lest you think I mean guide as in guide...he basically just went ahead of us(quickly) and made sure all were accounted for by the end of the night. He did no hand-holding whatsoever. He didn't walk with us or tell us stories or try to keep us from throwing ourselves off the side of the mountain. 
 I took a ton of pictures of these two buildings because I wasn't willing to climb up or down for anything more once we got to our lodgings. These were at the end of a nice little pathway. 
 The summit is up there somewhere behind the clouds. 
 The inside of Fuji-san. Not so much a hotel as a hostel. Funny side note: I always mix up the words "hostel" and "brothel." It has made for some hilarious conversations. 

 A small stretch of the path up to 8.5.

 The weather clearing for a bit made the whole trip worth it. 
 The guy with the rag on his head thought it was weird that I was taking pictures of this. 
 All the Japanese men standing on the little ledge outside the hotel were snickering at me. It kinda makes me wonder just what was in the buckets...I liked the writing. 

 Everybody hung their soaked hiking gear out to dry. It didn't dry. We all had to put soaking wet clothes back on at 4am the next day. It was not awesome. I didn't know it was possible to smell as bad as we all smelled. 

 Fuji-san had some lovely sandals for us to wear. 
 I am so glad I caught the guy at the bottom, arms outstretched. I feel like it sums up so much about the view and experience. 
 This mountain range in the distance peeked out for a bit. You could even see the ocean in the same area, but it was hard to differentiate sky from water. 

After a not so tasty dinner of beef curry, we all tried to get some shut eye. I didn't think I fell asleep at all, but according to my bunkmates, I talk in my sleep. We got going about 4:15. The sunrise greeted us. No picture can capture such beauty. What creation of man could truly replicate a creation of God?

 We started hiking and got a tiny bit above the hut and then stopped to watch. The whole mountain stopped to take notice. In the video you can hear cheering as the sun broke the horizon. It was such an awesome moment. The line from "How Great Thou Art," I finally fully appreciate. It's one of my favorite hymns, but now I will never sing it without thinking of this moment. 

"When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur,
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze."

(And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;

Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;

That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.)

^The next stanza, in case you need a reminder to get right with Jesus.^

All that to say, my soul was most definitely singing, "My great thou art."

 A video of the sunrise:

 There was still some snow up there. I am so thankful it didn't start snowing while we were hiking!
 Two more tori gates to the top!! This leg of the journey took us exactly two hours. 
 The Summit. Finally.

 You can't really tell, but those tiny black dots you see on the edge of the mountain are people on the descending trail. 

 I took zero pictures on the descent. It was ridiculous. The pictures would've looked like sweat, death, and cuss words. Oh, and blisters and atrophying muscles. We had to elbow through a crowd of fresh humans to get this picture. They were all, "Say cheese-uh," in their unsweaty clothes and unblistered feet. They hadn't climbed and had no intention of climbing. They'd come to the 5th Station to be tourists and they were hogging the photo op. 

We earned this picture. 

I have never been so proud of myself. It was terrible and hard and painful, but I'm glad I did it. I'm not sure I'd do it again, but I've caught myself saying, "Next time..." an awful lot.

When we got home, Merri mentioned another thing I never thought I'd do: visit an onsen. For those who don't know, an onsen is a public bath. The one we visited was super classy with a restaurant and indoor garden. I'm glad I went with girls who've figured this thing out, because I never would've gone on my own.

So the first step was to strip down in a locker room of sorts. Only in regular locker rooms, there's usually a corner you can tuck away in and hide a little. There was no hiding in this locker room. From there, you go into this large room that I can only describe like--you know when ballerinas are getting dolled up for a show? They all sit on little stools in front of a mirror and do their makeup? It's like that, but your butt naked, surrounded by naked strangers. You sit on a little stool in front of a mirror and wash your hair and your body thoroughly. They don't want funk or hair in their water. You tie your hair up on top of your head and then walk your naked self (with only a washcloth to hide behind) to whichever bath you choose. It was super awkward at first, but very fancy. It's definitely a cultural thing. Which is strange because the Japanese are very humble and don't like to draw attention to themselves. Walking around naked as a jaybird doesn't seem to fit that, but...? One of the ways I tricked myself into pretending no one noticed we were all naked was thinking of the ways Americans would botch such a thing. My list was lengthy.

Konshu watashi ga nani o tanoshimimashita ka!

I hope that says, "What fun I've had this week!"

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