Next post: D&D-relevant distillation.
About a week ago, my father and I summited Mount Fuji via the Fujinomiya Trail. The distance as the crow flies from our starting point to the summit was about 2 miles and 4330 feet of elevation gain, but with switchbacks the length of the trail was around 3 miles. The climb up took us about five hours, we spent half an hour or so at the summit, and then the descent took us three and a half hours.
We were only lightly encumbered, with a single pack between us, which we took turns carrying. The pack was 3lb empty, and contained three liters of water (~6lb), rain gear and layers, snacks (I estimate around 2lb), about 20 100-yen coins for toilet fees (5 grams each, so 100 grams, or a quarter pound of currency), cell phones, and a few contingency items like flashlights. I think in total it was probably around 20 lbs. It definitely made itself felt; the pack carrier had to maintain a slower pace on both ascent and descent. The one time I fell over, on the descent, was while carrying the pack (fortunately I fell backwards and it cushioned my fall). Some climbers brought helmets - initially we thought for falling rocks (which were a risk, as regularly noted by signs), but now I think for falling over too.
Despite a few wipeouts and near-wipeouts, we were fortunate to avoid any serious injuries or destruction of equipment. Some old injuries that we thought healed (damaged hip adductor attachment point, injured knee) started hurting on the way up and continued on the way down, but they didn't increase in severity. Had a couple hot spots on my feet that were on the way to blistering, but nipped in the bud by tightening the laces of my boots. My father did drop his glasses at one point and was concerned that they would be damaged but they were fine. Towards the very end of the descent, I caught the heel of my boot and started tearing the sole off, but it was still usable and we made it down.
We were also lucky with the weather. Forecast showed a 50% chance of a thunderstorm, but it only drizzled a little. There wasn't that much direct sun either (a little on the way down); instead there was a lot of mist and low clouds, which wafted up the mountain. Supposedly when it rains, it often rains upwards in a similar way, making ponchos insufficient rain gear. If we had gotten soaked, there would've been a small risk of hypothermia, as temperatures at the summit were in the 40s, even at midafternoon in early August. There was still some ice in ravines and runnels that don't get direct sunlight, but for the most part we were comfortably warm in technical fabrics, plus lightweight jackets near the top.
|The view down - mists blowing up the slope, bit of "moon rock" on the right|
In terms of terrain, the lower elevations had small plant-life growing off the trail and a little inside the trail, and the surface tended more towards dirt and gravel with some hand-sized rocks mixed in (just enough to roll an ankle on, or to hit your head on if you fell). This makes sense, since dirt is a fluid and will gradually flow down hill (particularly when driven by the boots of tens of thousands of climbers per year). Above that, it turned into bigger rocks, head-sized to torso-sized, with intermittent "moon rock" - big solid pieces of porous igneous rock in irregular shapes, speculatively hardened frothy lava from a previous eruption. It often jutted out in concave formations, like whatever surface had been beneath it had eroded out from under it. Towards the top the fraction of "moon rock" increased, and there were also rocks with yellow and green colors, perhaps indicative of sulfur. The "moon rock" was hard going, especially on the way down, where its steep drops and concavities made finding places to step tricky without looking out over its edges. We had collapsible hiking poles with tungsten carbide tips and these were a great help. Many climbers had octagonal wooden poles, which could be branded for a small fee at the various stations, and so were both practical implements and souvenirs, but the tungsten bit better than I imagine the unshod wood would've (and they folded down to fit in a checked bag better, too).
The views were mostly down into mists, with occasional glimpses of the secondary peak of Mount Hoei, or the forests at the foot of the mountain. Often we could not see either the station above us or the station below us, between the mist and the irregularities of the slope, even though we were probably only a couple of hundred meters from them in Euclidean distance. The views across the side of the mountain were sometimes quite good, with ridges and overhangs and a rock formation that looked almost like a whale. It was hard to see much of anything looking up, between mists and neck-angle and switchbacks. Several time we thought we saw the summit and turned out to be mistaken. It was steep; with 4300 feet of climb over a three mile trail, it's about 1:4, 25% average grade, or a 15 degree average slope, and that was up the switchbacks, rather than directly up the mountain. Some of the views were rather precipitous; one of the stations had a metal grating out over the slope, and when we arrived on the way up, I wanted nothing to do with it. Coming back down I waltzed right up to the edge. Morale is a funny thing.
|This is also a view down - the white thing on the left is the roof of (I think) New 7th Station below us, and the building on the right in the distance I think was the 6th Station, lower still.|
Looking down into the crater from the summit, there was more ice and sulfurous rock than we had seen on the way up. We made an attempt for the Kengamine Peak, which used to be a radar weather station, but abandoned it; the slope from the shrine at the summit to the top of the peak was all steep gravel which slid beneath us, and it was a trudge. In retrospect this was the correct decision; we needed what energy we had for the descent, and we only made it to the bottom fifteen minutes before the last bus off the mountain, so if we had spent twenty minutes up to Kengamine and then fifteen back down to the shrine, we'd've missed our bus. On the way down, the terrain which had been easiest on the way up (moon-rock) was hardest, and the terrain which had been hardest on the way up (gravel) was the easiest.
We observed very little animal life; some sweat-bees even towards the top, one small brown bird around the 8th or 9th station, some flies around the stations where human waste accumulates. There were a number of bright butterflies down in the green parts of the slope. Supposedly there are bears on some of the lower trails, but being Japanese I imagine that they are very polite bears. There were a few statues of tanuki at one of the stations but we did not observe any on the mountain.
The next day we were decently sore; I felt it in my calves and hip, and I think my father did in much of his lower body but especially his quads. My quads were a little sore the day after that. I was pretty happy with the results of my training program of weighted barbell squats plus stationary bike cardio (obviously training at altitude would've been better, but shikata ga nai). We came off the mountain hungry but still more thirsty; we had drank a total of four liters of water between the two of us (some of it enhanced with Pocari Sweat powder), and eaten less than half of our snacks. Towards the bottom my headache stopped pounding, but persisted; I think this was the hypoxia component resolving itself and being replaced by a dehydration headache. I think we might've been better off with less snacks and layers and more water, but it all worked out (and water is damn heavy).
Next post: on climbing mountains in D&D.