Fuji-san | Keelyn
The bus drove us from the town of Kawaguchiko up through a cloud covered road to the fifth station; a small city filled with pork buns and postcards and suspended clouds. For 980 yen at a 'food jukebox' you can order a generous portion of steaming ramen - which is exactly what we did. Then, hunger gone and stomachs content, we began our ascent. Breaking up the initial three-hour climb, we rested at various stations in order to get acclimated to the altitude as well as brand our Fuji sticks with 'stamps' unique to each station. The smoky scent of the stamp brands lingers in the air like incense, and amid the buzz of many voices you can catch the lilt of different languages. Once we reached the seventh station - and our mountain hut for the night, we were greeted by soft spoken, bowing Japanese men who gave us complimentary postcards while explaining 'hut etiquette' and what time we would need to leave to reach the summit at sunrise.
"Dinner is at 5! 'Freepahs' to walk to toilet are by door."
We promptly passed out at 6 PM. A mere six hours later - 12:30 AM - we groggily put on our coats, accepted the proffered grocery bag of croissants and lemongrass water, and were ushered out the door into the chill early morning temperatures.
Glance left or right and the glow of the headlamp illuminates the mountain's precarious slopes; gaze up, and steadfast Orion returns your stare. Climb. It's fascinating how being unable to register where you are makes you focus more on the journey at hand. Breathing in, breathing out. Appreciating the deliberation in finding a foothold and the stillness surrounding you becomes a form of meditation. It's tempting to keep the summit on your mind's front burner - but the volcanic rock lodged in your shoes and the dust in your eyes and the weight of your pack is your here and now.
T-400 meters to summit. Hikers shift from foot to foot during the standstill, waiting for Fujisan's 'rush hour' to settle and for the chill to subside. Although we had been hiking steadily for four hours, this final half hour was when I felt the altitude sickness kick in with its characteristic dizziness. But Time is dependable and soon delivered us to the summit. Sticks branded red, achievement marked - and we were absolutely exhilarated. I could still hear blood pumping in my ears, and as I looked around I could see the rush of my own adrenaline reflected in the faces of the hikers surrounding me. We carved out a sitting area in the frozen ground and huddled together to greet the dawn. Color spilled across the clouds, gradually revealing the silhouettes of nearby mountains - a beauty more raw and wild than any I have seen.
Blaise raised the UVA banner aloft; with the sun at her back and a lone Shinto shrine before her it was like 'something out of a movie' - until you realize you can't feel any of the fingers on your hands. The flushed faces and pink noses of the people around us confirmed that it was time to descend; and with shivering bodies but full hearts we carefully made our way down and back into the clouds.