At 3,776 meters (12,389 feet), Fujisan’s peak is the highest in Japan.
Is it an active volcano? The best answer to that question may be “Yes, but…”. Apparently, an active volcano is one which has erupted within the last 10,000 years, and is expected to erupt again. Fujisan last erupted in 1707, making it a prime candidate for active status. However, there are two kinds of active volcanoes: erupting and dormant. Ontakesan, the volcano which tragically erupted last weekend, is an example of the former; Fujisan would be an example of the latter.
“Wait a minute,” sez you. “Does that mean Fujisan is expected to erupt again?”
“The short answer is, ‘Yes,'” sez I. No-one knows exactly when, of course, but the Japan Meteorological Agency keeps Fujisan on its list of 47 volcanoes to be monitored 24/7. at least one volcanologist, a retired professot at Ryukyu University, predicts that Fujisan will erupt by 2015.
No spot in this world can be more horrible, more atrociously dismal, than the cindered tip of the Lotus as you stand upon it. – Lafcadio Hearn (1898)
File this one under “something new learned every day…”
A personal email request about whether “anyone would stop me” from climbing Mount Fuji sparked my curiosity: I climbed it in September, a few weeks after the end of the official climbing season, and wrote about the experience in Little Snail, Slowly Slowly Climb Mount Fuji. At that time, though a few of the huts were closed and the numbers of climbers were nowhere near what my climbing buddies had experienced when they climbed in-season (every year, something like 300,000 climb Mount Fuji in July and August. Can you imagine?), many of the huts were still open and professional guides were still leading groups of novices up the mountain. Heck, even the Information Center at 5th station was open and handing out maps. Business as usual, right?
Tokyo may still be green, but in the Yamanashi highlands autumn’s koyo fall colours are on full display.
As I mentioned in my last post, we’ve had a record hot and long summer here in Tokyo and region. Until a couple of weeks ago, I still sported quick-dry, ultra-light t-shirts during the day. After one last, record-breaking gasp of summer, however, on Saturday, October 12th, when the day’s high hit 31, we’ve settled into seasonal averages and the promise of autumn’s cooler temps – great for spending time out of doors! – and a gentle (?) decline into winter… Continue reading “Koyo Autumn Leaves: Yamanashi”→
God’s headlamp, the biggest harvest moon I’ve ever seen, throws Mount Fuji’s shadow onto the treetops of the Aokigahara, the so-called Forest of Suicides, thousands of meters below. We won’t need torches on this climb. No birds sing. The cicadas which serenaded me into insomnia all summer back in Tokyo are silent here in the pre-winter chill of this desolate, treeless place 3000 meters above sea level. At the top waits the promise of the fabled goraiko, the so-called “honourable arrival of light:” sunrise from the summit of the highest point in Japan.
I still have a couple of hours to complete the final push, less than a kilometre up a steep but nontechnical trail which glows bone-white in the moonlight. I don’t think I’m going to make it. If anyone asks, I’m more than ready to admit I’m cold, tired, and hungry. Not that anyone does ask.
Every summer in July and August, 300,000 climbers attempt to summit Mount Fuji. Mostly so they can say they’ve done it, and never have to do it again. Now, in early September and out of the official climbing season, the trail is almost empty.
My friends David and Naomi, younger and fitter, wait in the halo of light around a mountain hut precariously perched trailside. A hut! A lighthouse to a storm-tossed sailor. A refuge from this misadventure. I could throw down a futon among the other climbers stacked like silkworms inside. A few hours from now, I would get my pictures of the sunrise from the front door of the hut. David and Naomi would meet me on the down-climb, and we would return to the city and be back to work Monday. Business as usual. Like nothing had happened. I could settle genteelly into the reclining sofa of middle age.
On the other hand, there would never be a better chance to summit. Konohana, the god of this notoriously fickle mountain, has blessed us with ideal conditions. Soon enough snow will creep down Fujisan’s ashy flanks, but for now winter is only a premonition on the wind which sweeps counter-clockwise around the mountain. Not strong enough, as often happens, to impede our progress. Just enough to keep us cool and sweat-free. And the cloudless sky promises a spectacular sunrise.
Besides, if I get this done now, I never have to do it again. After all, as everyone knows, “He who does not climb Mount Fuji once is a fool, but he who climbs it more than once is also a fool.”
So when I reach the hut, I warm myself with a paper cup of coffee from the hut’s canteen, then continue to climb. A glow-worm of climbers’ headlamps emerges from the huts and crawls up the trail and passes us.
Step by step, breath by breath in this airless place, I put one foot in front of the other and make my way up the rocky trail. I feel dizzy, but pass up the chance to buy bottled oxygen from another hut. My legs have turned to posts, not used to this level of exertion. And then, at last, I see the little white torii gate that marks the final summit approach. We take shelter from the wind among the — closed — souvenir shops and — still open — vending machines at the summit station.
The sun breaks over the Pacific. I guess it’s not time to hang up my Patagonia quite yet.
According to an article by Ken Belson in this weekend’s Travel section of the NYTimes, the number of climbers on Fujisan has increased 15% since Unesco declared the mountain a World Heritage site on June 22nd of this year.
Apparently 320,000 climbers attempted the summit last year, including 25 who died in the attempt (I tried, but failed, to find out more about the deaths, such as in which season the climbers were on the mountain).
I climbed Fujisan two years ago, on September 11th which is just outside the official climbing season. A) We had a great climb, under ideal conditions, and summited in time for “goraiko”: sunrise over the Pacific. B) I’m glad I never have to do it again. Truth be told, and it’s been told by many before me, the climb itself is a slog both ways. For the record, Rishiridake off the north coast of Hokkaido is still my favourite climb…
A quartet of pictures from the summit of Mount Fuji. We climbed under a Harvest Moon, and arrives at the summit just as dawn broke over the countryside, and Tokyo in the distance. Couldn’t have timed it any better.
Travelogue, Little snail, slowly slowly climb Mount Fuji to follow.