There were two battles going on today. The first was the battle of me against mountain. The second was a battle of me against me. For a while I was losing both, but in the end I think I managed to win at least one of them.
The day began with a wake-up call from the hotel. The phone woke me up right away, and I wasn't disoriented at all. It had been about four years since I'd slept in a room with that many (5) girls, but between the early wake-up time and the activity planned for the day, the bathroom was remarkably free.
We went downstairs at 4:45, and got into a bus and drove. It was about an hour, and we were told not to fall asleep because of altitude sickness.
Breakfast was had in a nearby restaurant, and lunch was boxed. Breakfast was nigiri, and lunch was nigiri. There were several people, myself included, who would rather not have a breakfast that was made of rice and fish. It wasn't really an option.
After breakfast, we were pointed in the right direction and set off.
Mt. Fuji is made up of a series of checkpoints before the summit. I presume they started at one, but we drove up to five. (We wanted there to be an option to climb to the top, and that was mostly necessary for a day trip. The checkpoints were numbered up to 9, with extra rest stops in 8.
I started off with a group of seven. Immediately, we dropped two people, but made up for the loss by picking up another two. We lost someone else when she went up ahead, and dropped down to three people who were willing to try to push ahead harder. All this before checkpoint six.
Immediately after checkpoint seven, one person became so terrified by the wasps she couldn't go on. She wanted to, but there were so many wasps that buzzed around... eventually I traded the remaining partner for a teacher who was willing to move at my pace. (She traded me for a group willing to surge ahead.)
The scenery was beautiful. If I'd had any energy when I paused to look around, it might have been breathtaking. As I climbed higher, all I could see was the mountain. Nothing of the surrounding lakes or cities- they were all covered by clouds.
There was no point at which I believed I could make the summit. We were told at the beginning of the day that at 12:30 we should turn around, wherever we were. That was theoretically enough time, but didn't leave much space for contigencies. But it gave me a time. I would not turn around until 12:30.
At some point, the sight of a distance sign was enough to make me want to cry. Initally, because it still seemed so far. After a hard stretch, the distance would change from 3.6 kilometers to 3.4. Getting from the beginning to Checkpoint 8 was hard and covered about two kilometers. So when I saw a sign with another two kilometers left to go, ever reaching the summit felt impossible. It was almost worse when the signs stopped phrasing things in kilometers. 600 meters felt tantilizingly close. I walk that distance to the train station each day. I could knit that distance. (Not very quickly, but at the end I'd have a shawl.) I should be able to climb that distance with similar levels of ease, right?
Besides, there was the time concern. Next to the distances, they had expected time periods. Initially, we didn't have enough time before 12:30 to get there. But eventually that changed.
One of the top moments of the day came at 11:00. The time estimate to the summit was 80 minutes. I'd rested at the checkpoint, but kept seeing more signs and benches. And then I turned a corner, and the sign said the time to the summit was 50 minutes. If there was ever a moment at which I thought might be able to do that, that was it.
We were doing the final climb at 12:30. Once at the top, the two teachers scaled down the time estimate and said we could wait until 13:30 to leave. So I had time to look around the top and talk to the other people who had made it. There was a decent group of us, but it was probably undr a quarter of the people in the course.
The top was very tourist trappy. I came all the way to the top of the tallest mountain in Japan, and I could now buy a keychain saying as much for about the price of a bottle of water. A bottle of water (or any other liquid) cost 500 yen.
However unimpressive the top may have been (there were clouds all around so I couldn't even see that far) I was still there. I'd made it to the top of Mt. Fuji. I'd never seriously expected to, but I hadn't let myself give up. I didn't want to have to say 'I almost made it to the top of Mt. Fuji,' or 'do you know what my favorite part of Japan is? There's an ice cream place my the bus drop-off on Mt. Fuji. So delicious.' (There is an icecream place there. I have no idea about quality, having been too busy avoiding having that be my favorite part. I will say ice cream was slightly cheaper than a bottle of water, and one of the flavors was cowberry.) I wanted to be able to say 'I made it to the top of Mt. Fuji.
If you're climbing downhill, a good way to depress yourself is to realize that you need to climb up again later. Mt. Fuji is the first time the reverse was true. The entire time I was fighting with a mountain and my legs were screaming 'why do you hate us?' I just kept focusing on the next step. Making it to the top, and then making it back down, we're things that could be figured out later.
I never said the descent was worse than the ascent. Other people I was with did. It was a different route, and there were a lot of loose pebbles that liked to both trip people and get in their shoes. (Free souvenirs from Mt. Fuji.) Plus, we'd been walking less than half an hour when it started to rain.
Chris Christophersen thinks the sea is an old devil with numerous tricks, fog being one of them. Mt. Fuji is another old devil, with tricks of his own. Fog is still one of them. Given we were following a zig-zagging trail that sometimes split off, not being able to see much in front of us was an issue. I think we were all glad when the fog cleared up.
I went down the mountain with three other people. Like last time, the group began big, but soon separated into smaller groups. The most alarming thing was how quickly we split up. We knew there were groups in front and behind us, but didn't see them until we were all back on the bus.
On the way up, there was never a question of amusing ourselves. Most of my mental energy went towards convincing myself to keep moving or listening to my body. (Yes, I know it doesn't want to continue. But am I hungry, thirsty, hurt, or oxygen-deprived? No? Then on we go.) The way down was far less strenuous. Once the rain cleared up, the only problem was falling, and it would have taken a lot more than silence and concentration to not slip. (Everyone slipped at least once. One person slipped once, another twice, and the third three times. I lost count of myself.) So we played a game.
Since we were in Japan, and we were all studying Japanese, the game was Japanese as well. One player said a word, and the next needed to use the last syllable as the first syllable of a new word. We also shared definitions. If a player used a word ending in 'n,' they lost. We were playing really informally, so we'd help each other think of words, avoid words that ended in hard syllables (it's easy to make a verb end in 'ru,'but not many words start that way, there are a limited number of words beginning with 'i' given over half the adjectives end in that syllable, etc...) Besides using vocabulary in a way I don't normally, it was a nice introduction to new words. I learned the combined word for math and science (you'd think that would be the sort of thing I should have learned earlier) and was the only person who knew the word for hippo.
I'm not sure if I would describe the day as a whole as fun, but it was definitely a worthwhile experience. Even if it was cold after the rain and I needed to wear a ridiculous hat with a British flag and a pom-pom...