January 27, 2008

An escape to Mount Fuji

Thomas Kieller

Photos 2 and 3 – Copyright United Athletes Magazine

The famous Mount Fuji, a stratovolcano.

I was travelling in the country of the rising sun in order to immerse myself in the most exalting things of Japanese culture. I have been served. By making my way in the urbanized lifestyle of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, I felt what millions of workmen and salarymen live every day. The capital city stunned me with its human mass movements. It’s impossible to be tongue-tied while crossing the Ginza district where the streets are very lively. To the south, the typical architecture and the famous Japanese traditions of Kyoto can only fascinate the traveller. Also, lit-up avenues and the agitated nightlife of Osaka can grasp the passer-by easily. After a month of uninterrupted visits, I decided to escape the big city turmoil in spite of the incredible respect and welcome of the Japanese people. Oh yeah, there are only 128,000,000 in the country! So, I took the road to Kawaguchiko, a small locality near Mount Fuji which is the culminating point of Japan. This is a place where you can taste the pleasure of nature.

I started my excursion from my hotel, a few kilometres from the footsteps of the mountain. I travelled through the village where I could observe the Japanese scenery. By following the road around Kawaguchi Lake, I looked at the different mountains in the background, that is to say Kenashiyama, Kurodake and Misakayama. Passing by bright green rice fields, I continued my way towards the Fujisan.

I knew that to reach the summit of Mount Fuji whose altitude is 3,776 meters, I had to do a mountainous walk of approximately 25 kilometres. A true pleasure! There is nothing like starting an ascent from the base of a mountain. A sensation burned inside me as the mountain was appearing clearer. When I saw Mount Fuji standing in front of me and that I knew that in ten hours I would be at the summit, a good feeling went through me. The preamble was over; it was time to climb up!

A pleasant ascent in the forest.

I chose the Yoshidaguchi path because it is the traditional way that pilgrims took to climb the mountain. May I tell you that the path is not crowded. If you do the ascent by yourself, you will probably walk four hours without seeing a soul. Between the interior peace of a hike in a forest and the sensation that your leg muscles are burning, there is nothing like this to revive oneself.

The vigour and the determination of the climber are key factors for a successful ascent. In this demanding exercise, the hiker searches what is best in him. One finds, among other things, the pleasure of expending oneself in an exalting walk towards a higher altitude. For me, this is awesome.

A blue sky greeted me when I left the forest. Oh yes, the sun was scorching on July 24, 2007. After a small break in a hut where the owner served me a nourishing meal, I pursued the climb. A spirit of camaraderie took place when many hikers started their ascent of the mountain. Indeed, at the fifth station which is at 2,300 meters in altitude, the majority of the climbers arrived by bus. This is a convenient way of transportation which occurs daily by shuttling back and forth from this station to the village.

As it is often the case in Japan, a new agglomeration of men and women formed, but this time on the slope of a volcano. It seems that you cannot escape it! However, it was an attitude of solidarity which floated in the air. The people exchanged anecdotes and commentaries tinged from the joy of climbing a mountain.

At 3,300 meters, I decided to take a new break in order to rest a little bit and also to finish the ascent during the night. At 3:00 in the morning, I got back on the road by the light of a head lamp. I strode across numerous big volcanic stones which strew Mount Fuji. In the darkness, the last four hundred meters were enjoyable. The hundred beams of light coming from the lamps swept across the darkness.

At the last station, all the climbers took a break and waited patiently for the sunrise. The cold air was filling my lungs, but the pleasure of the ascent fulfilled me even more.

The sunrise at the top of Mount Fuji.

When the sun emerged far-off and above the clouds, a new joy swept through me as it did for the other hikers. The sunbeams immediately warmed us. It’s in this agreeable warmth that I walked down on the path covered with ash. Now, it’s up to you to live all of this!