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As a boy, I was completely enamoured with mountains and trees, my fascinations were not limited to just these by any means, I liked
Gayboys Gameboys, Pogs and kissing Barbies as much as the next kid, but mountains and trees, for me, were shrouded in a smoky mystery, lived a vast history and had a complexity that I felt I only saw; I didn’t see them for their gargantuan monstrous scale and mightiness as they towered higher than I could ever see, but it was the atomically invisible-to-the-eye minerals or ‘little characters’ that resembled soot spirits, that made them… or so I thought.
I held mountains in a higher regard than I did trees, maybe this came down to the fact I didn’t live near any mountains thus resulting in a sense of wanderlust and ore, though, I still did solemnly believe that in each mountain harnessed an entire nation of waddling walking, working and talking minerals, that clamoured together to create these godly like ‘mounds’, kind of like coral, but made of rock. I suppose you could say I was partially correct and an oddball, but you couldn’t say I lacked an imagination.
Growing up in little England on an estate surrounded by alleyways, bins and council homes, the tallest thing for me was my brother and the closest thing to a mountain was an old Oak tree rooted by my school, which, in my mind, was made up of the same community of workers as mountains were.
On breaktimes, as my friends played kiss chase on the freshly cut fields and jumped over their rucksacks imitating skateboard jumps, I sat under the sun, crossed legged, staring up at the trees ‘hair’, trying to communicate with its face that I made out from its twisting bark. Apart from a Buzz Lightyear toy (which I never got), I wanted nothing more than to climb to the very top of that tree and ask it a series of questions that I wrote down on a piece of paper.
Some years later, though still a child, I recall sitting with my mother in our conservatory on a summer’s day, with a booklet about mountains given free with a newspaper. I was flicking through to find the best-looking mountain, and on page nine I came across a mysterious mountain named, ‘Mt. Fuji’; I was sat looking up through the plastic ceiling and then up at the trees, where I had told my mother, “I’m going to climb Mt. Fuji“.
She lowered her newspaper, shook her head, and with an irritated look on her face, said, “don’t be stupid“.
Sixteen years later, and there I was, 12,000 feet in the sky, way, way above the clouds and with nothing more than a day sack carrying oxygen, water and with what little food I had left, I was about to prove that stupidity achieved dreams and that my mum was… impolite.
This article is about none other than Mt. Fuji, Japans most celebrated of mountains, decorated with being the most beautiful in the world, the 35th most prominent of all peaks and depicted in many countless famous paintings and prints. Fuji-san is an active volcano and is a sacred mountain believed to be a gateway into a different realm, it is also the most climbed mountain in the entire world, all reasons as good as any to talk about it today.
Before myself and my wife climbed Mt. Fuji (yes, I was dragging her along), I thought to myself calmly, “okay, let’s try and find some reviews online”. This is a more than unusual approach to take when considering to climb a mountain, but considering how popular it is, I was sure that there would be loads of reviews and tips for climbing it.
It turns out I was right, tons and tons of stupid fu*king reviews, all telling me how brilliant and spiritual it was, literally the most unhelpful information I could need when climbing a mountain. It couldn’t have been more unhelpful unless of course, they told me about how the individual felt ‘emotionally’ whilst climbing it… oh wait, they did say that.
I suppose then that my review of Mt. Fuji better steer clear of any actual feelings, apart from hate and annoyance, because, let’s face it, that’s why you’re reading this because you’re as bitter as I am, that, or you take pleasure in my moaning. I suppose I should add pricing too, but then again, that would require me to either dig out old receipts, which knowing me, I’ve definitely thrown away, or look it up online, and considering that I don’t get paid to write this and neither you or I actually care, I’ll just hazard a guess for the sake of a cheap laugh and to illustrate my lack of actual consumer advice.
Here goes then, my moment under the sun.
The day before our climb… we had decided to climb. Yes. You read that right, albeit it was in the works, we checked the coach times and agreed to go the very next day and make dreams, reality, well… my dreams anyway.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning that my wife, whom I’ll call Jiayun because it’s easier, and well, that’s her name, did not want to climb Mt. Fuji; in fact, she had made it very clear to me that she did not want to climb Japans tallest mountain, which stands nearly 4000 metres high. Though to me, all I could hear was her indecisiveness, the same way someone offers you a biscuit when you’re at their house, but you only have one if they’re having one.
So, with my intuition working ever so sharply, I encouraged her that it would be a grandiose achievement and that I too was going to have a biscuit, so there was no need for such silliness and unfamiliarity. Hushing her reply with my finger, I, the climber with experience, packed our bags for us and made a plan.
If you want to climb Mt. Fuji, then you’ll need to pick a route and plan your ascent around that. Fuji-San is a hot spot for people all over the world and because it’s such a tourist trap, four routes have been marked out clearly, ranging from, fastest, hardest, longest and easiest, well, something like that anyway, remember, I’m not trying to be helpful.
I picked a route with consideration to Jiayuns’ inability to move much without complaining, but also keeping in mind that if we needed to stay overnight in a mountain cabin to ‘adjust to the altitude’, it would cost more money. Because of this ‘need to stay overnight’, I
picked the fastest route, which is also one of the hardest meaning we wouldn’t have to stay overnight, but because I don’t want her family to think badly of me, I’ll say I picked the easiest and safest route.
The advice given by Fuji-san officials is that you should avoid what they call, ‘bullet climbs’ which means going up and back down again in one go, or in money talk, “stay overnight in the mountain cabin“. This is because as mentioned previously, to adjust to the altitude, but I knew what was going on, I wasn’t about to be fooled into coughing up money for us to be ‘safe’, I knew all about Israel, the Federal Reserve and tracking devices in men’s razors, so I sure as hell wasn’t going to be tricked by mountain people.
Planning a bullet climb then, we needed to start our adventure at 2 am, catch a train to Tokyo, get on a load more buses, and then arrive at the bottom of Mt. Fuji around 6 am. As we arrived, my face was a contrast to those who had just come down the mountain, they looked miserable, wet and exhausted, but I, being the gentlemen I am, put my arm around my wife and walked her away to protect her from seeing such utter misery (it’s like telling me how a movie will end before I’ve even started…bastards!).
Feeling optimistic, we began by breathing in the thinning air and making our way up the path I had set a course for. As we started up the rocky road, a type of stall was situated on the end of a corner, occupied by four elderly people holding maps and badges; of course, being the professional that I am, I didn’t need a map for such a route, so I began walking by before they stopped me and asked for a donation. With the shaking of a bucket in my face and the man’s presumption, it was more of a compulsory donation, and a donation that was a specified amount, come to think of it, maybe we were robbed.
Whatever the case, the robbers gave me a badge to show my commitment to whatever the fu*k my money went towards, a badge that proves my achievement, not like a photo, no, that can be fabricated, but a badge, these were crafted in the fiery pit of Mt. Doom, gifted to those only who had made it up a misty path (right by the carpark), shrouded in cloud and thinning in air. I snatched the badge from the goblins, brandished the pin above me, and drive it into the very fabrics that wrapped around me.
Before we had even reached the top, I had already felt like a winner.
I had pressed the timer on my watch and insisted we kept to a tight schedule if we were to make it up and down again in time for the last bus back. It became apparent to me that my wife was more of a sprinter for short distances, as after twenty or so minutes, she stopped to gasp on the oxygen tank I had prepared (I could still see the carpark). When I say ‘prepared’, I don’t mean in the sense of, “I’ll just swing a Pepsi bottle in the air and bottle it“, but ‘prepare’ as in, buy.
Before reaching the clearing there is a dense forest that challenges you first, it twists and turns and the path trampled by feet seems to follow the steepest and rockiest section of the wild forest. For our route, the path up and the path down is one and the same, meaning you will occasionally cross paths with climbers who have already had their fill and in a country where people usually avoid eye contact, there seemed to be a sense of community and togetherness as each (well, most) fellow climber offered a simple “Konichiwa” (hello).
On reflection, I would consider this part to be the most enjoyable as it offered greenery and life that buzzed and whirled around you as you entered an entirely different realm than the city life that Japan has to offer.
Leaving the shelter of the trees behind and approaching the clearing, a sense of ‘doom’ loomed over me as a wall of volcanic rock sat loosely to the side of the mountain and as the wind blew, a tide of dust was thrown into the air and directly into our faces; I tried to keep up appearances to my exhausted wife with, “it’s just like one of your volcanic spa facials“. It’s here that she turned into a mountain goat as I had to literally lead her up the side of Fuji-San by her rucksacks straps and towards the first station.
Catching a glimpse of the other paths, I was annoyed at the seeming ease of access it all was, in some places, I saw vending machines and shops as if it were nothing more than a great big fu*k off amusement park. I looked down at my badge by lifting the chest of my jacket, and was adamant that I would earn it the hard way, not by some ‘woofy doofy’ tourist escalator, no no, I was Aragon, and they, the ones on the easy paths, were the film crew following tracks in their jeans and trainers.
As I just mentioned, the mountain is broken up into what they call ‘stations’, and at each station, I had set a time for when we should reach the next one, and so on; though each time we arrived at a station, it was ten minutes later than the scheduled time I had planned.
Keeping to the pace that I, I mean ‘we’ had set, Jiayun, I mean, ‘we’, began to tire, so we looked forward to nothing more than to see another station, as we knew that we could quite literally count down how much of Fuji we had left to scale.
Though, like many things in Japan, or in Asia for that matter, it just couldn’t be that simple or straightforward; no, for some reason, they had signs telling you that the station you were at, let’s say ‘number 7′ for example, was indeed number 7, so, it would be fair to say that you’d have certain expectations that the next station would indeed be station 8, but on climbing up to station 8, it would tell you that you were at station 7!
Meaning 7 was actually 6, and 6 just had signs telling me what the next one was, but this rule wasn’t consistent and applied most sporadically. Why the fu*k do I, an adult who can count, need to be told what number comes next? What if it’s all just one big joke that someones gone to huge lengths to tell? “6 is afraid of seven because seven eight nine!”
So, was station 5 actually station 5, or was it 4? If so, I was either really behind on my scheduled timing, or I was smashing this. Can you see how in a normal situation this would cause slight confusion and possible irritation? Now imagine being halfway to intergalactic space, physically and mentally exhausted, and having your brain smelling like toast because there’s no oxygen. Don’t confuse me with ‘what comes next’ as opposed to the helpful information of ‘you are here’! Piss off!
That’s like a train arriving in Bath, and saying you’ve arrived in Bristol, or a doctor telling you you’re dead, because “that’s the next thing to happen“.
On scaling the side and reaching the cloud level, the atmosphere changed with regards to peoples optimism and demeanour, it was as if I was approaching the Eastern Front as people were lying on the ground, scattered with pale faces and a breathlessness that made me want to pass around my canned oxygen… I didn’t, but the thought was there.
The view at cloud level is abysmal which is to be expected considering you’re in the clouds, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you won’t be burnt from the sun, the side of my face looked like Dwight from the Walking Dead.
Passing the clouds and kicking at the hands of corpses that grabbed me by the ankles for oxygen, I entered a state of recollection whereby my mind and body disconnected, my feet kept going but my mind was elsewhere, maybe this was a result of altitude sickness or the side effects of heroin, or maybe I was about to reach a hurdle I had set myself all those years ago. I began seeing myself sitting in the conservatory sixteen years earlier looking up at the trees through the plastic roof that had collected moss and mould; I thought, “what was so stupid about wanting this?” and that if I had listened to my mother I would never have even gone to Asia and I would have never of achieved my dreams.
So, there I was, sixteen years later. I was 12,389 feet in the sky, way, way above the clouds and with nothing more than a day sack carrying oxygen, water and with what little food I had left; I had proved that stupidity achieved dreams by reaching the summit of Mt. Fuji.
I guess my point is, if people didn’t have dreams, targets, or aims, then nothing would get done. If it’s stupid to have the desire to achieve or conquer something, then fu*k me, I’m the stupidest person alive.
Considering this is a review of Mt. Fuji, but also the fact that it is a Clueless in Asia review, here’s some information to help you if you’re interested in scaling the most climbed mountain in the world:
There are goblins at the beginning, so watch out for those.
Learn cryptography for those station signs.
In total, it costs £90,000 to climb Mt. Fuji.
Don’t you dare take selfie-sticks.
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