Climbing Mt. Fuji was simultaneously the greatest, stupidest, and most physically challenging experience of my entire life. The day before I was set to climb Mt. Fuji, I rolled my left ankle meaning I bent it the wrong way while walking. It quickly became sore and swollen and considering that I’d be putting pressure on my ankle climbing steep hills for 13+ hours, I shouldn’t have gone. Having wrapped my ankle in sports tape and taking some ibuprofen, it ended up being okay but boy did I move at a snail’s pace putting all of my concentration on making sure I didn’t bend my foot the wrong way. I had looked forward to this climb for months so I didn’t want to be the one person who had to get evacuated. It would’ve been a real disappointment so I’m thankful that my ankle withstood the challenge.
For my climb, I went on a group trip with about 20 other people and 3 guides. The ascent to the mountain hut where we stayed overnight took about 6 hours then another 2 hours to the summit the following morning. The trails are STEEP and covered with sand and small rocks scattered everywhere ready to throw off even the sturdiest climber’s balance at any moment. The higher you go the windier it gets and walking uphill against the wind makes the climb twice as hard. There are several mountain huts along the trail that offer benches and tables to sit down, food, water, and restrooms, but the higher you go, the more expensive the food (500 yen) and restrooms (200-300 yen). The trail up to the first hut is the longest section (about 1.5 hours) and it continues to get steeper the higher you go.
The descent was a VERY LONG 4 hours. Again, the trails were so steep that you just have to accept that you’re going to fall. Everybody does, even the pros, so it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. For the last 1.5 hours, I cried because I could feel blisters forming on my feet, my toes getting bruised, my knees getting murdered, and my legs giving up. On top of being physically exhausted, it was hot and humid, I hadn’t showered or brushed my teeth or washed my face in 24 hours, and aside from a small bowl of miso ramen for breakfast, I had no food in my system to serve as my energy source. All my vitals were low therefore the descent felt like it would never end. When I finally reached the bottom, I was in so much pain I couldn’t even appreciate what I had just accomplished. I just wanted to go home, shower, and sleep.
Mt. Fuji Packing List
- 2 long sleeved shirts (1 for the ascent, 1 for the descent)
- 2 short sleeved shirts (1 for the ascent, 1 for the descent)
- Fleece pullover
- Waterproof windbreaker jacket
- Thermal leggings
- Water and windproof pants
- Heavy socks (2 pairs)
- Waterproof gloves
- Hiking boots
- Small plastic bags (for garbage)
- Hand towel (to wipe sweat)
- 100 yen coins for bathroom (200-300 yen per use)
- Dry snacks
- Face mask (to keep sand out)
- 2 liters of water
- Oxygen can (not a necessity but good to have on hand just in case altitude sickness strikes unexpectedly)
- Walking sticks
- 30L Backpack
- Soap (bathrooms don’t have soap so if you can pack a small liquid bottle of your own, that’s ideal)
- Sunscreen (APPLY FREQUENTLY)
- Ibuprofen (for headaches or soreness)
- Insect repellent
- Sports tape or Foot/Knee braces
Take it slow. Really slow. Mt. Fuji stands at 3,776 meters / 12,389 feet tall so if you don’t stop to let your body adjust to the altitude, you’re going to pay for it. On top of that, stay hydrated. This should be a no-brainer. Fuji’s climbing season is during the peak of summer so you will sweat A LOT. Drink lots of water to refuel.
Wear warm, windproof, and waterproof clothes that don’t easily soak up sweat or rain. There aren’t any showers in the mountain huts so come prepared to embrace the sweat that will cake up all over your body and the dirt in your fingernails. Also, don’t be that person who thinks they can make it all the way to the top in flip flops, flats, or flimsy sneakers. Even if you CAN handle it, be nice to your feet and wear proper hiking boots.
Carrying a lot of weight on your back will naturally cause you to hunch forward. As often as you can, remember to keep your back straight to help evenly distribute your weight, maintain balance, and take some pressure off of your core muscles.
Finally, while there are enough people on the trails that if something happened, you would have help, Fuji is best climbed with a buddy or a group. As they say, safety in numbers.
You could probably climb Mt. Fuji without any prior physical fitness training and be just fine, but I REALLY don’t recommend it. Climbing mountains is no joke and can often be harder on your body than you realize. The better shape you’re in, the less of a toll it will take. I recommend yoga for stretching and keeping your muscles flexible plus leg and knee exercises to keep them strong. The descent will not be so easy on your knees if you don’t have any muscle strength in that area. If possible, I recommend doing shorter, smaller hikes in the weeks leading up to your climb to help build muscle memory and to help your lungs adapt to altitude.
Have YOU climbed Mt. Fuji? Are there any tips you would add?