Last weekend I had an experience that I’ll probably never forget. I woke up with Sun before the clouds covered it on that overcast Saturday morning. I took a quick shower, grabbed my bags and headed for school. From there it was no turning back. I hopped on the bus with my fellow TUJ peers and headed to Fujisan; the tallest mountain in Japan.
We arrived at Mt. Fuji around 12:30. To get accustomed to the higher altitude we did not begin climbing immediately. In the meantime I brought a hiking stick, had some lunch, and started layering up. The weather was fine at the moment, but it surely was going to get colder as we climbed to higher heights. An hour later we all gathered as a group and began our first session up to the sixth station.
I was warned beforehand to be conscious of my breathing and heart rate. Since we were continually ascending, the oxygen content in the air was also gradually diminishing. Because of this, breathing became somewhat of an active, meditative action for me. In through the nose for a few seconds, then out through the mouth for the same amount of time. A harmony between my breathing, heart rate, and hiking grew out of this conscious, meditative act. As my focused increased, I gradually lost my sense of time. The group would take breaks every thirty or forty-five minutes, yet the time in between these breaks felt only about ten or fifteen minutes long to me. I was “in the zone” as some would say. I think at about 6:00 PM the group arrived at the 8th station of the Gotemba route. The summit was not too far from our location, yet from here on would be the hardest and steepest part of our journey.
At the 8th station we stayed in a hut along with other groups of hikers. I was welcomed by the sounds of Bob Marley and two Rastafarian-looking Japanese men who helped me dry off. It had been raining off and on the entire way up: I was soaked. I as began to remove my layers one of my friends said, “ Hey Eric, you’re on fire!” I looked over myself and notice the steam rising above the clothing I still was wearing. The exothermic energy being released combined with the cold air made it seem as if I was really on fire. Human Torch became my new nickname for the rest of the trip.
Dinner was a hearty and delicious curry-rice meal. That, combined with six hours of climbing knocked me out cold for the night. I woke up around 1:00 AM to the sounds of another group of hikers getting ready to head out and make their way to the summit. Unable to get back to sleep I decided to take a walk outside and gaze at the night sky. What I saw touched me in awe-inspiring way that I’ll never be able to fully explain in words. I felt like I had opened the door to the Universe. You’ve never really seen the stars until you lived above the clouds.
Around 5:00 AM our group began to make our way to the top. By then, the sun and clouds had covered anything reminiscent of a star. After making a brief stop at the old eighth station the summit finally came into view. We could see hikers, looking like ants in the distance, scurrying up and down the winding path. I couldn’t believe how steep it was; my doubts started to set in. I tried even more to focus simply on breathing and not looking at the peak of Fujisan. Every time I looked it only seemed even farther away. On our path there were other hikers coming down from the top. They expressed greetings and words of encouragement in Japanese: “Keep going! Just a little bit more!” I struggled to mutter a breathless response, yet each hiker who acknowledged us as we passed only pushed me to work harder.
Finally, the Top! I couldn’t believe I actually made it.
The way down was almost a breeze. I encouraged exhausted hikers to keep pressing on as I passed by, knowing how much it helped me. We took a different route down than we did on the way up. This path was a little less steep and you could keep nice little rhythm going as you walked. As we descended down into the clouds, we reached an eerie area. The area was covered with small grey rocks. Walking on them it felt as if I was walking on sand or deep fresh snow. In addition I could not see too far ahead of me or around me. The clouds engulfed everything, and a light mist cooled me down as the temperatures began to rise. After about an hour and a half or so of walking, we reached our destination.
The onsen we went to afterwards was the perfect way to end this adventure. It certainly put a delay on the muscle pain I’m feeling right now! Looking back, climbing Fujisan was certainly more of an exercise of my mental capacity than my physical capacity. Although we all walked together as a group, at some points I was very much alone with my thoughts and breathing. This may sound sort of cliche, but the journey to the top was so much more meaningful to me than the actual goal itself. I learned that the mind has the power to boost your physical ability when you feel worn to the bone.
Sorry for being so late with my blog posts everyone! To those that have been asking, I have been really busy with finals and wrapping up my time here in Japan. Many bittersweet goodbyes but I’m excited be heading back home to finish my last year of college. I’ll do the best I can to get the rest of my posts up as soon as possible, Peace!