I arrived at Lake Kawaguchiko with the intention of spending 1 night there, then a day relaxing on the shores of the lake before ascending Mount Fuji during the night to be up there for the sunrise, sounds perfect right? However after arriving at the lake we were surrounded by a lot of haze and rain so I decided to check the weather forecast to find out what was going on.It turns out there was a category 4 typhoon approaching Japan, due to hit in 36 hours time. This wouldn’t do, it would totally ruin my plans of seeing the sunrise and make the dark ascent very dangerous. I quickly rethought my plans. The trip went as follows:
- Take a bus from Tokyo Shibuya Mark City Bus Terminal to Kawaguchiko Station for ¥1800. We pre booked this ticket but there were plenty of spare seats on the bus. Another option is a bus from Shinjuku Station but these buses were fully booked.
- Walk 20 minutes to FBC Fuji Backpackers to experience staying in a capsule hotel on the shore of Lake Kawaguchiko.
- Wake up early the next morning, walk to Kawaguchiko bus/train station and book a night bus to Kyoto for ¥6200 leaving at 20:52 and arriving at 05:57 the following day. We booked this on the morning of the departure date and there were still seats available.
- Catch the shuttle bus from Kawaguchiko Station to Fuji Suburu 5th station leaving at 08:20, ¥2100 return. The return ticket can be used the following day.
- Climb Mount Fuji and be back down at the 5th station in time to catch the 19:00 bus back to Kawaguchiko, grab some food then catch the bus to Kyoto… What could possibly go wrong.
The bus from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko was easy enough, clean, spacious and running on time. Japanese public transport is fantastic and the trip took 2 hours. I thought the capsule hotel was a great experience, I’ve heard them described that its like sleeping in a coffin but I thought it was really comfortable and cosy. You get your own capsule, a light, sockets to charge your appliances, a door to shut you off from everyone and a really comfortable pillow and duvet. They were very spacious, much bigger then sleeping in a dorm bed, where my feet sometime hit the end. As I said we checked the weather forecast and saw that there was an approaching typhoon so we had to act fast otherwise we wouldn’t get to climb the mountain at all. The plan was for three of us to climb Fuji, me, Holly and Joe, the same guy who we’d met in Xian, Chengdu and Tokyo. Holly however wasn’t feeling too great and as we were making new plans that evening she said she’d see how she felt in the morning as to whether or not she would climb. We set our alarms for 06:45 as we had a lot to sort out if everything was going to go to plan.
Our alarms went off at 06:45 and the thought of climbing the 35th tallest mountain in the world wasn’t a good one. However me and Joe forced ourselves up, Holly still wasn’t feeling great so that left just me and Joe to carry on with our plans. My sugar level in the morning was 7.2 so I had a couple of chocolate croissants that I bought from 7/11 the night before and adjusted my insulin as I knew that I’d be exerting a lot effort and burning through some sugar. We arrived at Kawaguchiko Station around 7:40, stopped in 7/11 again to purchase water, food and a rain jacket for Joe as the weather was looking ominous, in fact it was already ominous, we were soaked from our 20 minute walk to the station. Step 2 was to find a place to store our bags, there’s a place opposite the bus station which costs ¥500 to keep your bag for the day but it shuts at 5pm. This wouldn’t work for us so we decided to keep them with us until the Fuji 5th station and store them in the lockers there. Step 3 was to go to the ticket window at the train station and try to book our night bus for three people to Kyoto that evening. It was quite funny ordering the tickets. We were the only people in the queue so the lady at the desk called us over, I asked for 3 tickets to Kyoto please and she ushered as over to the next window, where she walked round to serve us from there, I don’t know what was wrong with the original window. The tickets cost ¥6200 and the bus left at 20:52 so we now had a proper time scale in which to climb the mountain. After we’d purchased our tickets another person had turned up to queue behind us and went up to the window, the lady said one moment please, walked to another window and served them from there. It was like something from a comedy show. Crazy. Step 4 of the morning, it was only 08:15, was to purchase tickets to Fuji 5th station and catch the bus to Mount Fuji. The shuttle bus leaves from stand number 7 and that is where you purchase your tickets. Everyone stands in and orderly line and gets on one by one and it is all very civilised. There weren’t enough seats for me and Joe as we were at the back of the queue but they allow you to stand on the bus. 1 hour later, at 9:15 we had made it to Fuji 5th station ready to climb Mount Fuji. The building next to the bus stop has a shop on the first floor, a restaurant on the second floor and lockers on the third. We went up to the third floor, paid ¥500 each for a locker and made sure we had everything we needed; Food, water, first aid kit, waterproof jacket, jumper, money, camera, phone, dextrose tablets, glucose gel, insulin, bm kit and a sense of adventure. We planned to catch the 7pm bus back, arriving at 19:45, giving us time to eat some food before the night bus to Kyoto. It was now 9:32 leaving us 9.5 hours to climb a mountain, see some lovely views and thoroughly enjoy ourselves, or so we thought.
We planned to head up the Yoshida trail so followed the signs out of the 5th station, to the summit of Fuji, the 10th station. We picked up a leaflet on the way with some important information in it, it told us the average climb time is 6.5 hours and the decent is 4.1 hours. We had to get a hurry on otherwise we wouldn’t make it back down. We said whatever happens we’ll start heading down at 3pm to hopefully be back by 7 for the bus. There was a bit of drizzly rain when we left but we thought nothing of it. We could see some.clouds below us and some clouds above us and everything looked pretty cool. As you start heading up the Yoshida trail they ask for ¥1000 per person for mountain maintenance, you don’t have to pay this but we chose to as we thought it was a nice idea, well we paid ¥1000 between us, so ¥500 each. The climb from the 5th to the 7th station was pretty easy, the wind and rain had been picking up and we were surrounded by clouds but the walking wasn’t too strenuous and we were making good time, well ahead of schedule. We read that we had to pace ourselves and spend an hour at the 5th station to get used to the altitude, due to the risk of altitude sickness but we didn’t have time for that! We arrived at the 7th station at 10:45 and went inside to get some shelter from wind and rain. I tested my sugar level and it was 6.9, things were going well but were only going to get harder and more strenuous so I purchased a hot chocolate for ¥400, that’s the price in every station, and had a nibble on some mini chocolate cookies I’d bought that morning. After stopping for 15 minutes or so and downing some water to keep hydrated we continued on our ascent. We stepped out from the hut and then hastily back inside, it was freezing. We both put on jumpers, zipped up our jackets and tied up our hoods as the rain had turned icy and the wind was blowing something tragic. Anyway we weren’t going to let a bit of wind and rain stop us. We continued on to the 8th station, which is basically climbing with your hands and feet up sharp, jagged volcanic rock. I don’t know how we would ever have done that at night! There are a fair few huts in between the 7th and 8th stations, but none you can stop at unless you are staying there. A lot of people climb up, stay the night for about ¥5000 then carry on the rest of the way at night to see the sunrise.
We arrived at the 8th station at 12:25 and took refuge inside. We’d been surrounded by clouds since around the 6th station, and the higher we got the colder, wetter and windier it had become, it felt like the typhoon was coming. We hadn’t been able to see more than 5 metres around us for a long time and couldn’t see anything off the side of the mountain, it seemed a bit pointless to carry on really, we weren’t enjoying it, we couldn’t see anything but we’d come so far. We were 3360m up Fuji, with the summit being 3970m. I thought to myself I would regret it if I went down, I wanted to do it for the sense of achievement. People can’t enjoy running marathons but they complete them for themselves, for the pride and to say they’ve done, this was where I was now, it would have been easy to quit but I don’t do that! I tested my sugar level again and it was 6.3, I’m getting good at this diabetes stuff!! I ordered a coffee with sugar to try to combat some of the cold and finished off the biscuits I had started earlier. Things were getting dangerous outside, we couldn’t go too close to the edge with the risk of getting blown off, we couldn’t go too close to the mountainside with the risk of falling rocks. However as I said we’d come so far, we had a little pep talk and after deciding that if things got stupidly dangerous we would turn back, we shared a fist bump then continued on our way… don’t let diabetes stop you… don’t let a storm stop you.
We arrived at the summit at 13:45, the ascent taking us 4 hours and 15 minutes, we’d absolutely smashed it. However things were even worse up here, I could not see a thing, we were suffocated by clouds, an icy rain was in the air, I could see my breath for the first time on my travels and the wind was howling and swirling around. I made a quick video to my football team, Mongolian Horse FC who are affiliated with Diabetes UK, check them out on Instagram, then seeked refuge in the hut at the top. We chilled out inside for 30 minutes, motivating ourselves for the descent. My sugar level was 5.7 so I had a hot chocolate to warm myself up and had a bread roll for some carbohydrate before heading back out to fight the biting wind.
The descent took us 3 hours and 45 minutes, nearly as long as the way up which was crazy. With the Yoshida Trail there is a different way down to the way up, however this had been closed due to the appalling weather. One hour into the descent I started to get a bit light headed and felt a bit sick. The wind was howling all around us but I had to stop. I was sick 4 times in 2 minutes. Now I’m not sure if it was altitude sickness but if it was there was nothing I could do, I was already heading down. It could have been a dodgy hot chocolate but that doesn’t really make sense. Anyway afterwards I felt 100 times better, I had my tube of glucose gel to replace the sugar I’d lost and carried on my way. Climbing down the jagged volcanic rocks was harder and a lot slower than going up. Twice, for about 30 seconds, the clouds parter and we got a view of part of the mountain but we were quickly swallowed by the swirling winds, icy rain and the clouds. We left the top at 14:15 and arrived back at the 5th station at 17:58. There was a bus leaving at 6pm but we had to get grab our stuff from the lockers, get changed and have a well deserved beer so we caught the 7pm bus as planned. My sugar level was 9.2 at the bottom but things are always hard to judge when your being sick, and only a third of the way down Mount Fuji, so I was very pleased with my diabetes control. In hindsight I shouldn’t have had the whole tube of glucose gel but for me it wasn’t worth the risk of not having it all. We arrived back at Kawaguchiko Station at 19:45, went for dinner a 2 minute walk from the station. I chose spaghetti with meat sauce as I was knackered and I find pasta really filling, it was perfect and just what I needed. The bus to Kyoto was on time, spacious and clean. At 12:10 it stops for everyone to go to the toilet (there is a toilet on board though) and stretch their legs. Before leaving at 12:25, the driver came up to me and said I could move to 2 empty seats as 2 people had got off. I don’t know why he chose me, maybe he heard about the diabetic hero who climbed Mount Fuji with an approaching Typhoon… Don’t Let Diabetes Stop You.