Fuji is a mountain on which people aged from 10 to 70 can be found plodding, from experienced hikers to first-timers, long-term expatriates to short-term visitors - the whole range of humanity seems to be on the trail. It is not a hike offering varied views, forest trails, peace and solitude or exceptional flora. It is a means to one end - to climb the highest mountain in Japan. That's all. - "Hiking In Japan"

Fuji-san (富士山) stands 3776 m (12389 ft) above sea level. The "standard" hiking routes start around 2000 m (~6600 ft), leaving a vertical elevation gain of about 1800 m (~5800 ft) to be ascended on foot. The treeline is approximately at the trailhead, meaning that the entire hike is fully exposed to the elements. The hike is high enough that many people acclimated near sea level can experience mild altitude sickness effects such as headaches and nausea. Even during the summer, nighttime temperatures on the mountain can sometimes dip near or even below freezing, which, in conjunction with high winds and rain, can lead to hypothermia.

Fuji-san is also the most climbed mountain in the world. It is visited by thousands of people every summer of all ages and abilities. The main hiking route is dotted with warming huts, ramen stands, and pay toilets, and you can buy hot food and keitai charms at the summit.

How much you enjoy your climb depends partly on your health, partly on your luck with the weather, and depends a great deal on your preparation. As in many areas, a little advance cleverness can go a long way.

There's a good article on climbing Fuji-san in the Lonely Planet book "Hiking In Japan", which is also a good reference on other hikes throughout the country. I've taken some material from that and combined it with my own observations from organizing a Japan Program group climb in the summer of 2003.

The Tokyo TIC publishes a pair of English-language brochures: "Climbing Mt. Fuji" and "Mt. Fuji and Fuji Five Lakes". There's also a 24-hour recorded English info line at 0555-23-3000.

Weather links:


When Japan's highest mountain is capped with snow in late autumn, winter and spring, it's a picture-postcard, perfect volcanic cone - the symbol of Japan and known throughout the world. - "Hiking In Japan"

As a perfect cone, Fuji-san can be approached from a number of directions. The most popular starting point is from the resort town of Kawaguchi-ko (河口湖), north of the mountain. There's also Subashiri (須走) to the east, the factory outlet mall town of Gotenba (御殿場) to the southeast, and Fujinomiya (富士宮) to the south. The Kawaguchi-ko-guchi trailhead is a bustling mini-mall of restaurants, souvenir shops, and so forth. The Gotenba-guchi trailhead is much sleepier, with a single small cafeteria and shop. I have no information on the other two trailheads.

The mountain (like many in Japan) is roughly divided vertically into numbered "stations" [which use the -goume (合目) counting classifer]. First Station (一合目) is at the foot of the cone, and Tenth Station (十合目) is the summit. Most of the normal hiking routes actually start at Fifth Station (五合目), which denotes the highest point on the mountain served by any roads. Truly intrepid hikers could potentially start all the way at the bottom, but few people bother to do so. The important thing here is that these stations exist on each climbing route, so "Fifth Station" is not a unique identifier. Make sure you know *which* route you're on. The station numbers don't necessarily correspond to a precise altitude, but do give a rough subdivision of the climb into stages.

The "standard" way to climb Fuji-san is as a night hike, with the intent of viewing the sunrise from the summit. The most common route starts at Kawaguchi-ko-guchi go-goume (河口湖口五合目), with most people starting the hike around 7:00 - 10:00 pm to make a 4:30 am sunrise. There are fleets of cheap express buses from Shinjuku which get the hordes to the trailhead on this schedule. When we did it, this route was an incredible sea of people. By the time we reached Seventh Station, it was so crowded that our progress was limited not by our own speed and strength, but rather by the crawling pace of the human traffic jam as it was squeezed through the boundaries of the trail. This route is studded with all-night ramen stands, rest/warming huts, and the like. There are pay toilets at every station (which start at ¥50 at the trailhead and rise to ¥200 at the summit) -- you're not really allowed to go off the trail, so you're stuck using them. Bottled water and other food and drink can be bought from the shops, but it's quite expensive.

It appears that the majority of the hiking traffic descended back to Kawaguchi-ko-guchi. However, one possible alternate route is to traverse the summit rim to the opposite side of the caldera and descend to Gotenba via the Sand Run (Suna-bashiri - 砂走り). This route is much less crowded, and has far fewer amenities. On this route, between the summit rim and the trailhead there is only a single manned rest station - the Suna-bashiri-kan (砂走館) at an elevation which corresponds roughly to Seventh Station. Make sure you're set for food, water, and toilet before starting your descent; it's much easier to acquire amenities at the summit huts. The Sand Run is a direct descent down the fall line of the mountain through thick, soft volcanic sand, allowing one to take huge leaping bounds down the mountain... possibly at the cost of some stones in your shoes. I found it great fun, but wouldn't recommend it for people with inadequate footwear or weak ankles. Others who have done this route were less thrilled, so your mileage may vary.

I think the biggest natural high I've had in Japan is from running down the suna-bashiri (sand run) on the Gotemba Route on Fuji-san's south-eastern slopes. It's as you'd imagine running on the moon to be. Lift your knees and let gravity do the rest. You virtually fly down the mountain in an area where the volcanic rock is like sand and the mountain like a big dune. [...] The only problem is getting all the scoria stones out of your boots at the bottom. - "Hiking In Japan"


Fuji-san is very convenient to a number of forms of public transit. Nonstop (and inexpensive) express buses run from Shinjuku to Kawaguchi-ko-guchi Fifth Station. There are easy rail connections from Tokyo to the town of Kawaguchi-ko, and a bus from there will take you up to the trailhead. The other trailheads all have simple bus connections to train stations.

If you're coming from Tokyo, use the Shinjuku-Fuji express bus to get dumped right at the trailhead. During the summer of 2003, the fare was ¥2600 (one way), which is far better than the combination of train fare to Kawaguchi-ko and a local bus to the trailhead. There are usually 2-3 departures per day, with the last one arriving at the trailhead sometime around 7:30 - 8:00 pm. If your Japanese skills are up to it, you can make online reservations for free on highwaybus.com. Click on the "yoyaku" (予約) link, select "Shinjuku - Fuji-san Go-goume sen(*)" (新 宿ー富士山五合目線), the date desired, and "agari" (上り) for outbound or "kudari" (下り) for inbound. Click "shoukai" (照会) to get a list of buses for that day and their availability. The "zaseki zansuu" (座 席残数) column gives a code for rough seat availability for each departure - ○ means there are seats, △ means there are a few seats left, and × means sold out. You can then click on one of the "予約" buttons to make a reservation for a particular departure, though you'll be required to open an account with the web site. (The account is free, but requires more navigation of Japanese-language web pages.) You can also make reservations (in Japanese) by calling 0353-76-2222. The TIC can probably also help with reservations. During the peak season, these buses tend to fill up, so don't count on getting a seat without a reservation.

* This is an exception to the "Fifth Station is not a unique identifier" rule. This bus line (and its destination sign of "富士山五合目") specifically refers to Kawaguchi-ko-guchi Fifth Station, even though in general you can't be sure. If you're taking some *other* express bus to Fuji-san -- like, say, from Kansai -- make sure to double-check which trailhead it's going to.

These buses all leave from the Shinjuku Kousoku Bus Terminal (新宿 高速バスターミナル) near the west entrance of Shinjuku station. Reserved tickets are paid for and picked up at the bus ticket office next to the bus platform; use the Fuji-san Go-goume (富士山五合目) ticket queue. You can pick up last-minute gear from L-Breath (just across the street from Shinjuku station's "new south" entrance - 新南 口) or the Shinjuku ICI (near Shinjuku station's west entrance and the bus terminal).

Shinjuku gear store maps:

If you can't get a seat on the express bus, or are coming from a different area, you'll need to get to Kawaguchi-ko town and take a shuttle to the trailhead. There are more frequent express buses from Shinjuku to Kawaguchi-ko station, also available on highwaybus.com. These are the Shinjuku-Fuji Go-ko sen (新宿ー富士五湖線); make sure to select a bus that's heading for Kawaguchi-ko (河口湖).

For train service, you can use ekitan.com to find a decent set of train connections to Kawaguchi-ko (河口湖) station. However you get to Kawaguchi-ko station, from there you can pick up a Tozan bus to the trailhead at Kawaguchi-ko-guchi Go-goume (hourly, 50 minute ride, ¥1900 one-way according to HiJ).

On the Gotenba side, you'll need to take a bus or taxi between the trailhead and Gotenba station. According to HiJ, the Tozan buses are usually hourly or half-hourly depending on season, and cost ¥1500 one-way. When we came through, there was a shill for the local taxi company at the trailhead whose job it was to explain to descending hikers how splitting the taxi fare 4 or 5 ways was cheaper and faster than taking a bus (which turned out to be true). Our driver didn't bat an eyebrow at a bunch of dirty, smelly hikers crowded into his cab, and treated us to an amazing GPS-aided whirlwind tour of the back alleys and driveways of Gotenba town in order to get us to the train station while deftly avoiding the tourist traffic jam. (Bonus points if you ask Sean about *his* cab ride to Gotenba station.)

JR serves Gotenba station via the Gotenba Line (御殿場線) with connections to the Odakyuu (小田急) express lines, and there is bus and taxi service from Gotenba station to the trailhead. Going the other way, the JR Gotenba line connects to the JR Tokaido Main Line (東海道本線) and thence to the Tokaido Shinkansen.

The other trailheads also have shuttle buses similar to the Gotenba arrangement. Fujinomiya town is served by the JR Minobu Line (身延線) which connects to the Tokaido Main Line (東海道本線) at Fuji station and thence to the Shinkansen; the Subashiri trailhead has buses to Gotenba station.


We left the car park at 10 pm on a clear, balmy night after a sweaty, fitful sleep at the bottom of Fuji-san, excited by the prospect of a clear-weather climb, although we couldn't make out the weather on the mountain above us. When we got off the bus at the Fifth Station it was a howling gale and driving rain. Committed to going we started the climb, convinced that the weather was clearing or that the peak would be above the storm. By the time we got to the Eighth Station we had all our clothing on - thermal top and bottom, Gore-Tex rain jacket and pants, gloves, hat and fleece - and were wishing we had more.

Arriving at the top and diving into the hut we were wet and cold. Looking around at the other hikers in the hut, particularly the gaijin, soon muted our complaints. Several of them were clearly worse off than we were: they were shivering, soaked to the skin and almost on the point of hypothermia. Some were wearing shorts with a shower-proof jogging top; others were in demin jeans; plastic shopping bags were used for makeshift hats. They were in stark contrast to the local hikers who, for the most part, were properly attired.

Most of them were obviously unprepared for the weather and not very happy at all. It was a good lesson in the vagaries of hiking to the top of Japan.

- "Hiking In Japan"

As with any mountain outdoor experience, a little forethought in the choice of what you bring can go a long way toward making your experience an enjoyable one. For a day climb of a relatively "civilized" peak like Fuji-san, your basic necessities can be summed up as food, water, clothing, light, and something to carry it all.


Not only will you need more food than usual to sustain you through the climb, in a potential hypothermia situation, it's vital to keep your body primed with calories which it can burn to keep yourself warm.

While it's certainly possible to purchase hot meals from the various concessions on the way up the Kawaguchi-ko route, and at the summit, it's still a good idea to make sure you're carrying your own food. Among other things, the concessions are expensive, and there aren't many on the Gotenba route. You should ideally be carrying enough calories to make two meals, though they don't have to be fancy. I had some reasonably good luck with various sesame and rice bars, cereals, and so forth that can be bought at most Japanese supermarkets. There's a brand of quick-meal bars called "Calorie Mate Block" which aren't actually that bad to eat (though stay away from the "cheese" flavor IMO); I'd recommend carrying a few at least. There's a brand of granola called "Kalbee" that you can get in the cereal section, and you can hunt down various trail mixes and nuts in the ¥100 snack section. Also, plan on eating a good fatty dinner before setting out... ramen and okonomiyaki are ideal.

For those of you who normally eat like birds, there's a decent chance that you will be burning more calories in one climb than you would normally burn in a few days. Do not assume that a few nuts and a packet of nori will sustain you. Bring Real Food.


Water is vital to all of the body's systems, and you will be losing a lot of it to sweating and altitude effects (see the "Health" section) as you climb. Again, you can buy bottled water at concessions, but it's expensive and inconvenient. How much water you need depends on your physiology, but you should be carrying 3-4 liters as a minimum. Yes, that's heavy. In general, water should be the heaviest thing in your pack. Trust me on this. 2 liters is not enough for this hike, as some people in my group discovered. (I usually carry 5-6 liters on hikes like this one, since I sweat a lot.) You can easily improvise water bottles from the ubiquitous 1 liter screw-top drink bottles.


"Cotton Kills." - mountaineering mantra

This is the fun part. To properly prepare for Fuji-san, you will need to have clothing suitable for temperatures down to freezing with wind and rain. You will also want to have something to wear if (when) it gets hot out during the daytime. Luckily, this isn't actually *too* hard, especially if you make sure to bring some winter clothing with you from Boston. What you will need includes:


Here's where I compromise my principles. Normally, I'd say that if you don't have sturdy hiking boots with ankle support, don't go. However, there will almost certainly be people who do this and don't want to buy $100+ hiking boots for one trip. So bring what you have, but *please* try for something sturdy. Hiking boots >> high-top sneakers >> sneakers >> sandals. (Serious style points go to anyone who completes the hike in tabi and/or geta, but if you hurt yourself because of it, I will point and laugh. ^_^) Most non-hiking shoes have tread that is just not useful on wet mixed terrain, and ankle support is important. If the best you have is a pair of low-top sneakers and you're not used to walking on uneven ground, consider wrapping your ankles with athletic tape to increase their support.

Assume that whatever shoes and socks you wear will get dirty and wet. Finally, if you descend the Sand Run, assume that gravel may get into the shoes, especially low-tops. You can improvise gaiters to keep the gravel out by using duct tape wrapping to seal off the tops of the shoes to your leg, and you will be much happier.


Speaks for itself, really. If you can manage it, the newer LED lamps run forever on very little power. I highly recommend them. Headlamps are not strictly necessary if you have a handheld light, but having your hands free is very nice. Be sure to pack extra batteries, since you'll be running the thing all night. A mini-mag is perfectly serviceable, especially if you have a jack-strap. Honestly, a 19th-century candle holder is fine, as long as it's wind/waterproof and you bring enough candles.


Sunscreen, camera, shrine passbook, medications, first-aid kit, money for toilets... Carrying a change of clothes or a camp towel in a plastic bag for dryness can be downright luxurious.


It is, however, a hike that should not be approached lightly. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by the 25°C night-time temperature and clear skies at Kawaguchi-ko because by the time you reach the peak it could be 5°C with icy cold winds and driving rain or hail. Bad weather is made worse by fatigue and the potential for early signs of altitude sickness. Without proper precautions and preparation there is a real risk of hypothermia. - "Hiking In Japan"

It's relatively hard to get lost on Fuji during peak hiking season - the routes are well-marked and generally populated (especially the Kawaguchi-ko route with its teeming throngs). It would be a good idea to carry a map (available at the trailhead souvenir shops, among other places) just to have an idea of the trails' layout, but you're hardly likely to need to do any compass work to find the next ramen hut.

Most of the mountain seems to have cellular coverage. However, the base stations are relatively far away, so if you leave your phone turned on for the whole hike, you will quickly discover you have a dead battery. I recommend turning off your phone except when in use; if you want to use them to keep in touch between groups, use voice mail or text messages (check on a pre-agreed schedule) to go back and forth. [I can't in good faith recommend cell phones as emergency devices, but they're too popular not to take note of how to operate them usefully.]

Swarms of people and huts with generators aside, some kind of light is still absolutely essential for night hiking -- some sections of the Kawaguchi-ko route are practically rock scrambles, and it's essential to see where you're putting your feet and hands. See the "Gear" section.

Fuji-san is a huge cone sticking up in the middle of a relatively low-lying area. Don't climb it in a lightning storm. Just don't.

In general, one of the primary factors in mountain injuries is insistence to push on toward one's goal in the face of increasingly adverse conditions. There is *no* shame in turning around if the weather gets nasty, or if someone is sick. There is far *more* shame in setting yourself up for a perfectly preventable injury by ignoring common sense and safety. Don't end up in the Darwin Awards.


Warning: ***These notes are not even close to a substitude for actual first aid training. Know what you're doing.***

Aside from obvious risks such as falls, blisters, sunburn, and the like, the two primary health problems that should be considered on Fuji-san are altitude sickness and hypothermia.

At least half of the sea-level residents who travel rapidly to moderate altitude (8,000 to 14,000 feet) experience some degree of acute mountain sickness (AMS). This is a collection of nonspecific symptoms that can resemble a case of flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover. - "Mountaineering: The Freedom Of The Hills"

At 12,389 ft, Fuji-san is a moderately high mountain, which means that many people who are acclimated at sea level will feel AMS. There's not a wonderful predictor for who will feel it and who won't; I've known a couple seriously hard-core hikers and climbers who can still find themselves vomiting at altitude if they don't acclimate. The good news is that Fuji-san isn't high enough to trigger any of the life-threatening altitude problems that you might see in the Himalayas (like HAPE/HACE). However, even mild altitude sickness is unpleasant, and can quickly reduce one's will to keep walking uphill. Some common symptoms at these altitudes include (but are not limited to) nausea (possibly leading to vomiting and reduced appetite); shortness of breath and/or rapid or irregular breathing; diarrhea and/or excessive urination; listlessness and lack of coordination; and headaches.

While these aren't perfectly preventable except by a multi-day acclimation period, there are some tricks we sea-levelers can do to help mitigate the effects:

There's certainly no guarantee that these things (especially the breathing trick) will prevent AMS. Anecdotally, the breathing technique seems to be helpful for me in fending off incipient AMS nausea, though. Hydration and pacing are generally good advice anyway.

When we climbed Fuji, I also saw a number of fairly miserable-looking Japanese yuppies carrying miniature handheld oxygen canisters; when they were looking a little green, they'd take a hit or two off the canister. I'm personally fairly skeptical about how effective they'd be at fighting AMS, but they seemed moderately popular. If you're so inclined, they can be purchased at the major Japanese outdoor gear stores like L-Breath and ICI.

Usually, hypothermia occurs after prolonged exposure to chilly environs rather than being the result of extreme cold. A drizzly day with the temperature around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a strong breeze is more typically the setting for hypothermia than an obvious risk situation such as exposure to a minus 30 degree cold snap at the ice cliffs. [...] As with heatstroke, hypothermia is an emergency condition that must be treated immediately to avoid the death of the victim. - "Mountaineering: The Freedom Of The Hills"

The other lurking dangers are the twin bogeys of heatstroke and hypothermia. For night climbers at elevation, heatstroke is possible but not terribly likely, although it's more probable if you're climbing during a hot daytime period. Hypothermia, however, is a very real danger at elevation, even during a Japanese summer. In general, hypothermia is a depression of one's core body temperature that comes about when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat over a sustained period of time. This is not an appropriate venue to go into all the details on hypothermia and its symptoms and treatment (go attend the MIT Outing Club's Winter School next IAP if you're interested... *plug, plug*). But there are a few key points.

First, a rainy, windy, exposed mountain, with chilly temperatures, is a prime environment for hypothermia. Second, one of the first and most insidious effects of hypothermia is an altered mental state. The victim usually becomes standoffish, contrary, and stubborn. They insist that they are feeling fine, insist on continuing onward, and are often annoyed by overly solicitous friends implying they may be in poor health. Because of this, it is *very rare* for a victim to notice on their own that they are becoming hypothermic. Third, diagnosing and treating acute hypothermia properly is difficult and risky. However, if hypothermia is allowed to spiral out of control without warming up the victim, it can be quite life-threatening.

What this all boils down to is "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." As mentioned under "Clothing", it's very important that you don't wear cotton clothing. Like our own Mt. Washington, the weather on Fuji-san can change very quickly for the worse; don't be fooled by good weather at the trailhead, and make sure to pack warm things. Stay hydrated and keep up your calorie intake -- your body needs to burn food to keep warm in adverse conditions.

This being Fuji-san rather than the wild backcountry, if you start to feel chilly, numb, or start to shiver, duck into one of the warming huts. Violent shivering is the body's last-ditch defense against heat loss, and should be considered a sign that the victim needs help *immediately*. Simple sugars (chocolate, jello, etc.) are a decent way to help warm up quickly. (Don't neglect complex carbs and fats for longer-term energy, though -- sugars are simply a band-aid.) It's very important that one should NOT feel embarassed to admit admit feeling uncomfortable -- fix it quickly before it gets worse rather than trying to tough it out. Finally, watch out for your friends in chilly weather -- if they're looking listless, uncoordinated, or otherwise out of sorts, find out what's up and make them warm up. Even if they're annoyed in the short term, it will be a win in the long term.

After all this scare text, I'll note the stats from my own trip: about 2/3 of the participants felt AMS of varying acuity, though everyone was able to complete the full hike. There were no instances of hypothermia, (the weather was mostly dry, though relatively chilly with a nighttime low of maybe 5°C on the summit), though I did end up loaning out several spare pieces of warm clothing I'd brought. Finally, there was one case of what I can only term "constipation induced by acute embarassment concerning squat toilets".

A wise man climbs Fuji once.
A fool climbs Fuji twice.
- anon. proverb

But most importantly, be sure to have a great time on your climb.


Appendix: Gearing up on the cheap

If you just go out to an outdoor store and buy lots of technical outdoor clothing, it will quickly get very expensive. So it's worth trying to get stuff on the cheap. Here are a few hints.