Climbing Mt. Fuji at Night
Wow, What a View just after sunrise, just prior to a typhoon blowing in at 3,205m (10,500') elevation, on Japan's Mt. Fuji -- Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山の白雲荘) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 220 — map & image datanearby photos
Wow, What a View
just after sunrise, just prior to a typhoon blowing in
at 3,205m (10,500') elevation, on Japan's Mt. Fuji

I moved to Japan in 1989, and the person who met me at the airport in Tokyo was Krish Kulkarni, a graduate student at Tokyo University, and the twin brother of Ram Kulkarni, my best friend at my own graduate school in America. I had most recently met both of them a year ago in Tokyo, and last week met Krish and his family as they vacationed in Japan.

Climbing Mt. Fuji was high on the list for Krish's 19-year-old son Vishnu, and they kindly invited me along.

Our Hotel Kawaguchiko Hotel (河口湖ホテル) -- Kawaguchiko Hotel (河口湖ホテル) -- Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/2500 sec, f/5.6, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
Our Hotel
Kawaguchiko Hotel (河口湖ホテル)
View From The Back Window -- Kawaguchiko Hotel (河口湖ホテル) -- Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 44mm — 1/2500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 720 — map & image datanearby photos
View From The Back Window

Krish's back was bothering him, and despite a massage in Kyoto from Ken-chan that helped a lot, he decided to sit this climb out, knowing that I'd be there to look after his family. Anyway, Krish had already climbed Fuji twice in his life, which is more than enough.

There are various trails up Fuji, but the only one open this early in the season was the Yoshida Trail. One reaches it by road to the 5th Station at about 2,300m (7,500'), then hikes the remaining 1,476m (4,800') of vertical climb.

Our plan was to climb at night, so as to see the sunrise from the top.

We didn't make it.

Our Last View of the Mountain at least, our last non-close-up view, on the drive up toward the “ 5th Station ” -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm — 1/800 sec, f/2.8, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
Our Last View of the Mountain
at least, our last non-close-up view,
on the drive up toward the 5th Station
Scenic View on the drive up -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Narusawa-mura, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 1100 — map & image datanearby photos
Scenic View
on the drive up
At the Parking Lot Mt. Fuji Yoshida 5th Station -- Mt. Fuji Yoshida 5th Station -- Narusawa-mura, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 0.6 sec, f/4.5, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
At the Parking Lot
Mt. Fuji Yoshida 5th Station

In the past I've had very good (skill) with slow-shutter hand-held shots, such as this, this, and this, but my luck (skill) wasn't here on this hike; the shot above, and other slow-shutter hand-held shots are all pretty bad, sorry.

At about 8pm, the three of us (Krish's wife Nilu, son Vishnu, and me) headed out from the parking lot.

Starting the Hike Proper with Nilu Kulkarni and Vishnu Kulkarni -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/6 sec, f/2.8, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
Starting the Hike Proper
with Nilu Kulkarni and Vishnu Kulkarni
Half an Hour In at the “ 6th Station ” photo by Vishnu Kulkarni -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Half an Hour In
at the 6th Station
photo by Vishnu Kulkarni
What We Saw for most of the night.... nothing more than a string of lights -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/4 sec, f/2.8, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
What We Saw
for most of the night.... nothing more than a string of lights

At various places along the trail are huts that seem to be privately-owned businesses that offer lodging, and food/drink. They have bright lights, so you can see those dotting the path going up, as well as the lights of the climbers slowly moving like fireflies in between.

Early on we didn't meet many others on the trail, except a few descending from having seen the sunset, and the occasional few fast-paced hikers that passed us. I was astounded at how many people completely ignored my hearty good evening as we passed on this relatively unsteep early section. It's possible that a few had earphone in and didn't hear me, but for the most part I think some people are just jerks. 🙁

Early View Back to the City -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/4 sec, f/2.8, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
Early View Back to the City
Unfathomable if you need a smoke here, your addiction has stripped all self control -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 36mm — 1/25 sec, f/2.8, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
Unfathomable
if you need a smoke here, your addiction has stripped all self control
Sunrise it looked so much nicer than this photo illustrates -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm — 1/13 sec, f/2.8, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
Sunrise
it looked so much nicer than this photo illustrates
Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 48mm — 1/8 sec, f/2.8, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
Getting Farther from the city -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/8 sec, f/2.8, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
Getting Farther
from the city

Climbing at the pace we went was not physically challenging for me, though I saw many out-of-shape people who were puddles of misery very early on.

For most people who can climb a few flights of stairs without needing to stop, success comes down to a few basic things:

  • Have comfortable, well-fitting hiking shoes.
  • Have appropriate clothes (it's both very hot and very cold at the same time).
  • If climbing at night, have a good light.
  • Be lucky and don't get altitude sickness.

That last point is the hard one to predict, and the one that waylayed our attempt to summit.

But first, a couple of comments about equipment.

I used this flashlight, which was more than bright enough for climbing while at its lowest setting. I see now in my blog post about that flashlight that it's purported to last for 5 days on its lowest setting, but sadly I didn't remember that and so was perpetually worried that my battery would run out.

I had the head-mount strap with me, but I never used it. The path is very rocky, so for safety you really need to see each rock and judge its size/location precisely, and to do this you need shadow. With the light mounted next to your eyes, you are the only one who doesn't seen the shadows cast by your own light... you see everything fully lit, which may sound nice but you totally lose the ample depth information that shadows provide. Most people I saw had head-mounted lights, but I carried mine in my hand, well below and off to the side of my eyes. It was very effective.

One thing I didn't use were hiking poles. My hikes-a-super-lot bother Steve swears by them, but I think they're more of a hindrance on this climb than a help. It's not just a hike, as there are times you have to carefully scramble up steep rocks on all fours.

(The descent path, on the other hand, which has very different terrain, is perfect for hiking poles.)

Anyway, back to altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness, which apparently presents as an intense headache and/or nausea, seems totally unrelated to one's level of fitness, or to any other non-altitude experience we've had. It seems to be a predisposition that you're born with, but don't find out about until you're on the mountain. It's a roll of the dice.

In our case, 19-year-old energetic Vishnu, who had been leaping up the trail with seemingly-boundless energy, was suddenly struck by deep nausea and malaise. He tried to press through it for some hours, sometimes curling up in a fetal ball on the edge of the trail to recoup energy. At one of the huts he bought canned oxygen, which he said helped a bit, but it was too little too late, and finally at around 2:30am we stopped at the 3rd hut in the 8th Station and paid for a bunk to rest.

In stopping, we knew that we were abandoning the chance to see the sunrise from the top. At that point the hike to the top would take about two hours (if we were all well), and that's just how long it was until the 4:30 sunrise.

He and his mom were asleep within minutes.

By 4am it looked like the approaching typhoon, which had seemed to be something for later in the afternoon after we'd descended, was actually going to arrive much sooner. The wind was amazing. We heard later that some folks who had been approaching the top to see the sunrise from there were turned away, so I guess it's just as well that we hadn't tried.

Sunrise from Mt. Fuji Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山 の 白雲荘), at 2,304m -- Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山の白雲荘) -- Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 250 — map & image datanearby photos
Sunrise from Mt. Fuji
Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山白雲荘), at 2,304m
Side View shows the steepness -- Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山の白雲荘) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 1800 — map & image datanearby photos
Side View
shows the steepness
Looking Down at the trail we'd arrived on -- Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山の白雲荘) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2000 — map & image datanearby photos
Looking Down
at the trail we'd arrived on

Having climbed in darkness and seen only whatever rocks were within the limited view afforded by my flashlight, I had no idea what the landscape really looked like until now. It was barren and rocky, to say the least.

Me and Puffy photo by Vishnu Kulkarni -- Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山の白雲荘) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 320 — map & image datanearby photos
Me and Puffy
photo by Vishnu Kulkarni

I thought it would be fun to bring Puffy, a stuffed panda that has a special place in our house, on the hike, just for a photo at the top.

My fashion looks ridiculous, I know, but it was what I had available, and it kept me very comfortable. The base garment is winter cycling bib-tights, which even though they're just one thin layer, keep my legs warm while riding at speed in sub-freezing temperatures. Over that I put a pair of gym shorts, for looks (cycling tights look really weird to non-cyclists, I imagine).

For the upper body, I had an Under Armour cold-gear shirt, which I wear when cycling, and the yellow Gore wind-resistant jacket that I also use for cycling. In between is a big green raincoat that I'd put on just for the descent, because it looked like rain would come soon.

So basically, I was wearing all cycling gear except for the shoes, the raincoat, and the gym shorts.

As for the spectacular lenticular clouds in the background, I was told that they are a common sight just before rain. I'd never seen such spectacular clouds before, so I was thrilled.

Puffy's New Friend worker at the hut, who lives there full time -- Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山の白雲荘) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 40mm — 1/80 sec, f/4.5, ISO 2200 — map & image datanearby photos
Puffy's New Friend
worker at the hut, who lives there full time
Back into the Backpack 10 gallons of Puffy getting squished into a 5-gallon backpack photo by Vishnu Kulkarni -- Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山の白雲荘) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 1250 — map & image datanearby photos
Back into the Backpack
10 gallons of Puffy getting squished into a 5-gallon backpack
photo by Vishnu Kulkarni
Vishnu and Nilu before we start back down, hoping to beat the rain -- Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山の白雲荘) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 360 — map & image datanearby photos
Vishnu and Nilu
before we start back down, hoping to beat the rain

I may as well include here the photo that appears on the previous post, taken just after sunrise at about 4:30am:

Hakuunso on Mt. Fuji (富士山の白雲荘) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/2018-07-08/2866 -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/80 sec, f/4.5, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos

Half an hour later, we were starting our slow descent back to the car...

Heading Down -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 140 — map & image datanearby photos
Heading Down
Saying Goodbye the initial reason for the trip -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/60 sec, f/4.5, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Saying Goodbye
the initial reason for the trip

One impetus to climb Mt. Fuji was to spread the ashes of their dear dog Sabkuch, who died just before the trip. He'd been a member of their family since Vishnu was a kid.

Ever-Changing Clouds notice how the lenticular clouds look different in each shot... they morphed among shapes fairly quickly -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 32mm — 1/60 sec, f/5.6, ISO 125 — map & image datanearby photos
Ever-Changing Clouds
notice how the lenticular clouds look different in each shot...
they morphed among shapes fairly quickly
Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm — 1/160 sec, f/5.6, ISO 280 — map & image datanearby photos
Passing By One of the “ 7th Station ” Huts -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 31mm — 1/60 sec, f/5.6, ISO 280 — map & image datanearby photos
Passing By One of the 7th Station Huts
Connecting from the ascent trail that we'd been on, to the descent trail -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 55mm — 1/125 sec, f/5.6, ISO 450 — map & image datanearby photos
Connecting
from the ascent trail that we'd been on, to the descent trail
Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/5.6, ISO 160 — map & image datanearby photos
Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 60mm — 1/125 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/400 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Taking a Little Break as what looks like a parent-child pair walk by -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/100 sec, f/7.1, ISO 560 — map & image datanearby photos
Taking a Little Break
as what looks like a parent-child pair walk by

By this time Vishnu's altitude sickness had abated, but unfortunately it was replaced by foot pain, for both Vishnu and his mom, who had rented their shoes and other equipment. In particular, Nilu was really suffering with each step, so the 3h45m descent was really unfun for her. Vishnu and I took turns helping her down.

Getting Darker -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/200 sec, f/7.1, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Getting Darker
Last Photo before the rain -- Mt. Fuji (富士山) -- Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan -- Copyright 2018 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm — 1/320 sec, f/7.1, ISO 640 — map & image datanearby photos
Last Photo
before the rain

It rained heavily for the last couple hours of the descent, but with the rain gear we were fine. It's the rental shoes that made the descent hell for Nilu and Vishnu. We vowed to do it again some year soon, but with well-worn shoes.

We got to the car at about 8:45am, absolutely soaking wet, and made the 30km drive back to the hotel.

Here's the hike on Strava:

The next day, I did the road part by bicycle, twice, but that's a separate article.

To be continued...


All 2 comments so far, oldest first...

I’m really excited reading your experience climbing Mount Fuji. Visited Kawaguchiko 2 years back and plan to climb this stunning mountain one day.

— comment by Amy on July 14th, 2018 at 11:20am JST (1 week, 2 days ago) comment permalink

Nice post Jeffrey.

Altitude sickness is a funny thing. One summer I guided the same 3000m peak four times, and for some reason I had altitude sickness on the third trip. I think it has to do with variable conditions like quality of sleep, appetite, alcohol the night before, etc.

— comment by Ted T on July 19th, 2018 at 6:12am JST (4 days, 11 hours ago) comment permalink
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