Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Konnichiwa Fuji-san ...

Our trip to Mt. Fuji it well worthy of a post in it's own right - our intention was to attempt a night-time summit of the 3770m crater rim in time for the 4.30am sunrise. Little went according to plan.

Arriving at Kawaguchi-ko by train, we deposited our main luggage and transferred to the bus for the 1hr journey up the mountainside to 5th station (2300m) and the start of our climb - our plan being to ascend that afternoon to 7th station (2700m) where we'd grab a hot meal & sleep in a mountain hut for a few hours before starting out for the summit at midnight.

After a lung-busting 400m climb in the thin mountain air, we reached 7th station. It was shut. Not only that but we'd also hit the knee-deep snow line, and the descending climbers we met had taken 12 hours (rather than the prescribed 7) to make the round trip in daylight. Plan B was always to make the ascent before nightfall, and then decend to 5th station in darkness. With the added complication of snow we decided it was too risky - clearly what we needed now was a Plan C.

So after a quick snack high above the clouds at 7th we decided a quick return to 5th would have cheated us of adventure. On the basis of a few badly-remembered details from the Lonely Planet, we decided to hike the Yoshiguchi trail to the foot of the mountain. We would later come to realise it was 1500m descent and over 17km back to town. And unfortunately not our town.

The trail was pretty well marked and we marched quickly through the dense cloud forest. We'd been walking for a total of 5 hours, and were starting to tire when nightfall came at 7.30pm - our legs we're starting to feel the strain of the relentless downhill. Shortly afterwards we reached the first information sign - and with it the brutal realisation that the recommended time for the remainder of the trail was just over 4.5 hours.

The best outcome for us now was looking like a night sleeping in the train station - the worst being eaten by the local bear population. The only signs of civilisation were the occasional derelict mountain hut, and a series of increasingly erie shrines - all lovely by day I'm sure, but at this point the evening took on a slightly spooky feel as we were regularly startled by noises from the undergrowth. By this stage my joking comments of "let's persevere together" were failing to raise Mel's spirits. To put it mildly.

Eventually we arrived in pitch black darkness at a rather larger shrine, and a large graveyard. We could see nothing bar the slightly paler black sky above us when we killed the headtorches, but we stopped for a final rest and refuel before the final stretch - the signs indicated a further 150 minutes to go. Here we joined a tarmac trail - surely the first signs we were getting close to civilisation? so we followed it eagerly through the dense forest.

We were about 15 minutes out of the graveyard, when something strange happened - a car came up the tarmac road towards us. Blinded by the headlights, we couldn't be sure be as it passed us but just maybe there was a taxi sign on the roof - perhaps dropping off a climber at the trail? a late night extra marital affair? Yakuza drug deal? we didn't really know, but dared to hope it would come back our way (we'd seen no other), and taxi or not, we agreed to try hitching a lift.

30 minutes later and our hopes of a timely rescue by a passing motorist we evaporating fast. Hearing some a loud noises from the undergrowth to our right, I turned my head expecting the usual nothing. Instead my torch illuminated two pairs of eyes - someway back from the trail but most definitely looking in our direction.

I quickly calculated from the distance between the eyes, and their height off the ground that I either had a squirrel sat on the bridge of my nose, or a couple of large mammals were checking us out. I squeezed Mel's hand and a quick surge of adrenaline quickened our pace as we marched forwards not daring to look back.

First we heard it roar. Then we looked round and saw it rushing towards us, closing the distance at a speed of over 25 miles per hour. We couldn't possibly outrun it. Thankfully it was a taxi - with it's for hire light on. We stood in the middle of the road so it had to stop. I doubt the taxi driver has ever had two more grateful passengers.

I guess we'll never know what was out there, our guidebook suggests deer or bear as the most likely candidates. The post-mortem on our little adventure revealed that we'd left the trail in favour of tarmac at the shrine. But this chance mistake (and a heap of luck) had got us a comfy ride back to town, just in time to rescue our luggage from the station and check in to a comfortable Ryokan (Japenese-style guest house) 20 minutes before curfew.

The wonderful hot tub at the guesthouse just about ensured Mel was still speaking to me the next morning ...

Another footnote;
I've discovered a few more things I can't do while in China ... like update my reading list (can't access the code to link to reviews/images) ... or transfer video files due to pitiful bandwidth. Not to mention riding a bike, but that's got nothing to do with censorship ... although it will do if the authorities ever see me in short trousers ...

What I have added this week is something that I'm sure will be of interest to a lot of you - scroll down the sidebar and I've added league table for local beers. The only criteria for entry being I have to have drunk the beer in it's country of origin. In the course of my very extensive research I suspect I've probably drunk and forgotten a few more - but I guess that's what happens when you're dedicated to your work ...