Mount Fuji has profound importance and a mystical quality to the Japanese. They refer to it as “Fuji-san,” which is a name of respect. At 12,388 feet, it is the tallest mountain in Japan and unmistakable in photographs. If you’ve ever flown into one of the airports in Tokyo, you may have seen Mount Fuji rising from the clouds.
Shortly after we moved to Japan last year, my husband and I agreed that we had to climb this hallowed mountain before we left. We missed the climbing season for 2016, so the trek was at the top of our list for 2017.
As my husband and I researched the climb and read other hikers’ accounts, we found many people who said they didn’t have a good climbing experience. Many recounted stories of extreme weather, massive crowds on the trails, or altitude sickness. So, going into the hike, we didn’t actually expect to enjoy it. We thought of the trek up Mount Fuji as something we would experience one time and check off our list.
Spoiler alert – it’s one of my favorite hikes we’ve ever done.
To the Summit and Back in One Day
This section has a short summary of our climb. The detailed logistical information is in the sections that follow.
Planning for our trip was easy, because we did it “military style.” We took advantage of all of the benefits and privileges available to us as retirees. We used space-available lodging, transportation provided by the base Trips & Recreation office, and on-base facilities, such as the gym and Base Exchange. All of these combined made the trip convenient, inexpensive, and stress-free, which contributed to making our trek up Mount Fuji one of the best hikes we’ve ever done.
We arrived at Combined Arms Training Center (CATC) Camp Fuji, located at the base of Mount Fuji, two days before our hike. The area near Camp Fuji is very quiet and surrounded by beautiful mountains. On a clear day, there is an incredible close-up view of Mount Fuji hovering just beyond the base. Our early arrival gave us a day to relax, enjoy the view, and make sure we had everything on our checklist.
The morning of the hike, the shuttle we had arranged through the Camp Fuji Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) Trips & Recreation Office picked us up at the lodge at 0500. We were the only passengers on the bus. It took about an hour to get to the trailhead, which was at the 5th Station of the Fujinomiya trail (elevation 7874 feet). From there, the driver wished us luck and said he would meet us at the base of the Gotemba trail at 17:00. If we were late, we would have to take a taxi back to the base.
The Ascent – Fujinomiya Trail
We started our hike at 0600 on a beautiful, clear day. It was breezy and much cooler than at Camp Fuji. Throughout the entire hike I wore a long-sleeved dry-fit shirt under a light fleece jacket. My husband wore a button-up hiking shirt and “wicking” undershirt. I was a bit warm at times, but having the extra sun protection from the high neck of the jacket was easier than applying sunblock.
On the way up, most of our fellow climbers were Marines from Camp Fuji along with a handful of Japanese, including a few solo climbers. The trail never got too crowded, and we ascended at a comfortable, steady pace.
All of the trails up Mount Fuji have rest stops called “stations.” At each station, we stopped to have the station’s stamp branded into our Mount Fuji walking sticks, but we did not take any extended breaks.
The views on the way up were spectacular, and it was amazing to stand on the iconic mountain that we had seen in so many pictures.
We reached the summit at about 1100. At the top of Mount Fuji, there is a beautiful shrine, a small ramen shop, and restroom facilities. You can also view the massive crater of the volcano, and if you still have energy after your climb to the summit, you can walk the trail around the crater, which takes about an hour. At least, that’s what we read, but we did not hike it. Not knowing what the Gotemba trail had in store for us on the way down, we wanted to allow plenty of time for the descent to ensure we didn’t miss our shuttle.
We spent about 45 minutes at the summit, enjoying the view, resting, and eating hot ramen noodles. Crazily enough, there is free WiFi on the mountain, but it only works in certain spots. At the summit, I couldn’t resist sending a few “greetings from the top of Mount Fuji” texts to my family.
The Descent – Gotemba Trail
The Gotemba trail was a bit steep and slippery for the first 30 minutes, and we relied heavily on our hiking sticks and poles. Eventually it flattened out and became a seemingly endless path of deep, loose sand and ash. The stations were few and far between, and there was virtually no vegetation (the image on this page gives you an idea of how it looks). It was quite foggy, so we were glad we had enjoyed our views on the way up.
There are parts of the Gotemba trail where you can run down the mountain with large strides, letting your heels dig into the deep ash, and covering three times as much ground as regular steps. Sounds fun, right? It was, for a while. But after a few kilometers, we were ready for some regular flat ground. Despite having gaiters, we had to stop and empty our shoes, which were so full of sand that we barely had room for our feet. We were also covered head to toe in black ash.
We reached the last station before the Gotemba parking lot and realized we still had more than an hour before our shuttle was scheduled to pick us up. As a reward for our accomplishment, we enjoyed a refreshing “shave ice” (you’ll likely have at least one of these while in Japan). Then we made our way to the parking lot, where our shuttle driver was waiting for us.
Top to bottom, including breaks, the Mount Fuji climb took 10 hours.
Here’s what you need to know to plan your climb.
Getting to CATC Camp Fuji
We traveled to Camp Fuji by train from Nagoya. The closest train station to Camp Fuji is Gotemba. I figured out the best way to get to Gotemba simply by using Google Maps and entering Nagoya station as my starting point and Gotemba station as my destination. From Google Maps, I could see which trains to take, what time they departed, where to transfer, and how much they cost (yes, you can get all that information from Google Maps, which is why it’s our favorite travel app).
From Gotemba station, we caught a taxi to the base. It took about 10 minutes and cost 2200 yen ($20). The taxi dropped us at the pedestrian gate, which is only a 5-minute walk to the Mountain View Inn, the temporary lodging facility on Camp Fuji.
The Mountain View Inn has 34 rooms that range in price from $42 for a standard room to $62.50 for a VIP suite (please see the link above for VIP eligibility). Space-A guests can reserve up to 60 days in advance.
We had a standard room, and it was very spacious with the usual base lodging amenities as well as a refrigerator and microwave. The Inn has a free laundry facility, which you will definitely need when you return from your hike.
Camp Fuji is quite small, and you can walk from the Mountain View Inn to the main part of the base in about 15 minutes. Please note that some of the information on the MCCS Fuji pages linked below is outdated, so be sure to verify schedules and costs before making plans based on the information.
Big Guns Gym is the fitness facility. You can buy a Fuji walking stick at the store in Big Guns Gym for $18. It’s slightly more expensive than buying it on the mountain, but it also has the Camp Fuji stamp branded into it.
Trips & Recreation is located within the library. We booked our shuttle to Mount Fuji ($25 per person round trip) through this office. The Fuji shuttle service drops you at one trailhead and picks you up at another. You can choose between a day hike and a night hike. In 2017 shuttles were available on Fridays and Saturdays from July 1st through September 3rd. Trips & Recreation provides a comprehensive gear list and other climbing advice. However, they do not offer guided hikes – they simply provide the shuttle.
Trips & Recreation also offer many other trips and tours. The day after climbing Mount Fuji, we hopped on the first leg of a day trip to Tokyo and got a direct shuttle to the New Sanno hotel (a luxury hotel that is run by the U.S. Naval Joint Services Activity) for $15 per person.
The Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) is basically a large Shoppette. It has snack food, select household and personal care items, Marine clothing & sales, and a few local souvenir items.
Dining: Retirees cannot eat in the mess hall except on certain holidays. The food court has a pizza restaurant and a Subway. The Roadhouse Enlisted Club and Station 4 SNCO/O Club also serve food, and both clubs have full service bars.
That pretty much sums it up for the facilities you’re likely to use on this small base. There is no commissary, so you will need to buy snacks for your hike at the MCX or at the 7-Eleven down the street from the pedestrian gate. Also, be sure you have all of the hiking gear and clothing you need before you get there, because you will not be able to buy or rent those items on base.
When to Climb
The official climbing season is quite short: from early July to early September. That means everyone is trying to climb during the same narrow window, and it can make for large crowds, especially on weekends and during the annual Obon holiday in mid-August (exact dates vary from year to year). If possible, climb on a weekday and avoid Obon week entirely.
Daytime vs. Nighttime
When planning a climb up Mount Fuji, you must first decide if you will climb during the day or at night. Many climbers choose to start hiking in the afternoon and spend the night on or near the summit so they can watch the sunrise from the top of Mount Fuji. Some people argue that seeing the sunrise is the whole point of the experience. However, staying overnight on the mountain introduces a whole new set of logistical issues and additional clothing and gear requirements. It can be extremely cold due to the wind, and weather at the top of the mountain is hit or miss.
We decided to keep it simple and climb during the day. We enjoyed breathtaking views all the way up, and the temperature was comfortable. If we climb Mount Fuji again, maybe we will try the night hike, but we were happy with our decision to do our first expedition during the day.
Keep in mind that no matter how hot it is at sea level (e.g. Tokyo) or even at Camp Fuji, weather on Mount Fuji is completely different. The air is dry and much cooler, and it’s usually quite windy. So don’t worry about being too hot, even in August. Instead, bring layers and a good windbreaker in case you are cold.
Even the fittest climber may get altitude sickness. As a precaution, we took ibuprofen at the start of our climb, and we maintained a slow, steady pace. Fortunately, neither of us felt sick.
Gear and Last Minute Preparation
The Camp Fuji MCCS Trips & Recreation office has a checklist that I recommend following carefully. While there are a few items that you won’t need if you’re climbing during the day (e.g. headlamp), the rest is important. A few special mentions:
- Hiking poles. Poles are helpful on the way up and a necessity on the way down. We each used one hiking pole and our Fuji walking sticks. You could get away with using only the walking stick, but the descent is steep and slippery in many places, so the extra balance of two poles is helpful.
- Sturdy hiking shoes. My husband and I both wore low-top hikers and they worked well. You need shoes with a thick sole and good treads. “Fashion” sneakers or even regular athletic shoes won’t do the job.
- Gaiters. Whether you have low-top or full hiking boots, you will want gaiters for the descent, especially on the Gotemba trail. It’s almost entirely small pebbles and volcanic ash. Gaiters will help keep all that stuff from filling your shoes.
- Hat: The sun is very strong at that altitude, and you need a hat that shades your neck. The hat should also fit tightly or have a neck strap, because the wind on Mount Fuji is powerful.
- Cash: Bring at least 5000 yen per person. Each climber must pay the “donation” of 1000 yen (about $9 at the time of this writing) at the trailhead. Toilets cost between 100 and 300 yen (they are clean and well-maintained). Burns on your stick at each station cost 300 to 500 yen. You can also buy snacks and supplies at many of the stations and at the top.
I also read a preparation list from another source that recommended hikers cut their toenails. I followed that advice and cut mine extra short. It made the long decent a little less painful.
There are four trails leading to the top of Mount Fuji. The starting point of all trails is part way up the mountain at the “fifth station,” but each trail’s fifth station is at a different elevation.
If you are using the Camp Fuji shuttle, you don’t have a lot of choice in which trail you climb, because the shuttle drop-off and pick-up points are designated. In 2017, the day hike started on the Fujinomiya trail and ended on the Gotemba trail. The night hike started on the Yoshida trail and took Gotemba on the way down.
Fujinomiya: This is the shortest trail, but also the steepest. It is the second most popular trail. It was not very crowded when we began our climb at 0600. As we ascended and began to encounter climbers who had spent the night on the mountain and were on the way down, there were a few short bottlenecks at the narrower sections of the trail.
Yoshida: The most popular trail and considered to be the easiest. As a result, it can get quite crowded, especially during the most popular climbing days. Fortunately, the ascending and descending trails are separate, unlike Fujinomiya.
Gotemba: This is the longest and flattest trail, but I would not recommend using it to ascend. Most of the trail is volcanic ash, so it would be like trying to hike a mountain of quick sand. It wasn’t especially difficult on the way down, but it was very long, and even with gaiters, we had to stop and empty the sand from our shoes.
Subashiri: This is one of the less popular trails and is generally not crowded until it joins with the Yoshida trail at the 8th station. Like the Gotemba trail, it has a section made of volcanic ash.
Leaving Camp Fuji
As mentioned above, we were lucky to hop one of the Trips & Recreation shuttles to the New Sanno. If you’re heading back to Tokyo, be sure to check the schedule to see if you can do the same. Otherwise, you can simply reverse the original directions and catch the train.
Have you climbed Mount Fuji? Tell us about your experience in the comments!