Mt. Fuji, Japan July 28-29 (no ski but there was some snow)

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Mt. Fuji, Japan July 28-29 (no ski but there was some snow)

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Aug 03, 2009 6:26 pm

On my recent Far East trip I arranged time to climb Mt. Fuji. The peak is 12,385 and the most popular Kawaguchiko trailhead on the NE side is at 7,550. For logistics reasons I needed to climb the south side Fujinomiya trail, which is a steeper grade but starts at 7,900. The Japanese authorities only encourage climbing in July and August, and have set up several overnight huts on all 4 routes (the others have lower trailheads and are much less used) which are not open much out of that timeframe. Mt. Fuji is probably within my capability as a day hike (parameters very similar to San Gorgonio) but public transit to the trailheads are geared to the 2-day schedule so a private car or $100+ cab ride would be necessary for an early morning start. The other reason for the overnight huts is a Japanese tradition to be on the summit for sunrise.

The hike turned out to be very challenging due to adverse weather. It had been cloudy with some rain for a week. Snow-forecast said it would break for the night and day of my climb but it did not. Japan's climate is similar to East Coast at similar latitude (DC, VA, Carolinas) but with rugged western topography. Lots of humidity but also lush vegetation and dense forest up to the treeline, which was about 8,000 on the south side and 8,400 on the north side of Fuji.

I started up Fujinomiya at 4:15PM July 28.
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This white outfit is the traditional Japanese attire for Fuji. I did not see many people dressed like this higher up.
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I rode the bus to the trailhead with a young British couple, Ian and Claire. They were on a 2+ month trip that would later include snowboarding in New Zealand. They were fit but did not have altitude experience, so I gave them each a Diamox on the bus. Here one of them took my picture just above the 6th station maybe 8,500 feet.
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Here Ian chats with 2 climbers on their way down. They had wind and rain on the summit mid-morning, though they heard it had been calmer at sunrise.
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Soon we were at the new 7th station at 9,100 feet, where Ian and Claire had a reservation. Since they were doing fine, I suggested they go higher, especially if they were going to try for the sunrise. They elected to stay there, perhaps after hearing my "sleep altitude" warnings on the bus.
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I continued up to the old 7th station at 9,880 feet, just coming into view here. The trail in foreground was typical of much of Fujinomiya, resembling rock stairs more than a trail. The NE trail is more graded into long switchbacks. I've now entered the cloud/fog zone also. I arrived 6:15PM.
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Dinner at 7th station
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Bunk area. Lights out at 7PM in deference to those trying to make it up top for sunrise. I was not tempted as it blew hard and rained most of the night. I stepped in a puddle on the way to a Diamox pee break at 2AM. Until 2001 Mt. Fuji had a serious sanitation problem. They have now installed sophisticated chemical toilets at the stations, and there is generally a 200 yen charge to use them and cover maintenance.
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I got up by 5AM. I was now glad I had hauled winter clothing through sweltering China and the eclipse cruise. I needed the Gore-Tex jacket and base layers when I headed up at 6:15AM in the wind (~15-20) and fog. With the high humidity my glasses were constantly fogging, so I put them away within half an hour.
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Within 15 minutes the weather got worse. It rained hard, mostly sideways with the wind. I put a plastic rain jacket over the pack, but some of the ties came loose a few times and had to be reattached. My hiking shoes are Gore-Tex, but 20 years old and after half an hour they saturated. However, with the hooded jacket my core remained comfortable and I was able to continue up. Here's the 8th station at 10,600 in the pouring rain. Hikers were not allowed inside to rest here, as it may have been full with those spending the night.
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To be continued...
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Re: Mt. Fuji, Japan July 28-29 (no ski but there was some sn

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Aug 04, 2009 1:14 pm

I did get a 20-minute break here at the 9th station at 11,300 feet. I took my boots off and wrung about a pint of water out of each of the 4 socks I was wearing.
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A short distance above the 9th station the rain let up some and I was surprised by this view:
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This snowfield had to be much bigger than what's left at Alta from the 7/15 pics. Looking both across in the previous pic and down in this one I could not see where it ended as it disappeared into the fog.
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A few switchbacks higher I could see the top of the snowfield at about 11,700. The exposure here is maybe a bit east of due south, similar to Timberline's Palmer snowfield. I saw absolutely no snow descending the NE side Kawaguchiko Trail. On both Mt. Hood and Mt. Fuji I have no good explanation of why snow lasts longer on south exposures. I suspect it must snow much more on those aspects during the winter.
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I made it to the top of Fujinomiya 12,200 at 9:10AM
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Inside Shinto Shrine there:
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There was also a shelter where I bought a cup of Ramen noodles with hot water and wrung out the socks again. I was in there for 40 minutes, and since I wasn't getting any warmer I put on my ski hat.
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While Fuji is very symmetrical, the highest point is on the western rim. But the wind was from the west and I had been warned the previous day that it was stronger on the rim than on the trail. It was also an hour on the west rim to the Kawaguchiko Trail vs. half an hour on the east. So I headed east, shortly reaching the top of the Gotemba Trail on the SE side.
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The trail was mostly just below the rim. Where there were gaps the wind gusted through them at 40+, and with the fog you couldn't see into the crater anyway. I was also not tempted to climb here to the high point of the east rim.
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As I reached the next shelter area the wind gusted strongly and detached 2 of the rain ties from the pack. So after fixing them I started down the Subashiri bulldozer road. I emerged from the fog about where the Subashiri and Kawaguchiko trails come together at 11,200.
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Kawaguchiko 8th station huts will house ~200 people each as this is the most popular climbing route.
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About halfway down ~9,700 I met an American teacher who lived in Tokyo and had driven up early with his 15 year old son and a friend to attempt a day hike. They saw the weather above and turned back at the 8th station. This mid-mountain view around noon was the clearest I had all day.
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From him I got some more info that might interest you skiers. The road to the Kawaguchiko trailhead is plowed by about late March. He drove up once then and hiked up a bit in about a 3 foot snowpack at 8,000 feet. The trees are very dense but they end abruptly at 8,400. So there's 3,800 vertical of wide open perfectly pitched fall line above that. Definitely accessible to those with salida-level fitness. April is the recommended time for general Japan tourism in terms of comfortable weather and cherry blossom season (the DC analogy again). This is also probably the optimal time for backcountry skiing on Mt.Fuji. For a dedicated ski-centric trip to Japan, Niseko with its 160-inch January monthly average snowfall is the best time.
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Re: Mt. Fuji, Japan July 28-29 (no ski but there was some snow)

Postby salida » Tue Aug 04, 2009 2:09 pm

Do they have any rules on skiing on this beast? Seems like they wouldn't like that so much.
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Re: Mt. Fuji, Japan July 28-29 (no ski but there was some snow)

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Aug 04, 2009 4:22 pm

I found this on snowjapan.com:

Of course any discussion of Japan and volcanoes, is not complete without the Japanese national symbol Mt. Fuji (or "Fuji-SAN" in Japanese). Mount Fuji is not actually host to any ski areas itself, but it is the most climbed mountain in the world, and at least a handful of those climbers are daring enough to bring their skis and boards. How is the skiing on Fuji-San? Well, I have never been on it....yet, but I have talked to people who have. The quote I remember best goes something like this; "I have never been more scared skiing in my life - Fuji san was so big and there was so much snow...you never knew if you were going off a cliff or something". This comes from, hands down, the most "fearless" recreational skier I have ever met, who had a habit of jumping OVER 30 feet tall trees at Aomori Prefectures’s Hakkoda Ropeway.


I don't see the terrain as being an issue, pitch was very consistent. Snow stability is another animal. It's an isolated peak, so I was not surprised by the wind, which may be chronic like Mt. Bachelor. So there could be big wind drifts, cornice buildups, etc. But Kawaguchiko trailhead is on the NE side with presumably the least wind. I would be comfortable up there in terms of ski skills. But not backcountry knowledge or reading snow stability. It must be safer in spring snow than winter. And it looks like Patrick could get July and August for his streak sometime. :wink:

Japanese authorities discourage climbing outside the 2+ month season when the huts are open. But if that road is plowed by late March, I don't think they would stop a well equipped climber in spring.
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Re: Mt. Fuji, Japan July 28-29 (no ski but there was some snow)

Postby salida » Tue Aug 04, 2009 4:28 pm

http://www.summitpost.org/view_object.p ... _id=150415

What's the deal with everyone staying overnight on this guy? Seems like no more than 5K vert on the maps?

Slope angle never goes over 30 degrees according to summit post. Seems like an easy ski to me.
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Re: Mt. Fuji, Japan July 28-29 (no ski but there was some snow)

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Aug 05, 2009 1:21 am

Excellent link above by salida, better than any I found before my trip. Though I was looking mainly for the practical info, how to get there, when the buses ran, etc.

Slope angle never goes over 30 degrees according to summit post. Seems like an easy ski to me.

Once you get to May or so and snow stability is presumably not an issue, I think this would be true for most of the regulars here on FTO. Top of San Gorgonio is definitely steeper. Hike up would be no worse than San Gorgonio when I did it with skis in the early 1980's and much easier than now with the more distant trailhead. For Utah or Colorado locals with even moderate backcountry experience, Fuji is surely well within their comfort zone as a daytrip spring ski, weather and snow stability permitting.

What's the deal with everyone staying overnight on this guy? Seems like no more than 5K vert on the maps?

1) The sunrise tradition
2) 99% of people are starting from sea level with no intermediate acclimatization like Denver or Salt Lake.
3) Many hikers with no experience at altitude. Better chance for success to break up the climb
4) I would have considered a day hike if logistics had worked. But the public transit is geared to people starting in afternoon and spending the night.

I've heard the success rate is only 60%:
1) The regular Japan Alps only go up to 10,600 and no ski lifts above 7,000 I can find. Therefore many locals may not know their altitude sensitivity when they try it.
2) Given the consistent overcast and rain I saw in Japan, I'm sure many are turned back by weather like the Tokyo teacher and his 2 teenagers. I knew Japan's general climate, knew Fuji was an isolated peak and have spent enough time in mountains that figured I should bring ski clothing even though it was July 29. And I needed all of it, would definitely have been hypothermic in wind and rain without it.

During the climbing season, this is your chance to hike up the mountain with up to 2000 people per day and literally run into gridlock on the mountain as hordes of people stream out from the mid-mountain huts to wait for the sunrise, possibly preventing you from reaching the summit in time and forcing you to see it on the slopes.

Maybe I should not complain about the weather. No crowds up top in the fog and gale of July 29. The steeper Fujinomiya trail I climbed also sees much less traffic than Kawaguchiko. Some might say I was even tempting fate climbing that trail alone in those conditions, as I sometimes went 20 minutes or so without seeing anyone. Descent of Kawaguchiko wasn't all that busy that day either. It was also midweek; Fuji should probably be avoided during July/August weekend/holidays.
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Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
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Re: Mt. Fuji, Japan July 28-29 (no ski but there was some snow)

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Aug 05, 2009 1:54 am

Map of climbing trails:
Fuji_map1.jpg


Detail map of summit crater area:
Fuji_map2.jpg

I ascended the blue trail (Fujinomiya) from the bottom of the maps, descended the zigzag bulldozer trail to the dotted yellow trail (Kawaguchiko).

Picture of upper mountain on wall in Narita airport, probably north side around late May:
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http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
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Re: Mt. Fuji, Japan July 28-29 (no ski but there was some snow)

Postby salida » Wed Aug 05, 2009 9:34 am

"SAFETY CLIMBING GUIDE"

I love it.

It's like going to the chic chocs, you can only ascend and ski in certain drainages... you might disrupt the wild caribou.
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Re: Mt. Fuji, Japan July 28-29 (no ski but there was some sn

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Jan 26, 2011 2:46 am

I had a day in Tokyo before skiing so I returned to Disney Sea, where I had a better view of Mt. Fuji than anytime during my summer 2009 trip when I climbed it.
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Very clear, Fuji is at least 70 miles away.

One of the people on the Black Diamond Power Trip is John, an American working in Tokyo for the past 2 years. He climbed Mt. Fuji on a nice day in August 2009. On my night of July 28-29 an American and a Japanese set out from one of the shelters in the rain and fog in an attempt to make the summit for sunrise. They lost the trail and were found dead of hypothermia the next day.
http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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