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January 25, 2008

Trip of a Lifetime: Climbing Mt. Fuji With a Preteen

By Guest Blogger

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Fujiclimbingsticksscarborough With special thanks to Sheila Scarborough of the excellent BootsnAll Family Travel Blog for this week's guest post.

I'm not sure which was more physically challenging: the oxygen-deprived hours climbing up 12,388-foot Mt. Fuji or the crumbly, dusty, thigh-burning slog back down.

My preteen daughter, twenty-something nephew, and I took advantage of the short July-August climbing season to attempt a half-day trek to the top of Japan's venerated Fuji-san. Before an early morning start from the well-appointed Fifth Station partway up the mountain, we each bought a traditional wooden walking stick (kongo-tsue) with a Japanese flag and tinkling bell. Sticks can be burned with a special brand at each trail resting station. It's a nifty souvenir that also provided invaluable leverage for tired bodies on the popular Kawaguchiko Trail, one of many routes to the summit.

We were lucky that day: the weather was clear and pleasant so none of us needed the precautionary raingear in our daypacks, although we certainly used our jackets and hats to keep warm. It was a great feeling of accomplishment to climb up above the clouds and admire the expansive view.

There was plenty of vegetation at the Fifth Station, where most hikes start out, but that soon gave way to endless fields of black lava and undistinguished rocks. There's a lot of monotony in a Fuji climb, even with the camaraderie of fellow climbers, the chance to rest in lively trail huts, and the bracing experience of a breezy-bottomed pit stop at a mountain toilet. One foot in front of the other, plus plenty of water and energy bars, is the key to success.

Unfortunately, my teen was felled by mild altitude sickness at about 10,000 feet and we had to turn around before reaching the top. Even buying her a can of oxygen at a trail hut didn't seem to help the nausea or headache. And to meet our bus transportation schedule, our loose group also had to begin the descent at 1 p.m. no matter where any of us were on the trail, so there was no time to keep trying.

My nephew was able to summit, and he assured me that the last part of the climb was quite vertical and rocky. After a few blasts of cold wind and a little rain at the top, he was happy to come back down.

I would recommend the climb for anyone in good physical condition, but don't take it lightly and don't be too disappointed if something prevents you or one of your kids from reaching the summit. My daughter now says, "I'm really glad that I climbed most of Fuji, but I don't think I'd try it again." You never know, we'll just have to make another visit to Japan. -- Sheila Scarborough

More Useful Info:
Check out American expat Scott Keehn's Introduction to Mt. Fuji Climbing, which includes useful tips about safety, trail conditions, and places to stay. You should also read Tracy Dahlby's account from the March 2007 issue of Budget Travel, as well as check out the section on climbing Fuji.

Photo: Fuji climbing sticks (Sheila Scarborough)

Japan's got more going for it than bright lights and temples—namely, some of the best places in the world to ski, climb, kayak, bike, and surf. Bow down to the wild, wild East in this article, "Land of the Rising Fun", from the September '06 issue of Outside magazine.

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Family Vacation


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