Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Fuji-san 3: Last Legs

Lake Kawaguchiko, Japan

The first difficulties we encountered when descending Fuji were the strong winds. They weren't as powerful as they were on the top of the mountain, but they were decidedly more dangerous. Climbing down is always a bit tricky, as it can be difficult to control your speed of descent. But, with Fuji's strong, gusting winds, it really was hairy. They would come from seemingly random directions, and sometimes felt almost like I had suffered a full-body punch. There were multiple times during that initial descent that I had to stop moving and crouch down against the wind, waiting for it to die down before I felt safe enough to continue without tumbling down the mountain.
When we finally got to a safer part of the climb, the wind stopped being a danger, and became more of an extreme nuisance. Well, not the wind so much as the dust that it churned up. The path we were hiking down was covered in super-fine red volcanic dust, and every time Fuji decided to kick the wind up around us, we were blasted with stinging clouds of high-velocity dust. It got everywhere; In our eyes, in our lungs, in our ears... I could go on about every crevice in the human body that could hide this dust, but I will spare you the details. Needless to say, after an hour, we were covered head-to-toe in Fuji-san's spunk.
The descent continued for three hours. As we dipped in altitude and the day matured, it became much warmer. So, we were constantly stripping down. At the top of Mt. Fuji, we were bundled up to our necks with every piece of warm clothing we could find, but, by the time we reached the bottom, we were down to our t-shirts.

We reached the bottom at 9:30. It had been over ten hours since our hike began.

But, our little adventure wasn't yet over. We were filthy, tired and cranky. Juan was nearly passed out with exhaustion, and we still had to make the two hour journey to our hotel in Kawaguchiko. But, make it we did. We had a chance to nap a little bit on the bus, I managed to retrieve my JR Pass at the Kawaguchiko Station, and we made it to our hotel with minimal hassle. However, we arrived at noon, and they wouldn't allow us to check in until 15:00, so we had to wait a little bit longer before we could get into our room and clean ourselves up. We putzed around the town for a bit, and had some lunch, and were eventually allowed into our room. It was a pleasant japanese-style room with tatami floors and three futon beds. It was surprisingly spacious and luxurious for the price we paid. It also had a very nice view overlooking Lake Kawaguchiko.
I spent the rest of the day cleaning up from Fuji. I took a shower, shook the excess Fuji-dust from all of the secret places in my bags and shoes, and wiped them down with a wet towel. I also had time to do my laundry, and generally organize all of my shit.

At the end of the night, I was relaxing alone in the outdoor onsen (japanese public hot bath), with a stunning view of the nighttime Mt. Fuji lording over Lake Kawaguchiko. I had plenty of time to myself, letting the stress of the past 36 hours slowly melt away as I stared at the top of Fuji and reflected on what had just happened. Looking at the dominating figure of Fuji-san from the Lake made it hard to believe that we had actually made it all the way to the top, but, we had. And it was totally worth it. By far the most unique experience of this trip to date.

But now, I'm tired. So, I think I'll get some sleep.


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