Sea-to-Summit

Well...let's just get this over with. I hate saying this, but I have no choice.

The Sea-to-Summit is off, folks. The Veggies have bowed out.

If you've been reading the blog for any length of time, you are aware the Veggies planned on hiking the Sea-to-Summit on the 19th of July. However, my buddy, Racquel, is abandoning me (for Hawaii) on the 27th and really wanted to hit Fuji before she rolls out. So...I told her I would join her for a hike to the summit last weekend and then I promptly recruited my husband/sherpa to ensure our safety and be the voice of reason.

We traveled to Fuji from Shinjuku Station on Sunday morning and arrived at the mountain around 10am. As we stepped off the bus, we were immediately shocked by the temperature. It was a good 30 degrees colder at the base of Fuji than at Shinjuku, so we all piled on an extra layer of clothing.


The forecast predicted pleasant weather through 4pm, so we headed out with little concern. We were going along smoothly for the first 2 minutes and were all in good spirits, and then things took a turn for the worse. It suddenly started raining and giant billowy black clouds of fog dropped onto the mountain. It was immediately another 10 degrees colder with greatly reduced visibility. We were all spellbound for a second as we had never seen weather change so quickly and so drastically. We immediately unpacked our (insanely expensive) Japanese rain gear and continued moving forward.

The first, oh, I don't know, let's say 400 meters (it was probably like a mile or something...but y'all know I can't estimate to save my life) was flat land and then the trail turned up the mountain and stayed at essentially a 90 degree angle straight to the summit. This was surprise #1 as we had assumed the route would be a series of long, gradual switchbacks. We knew the significant elevation change would add greatly to the challenge, but we expected to be hiking upright for a vast majority (if not all) of the route.

As it turns out, something has been lost in translation in the thousands of articles written on Fuji. "Hiking" is not the term any American would use to describe the means by which one summits this mountain. The route is so steep and so full of huge, slippery, jagged rocks, that it is frequently necessary to use both hands to safely 'crawl' up the trail. Somewhere around a mile up the route, I mentioned to Racquel that I had read an article claiming the trek was a 'long, interminable, slog'. In my mind, 'interminable slog' conjures an image of a monotonous, relatively mindless, trek. The author of that article is either confusing Fuji with another mountain or is Sir Edmund Hillary himself. ( If it is, indeed, the latter, I would argue that while Fuji is no Everest, it still doesn't qualify as an interminable slog. There are degrees of hell, Sir. If Everest is a 10, Fuji is a 3. Maybe a 4. But it is certainly no interminable 0.)

We hit our first checkpoint, the 6th Station, about an hour in and, pleased with our pace, agreed we could probably summit and return to the 5th Station in time to catch our 7pm bus back to Shinjuku. We were all quite wet and admittedly a bit more tired than expected, but our collective confidence was still relatively high. Oh...how that would soon change.

The temperature continued to drop as we ascended and by the time we got to our 2nd checkpoint, the 7th Station, we had been hiking for about 2.5 hours. We were now soaked to the bone and unable to feel our frozen extremities. We piled into an outhouse (all 3 of us together) to assess the situation and have a quick snack (yep, a bathroom snack. Don't judge, guys. Things were really rough by this point.) Knowing this would be her only time on Fuji, Racquel was hell-bent on making it a little further and Boz and I were not quite at the point where we were worrying about leaving Pancho an orphan (that would come in about 15 minutes). I popped an Advil as I was already developing an altitude headache and we went back at it.

Sometime between the 7th and 8th Station, God left us.

Fuji summoned its inner beast and released all manner of hell on the seemingly-incapable-of-reason threesome crawling up its side. Every few minutes we were slammed by what we would later learn were 50+ mph wind gusts, the fog thickened, and the rain turned into what can only be described as ice bullets. I was near tears, praying (although I couldn't think of any saints that addressed this sort of predicament and clearly God had peaced-out about an hour earlier), and really hoping that my in-laws would remember to buy Pancho Christmas presents and tell him stories about his late parents.

Our pace continued to slow and motivation plummeted as we realized we had no idea how much further we needed to go to reach the 8th Station. We couldn't see ANY other hikers, which is really saying something considering 300,000 people hike Fuji during the 2 month climbing season per year. Then again, we were on the side of a very steep, slick-as-all-hell,  ACTIVE VOLCANO in freezing rain and 50 mph winds, hoisting ourselves over jagged boulders, in increasingly thinner air. Plus the rain was coming down in sheets and the fog was so thick, we couldn't see further than 5-10 feet down the trail. Perhaps the lack of hikers isn't really saying anything other than "most people don't actively try to die".

We eventually reached the 8th Station and held another assessment meeting. Racquel, in a moment of insanity, claimed she thought she could keep going if we simply didn't stop for a single additional second. As our group leader, Boz listened to her input and then turned to me. Fortunately, over the past 8 years, Boz has honed the ability to read my mind through my expressions, so, I donned my most bat-sh*t-crazy eyes, and gave him a look that clearly stated "If you suggest I take one more step towards the summit, you will never touch me again." Being the well-prioritized man that he is, Boz immediately did an about-face and began leading our descent.

We made it to back to the 5th Station in about 2 hours to find it practically deserted. There were 3 people manning the information/safety station and they informed us a bus would be leaving in 50 minutes. We all breathed a sigh of relief and spent the time trying (entirely unsuccessfully) to clean up a bit and buying beers and snacks for the ride home. We rolled into Shinjuku around 9:30 pm, happy...and surprised...to be alive. And then we all vowed to never do anything outdoors ever again.

So...in summary...Boz and I have battled our Sea-to-Summit decision since Sunday and finally sent a note to the group leader last night. The weather predicts rain all weekend with thunderstorms on Saturday. The actual 5th Station-to-summit portion of the trek is supposed to be accomplished overnight on Saturday...and, quite frankly, that is a death trap B and I are determined to avoid. We have a boxer that needs Christmas presents.

I promise to drum up some new, equally dramatic, shenanigans in the near future lest you all grow bored of the Veggies. I'll just try to keep it a bit more tame this go-round. Like perhaps we'll go kayaking off Victoria Falls or something. We'll see...


                                                                   A few pictures...
Right before we began our descent. We mustered one smile.


Fog rolling down the mountain

VERY limited visibility

Don't mind me. I'll just walk off into the abyss. Bye guys.

Oh. Look at the scenery beyond that sign. How comforting.

(Sorry for the relative lack of pictures. We weren't about to use our iPhones, so we were left with Racquel's semi-waterproof camera. Plus there wasn't much free time for picture-taking as we were busy fighting for our lives.)

 


...safe and sound.