Mt. Fuji Success

Mount Fuji 富士山

Mt. Fuji in the sunset from Tokyo, Japan, photo by Tohru Nakagawa

This inspiring mountain was climbed in honor of Senator Hirono and others who are fighting against kidney cancer.  We didn’t even think we were going to have the opportunity because a Typhoon was coming and the weather looked terrible.  There was only a small window of opportunity Tuesday as you can see from the mountain forecast.  You can see Typhoon Lan, marked in dark pink approaching Japan, but passing and leaving a little window clear on Tuesday morning.

The decision was almost made not to take any climbing equipment, but luck favors those who are prepared.  The typhoon actually moved a little faster than predicted and rather than hit Monday night as this forecast predicted, it actually hit Monday morning.  By Monday night the weather was clear as seen in the sunset picture Monday night.  That is when I made my move, rented a car, braved driving on the left side of the road in Tokyo in a Toyota yaris.  I figured if I drove the two hours to the trailhead and climbed during the night, I could summit just before sunrise and make it back down in time to drive back and catch my airplane to the United States.  It wasn’t how I’d originally planned it, but sometimes we can’t decide on what our circumstances will be, we can only decide how we will react to them.

Every moment of my time in Japan until Monday night was rainy.  But Japan and my Japanese hosts were the most wonderful people.  It is a beautiful country with all the order and simplicity that sometimes is lacking in western culture.  Sunday morning I found this beautiful shrine and I felt such a sense of peace, alone in the rain.

I drove to the Fujinomiya trailhead on the south side of the mountain.  Most of ~250,000 people who climb Fuji annually do so in the months of July and August.  The weather becomes much more unpredictable and climbing conditions become unsafe.  I don’t prefer to climb alone, but I couldn’t get anyone else to go with me.  But I had crampons, ice ax and layers to deal with snow and ice, but since the mountain hadn’t been out of cloud cover, I had no way on knowing the current conditions up top.

I was the only one on the mountain for about an hour.  I could look out and see the cities around the base of the mountain.  This was quite different from previous experiences with many of the mountains we’ve climbed being rather remote.  The sky was mostly clear and Orion watched over me as I climbed.

About half way up I came across this pole with coins wedged into it.  It reminded me of a wishing well.  Many regard Mt. Fuji as sacred and as I climbed I thought of the wishes of 11,000+ people in Japan diagnosed with kidney cancer each year.  I placed a coin and wished for the well being of Senator Hirono and the 34,000 plus patients living in Japan with kidney cancer.

Though I never encountered much snow, it was really cold, with temperatures below freezing and close to 0 degrees F with the windchill.  This was a pattern in ice in a puddle left behind by the typhoon.

Along the trail there were several stations with huts and water and bathrooms during the climbing season.  But now the shops and huts were all closed and I had to carry all the food and water I might need for the trip up and back down.  This is looking past the hut at station 8 to the city of Gotemba below.  Near Gotemba was the historic location of Japanese Samurai training grounds.

I had to keep moving, because if I stopped too long, the cold crept into my fingers and toes.  Eventually, I reached the caldera of the summit.  Mt. Fuji is a volcano, but hasn’t erupted for more than 300 years.  The caldera drops down about 500 feet from the highest point on the calder ridge.

I was all alone on the roof of Japan with the first rays of sunlight sneaking through the clouds.  But then I thought I wasn’t really all alone, I had Senator Hirono there with me in my heart and all those thousands of others who can’t climb anymore because the medicine they take to fight the cancer also attacks their joints.  Or I thought of my patients who have had part of a lung removed, because it was filled with cancer.   Now, without full lung capacity, they just don’t have the wind to climb 4500 feet.  But I can do it for them.  I can try to bring attention and research funding to help them.  We can all do a little to help.

I don’t really know what this plaque says except for Mt. Fuji on the top and the height of the volcano, 3775 meters or 12,385 feet.

The climb 4 kidney cancer goat was also with me along with the summit flag

As the sun broke through the early morning haze over the ocean, I found why Japan is called the land of the rising sun.  I was treated to this beautiful image that almost looks like Japan’s flag.

This climb to kidney cancer banner has been to lots of cool placed including the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, Mount Washington, Mount Rainier, and Eagle Mountain among others.

The rising sun reflected on the stone marker on the top of Mount Fuji-san

A shinto torii (鳥居) representing the gate as you pass from the profane to the divine or sacred.  Mount Fuji-san has long been a source of Japanese art, poetry, inspiration and has come to represent Japan as a whole.  It is World Heritage site.

As I descended to the level of trees and plants (and more oxygen and heat), I noted the beginnings of the beautiful fall colors starting to change.  I drove back to Tokyo and just caught my flight back to the United States, without even time to change out of my mountain clothes.  I was only in Japan for less than 72 hours, but in those short hours, Japan left me with friends, peace, a sense of beauty and simplicity and a chance to stand on the highest mountain in Japan.  Patient stories, like those of Senator Hirono inspire me to live a little better, and be kind to everyone.  Please share your story with us and we will highlight it on future climbs as we continue to show how this cancer affects people in so many ways.