Why the Old Japanese Proverb Now Makes Perfect Sense
September 29, 2013
I planned my trip to Mt. Fuji in one day. I had previously ruled out the possibility of climbing to the summit when I heard that it was “closed” from mid-September until mid-May. Snow often begins to fall near the summit during this time frame and hikers face a high degree of weather variance from the starting point on upwards.
When I caught wind of plans to hike to the summit only a week after this “closure” I knew I had to grab ahold of the opportunity while I had the chance. So that was that. I booked outgoing and returning overnight bus tickets, packed and met up with my friends at the train station, uncertain as to what that weekend would have in store for me.
We caught an overnight bus Friday evening and arrived at Kawaguchi station early Saturday morning. The plan was to rest up and carb-up during the day and start our hike at night, enabling us to reach the summit by sunrise. In our self-confident delusion we simply figured, “Leave at 8:00, get to the top at midnight and camp until 4:00 a.m.” How naïve we all were…
The first leg of the hike was a breeze. We were all excited, chatty and surprised to find that the temperature was far warmer than we all anticipated. In fact, I was peeling layers off minutes into the hike so as not to give myself heat stroke. My backpack was a little bit heavy, but I figured that by the end, I’d have most of my clothing on at the top and I would consume my water as we went along. All in all, I was feeling pretty good.
About an hour into the hike we noticed an orange glow peaking out just above the clouds. At first glance it appeared to be city lights from beneath the cloud layer. Rather quickly, however, we realized what it actually was: the moon. It rose in the same fashion as a rapid sunrise until it hung over our heads and illuminated our rocky path.
This was the sight that kept me going. That moon and all of the surrounding stars was unlike anything I have ever seen. I painstakingly sat atop a rock for 10-minutes trying to capture the awe-inspiring view in a single frame. I ended only with these images, which could never come close to doing the real thing justice.
Our optimistic four-hour hike to the top, soon stretched into a six-hour hike. We took a brief break and did some deep breathing exercises to stave off any altitude sickness. That was the thing- we were on our own up there. When you hear that Mt. Fuji is “closed,” what that really means is the mountain huts that serve as rest stops for hikers along the way are closed. If anything were to happen, we would have to deal with it ourselves.
Towards the top, just as I started to feel the altitude really kicking in and just as the previous nights’ sleep deprivation began to take its toll, the trail is no longer pleasant. The former excitement morphed into dread at the seemingly endless climb to the top. Rocky switchbacks slow you down, loose stones trip you up and the altitude knocks the wind out of you after only a few steps. Of course this is naturally the time when one’s headlamp generally starts to fade, just to keep things interesting.
There were several moments where my internal dialogue wandered to the dark side and I questioned whether or not I really would make it to the summit. The gleaming moon changed positions in the sky, acting as a natural clock and reminding me that I had a deadline to meet. With the encouragement of several members of the group and one much-needed banana, I did make it to the top with half-an-hour to spare.
Exhausted, shivering and delirious, I huddled in with the rest of the crew and waited. I said goodbye to my dear moon companion, the one who had seen me through the ordeal, and welcomed the warmth of the sun at 4:32 a.m. on one of the greatest mornings of my twenty years’ existence.
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