I Conquered My Ridiculously Insurmountable Mountain

JJ Ying on Unsplash.com

My best day in Japan was probably my most challenging day. It was also technically 2 days because it occurred through the night. What was it? I climbed Mt. Fuji!

Apparently there is a saying which I never heard until today when I looked up some articles on Mt. Fuji: “He who doesn’t climb Mt Fuji is a fool, but he who climbs it twice is a bigger fool…” Well, I’m proud to say that I’m no fool! And once is definitely enough. But gosh, I certainly wish that I could have prepared myself better for my climb… Although perhaps that lack is what made the experience so ingrained in my memory (笑).

I remember meeting my friends at Shinjuku Station on a warm August evening. We were to take the evening bus to Mount Fuji’s Fifth Station, and then climb to the top by daybreak. Besides missing a night of sleep, how bad could it be?

… oh, it was bad. It was one of the most grueling experiences I’ve ever had.

What made matters worse was that I was overly confident about the climb. Heck, I was a Polish Girl Scout, and we camped in the wilderness every summer just for fun! (We didn’t even sell any cookies; we sold knives!) I didn’t bother going to the library or checking with a tourist book about the climb (and online search engines weren’t a thing for me back then) – I just decided to pack some clothes and go. I didn’t even think about proper snacking, water, warm clothes, comfortable shoes… nothing. I wasn’t even sticking to any exercise routine. I was thoroughly unprepared.

I remember arriving at the Fifth Station and wondering why we didn’t bother starting from the bottom (the Tenth Station). It felt like we were cheating by starting half-way… (I’m glad I don’t have guilt over that.)

I also remember starting the climb and being surrounded by hundreds of people. I was so surprised because I had assumed we would just climb at our leisure and enjoy nature. (I was very wrong about that.)

And off we were! At first, it seemed claustrophobic because so many people were swarmed around you, rushing to get started. Our group tried to stick together, but that proved difficult at first until we set our pace. The movement got our blood pumping, and it was quite hot for a while. 

Keep in mind that I didn’t even know how long we would be hiking for. I just heard that we needed to get to the top by sunrise. I can’t remember which path we took, but it can take 4-7 hours depending on your starting point. (For me, it felt like 20.)

Fast forward a few hours. It was definitely dark, but you could see everyone’s flashlights lighting the way. It also started getting cold – like, really cold – and halfway through the ascent I had managed to put on every item of clothing that I had brought with me. Smart girl scout, eh? (At least my backpack was lighter… I try to look at the silver lining…)

Fast forward a few more hundred hours (especially since it would only be complaints and swear words)… and we just had to be nearing the top. It was so, so, SO cold. Plus, the body wanted to sleep; it was completely unnatural to be exerting oneself so much in the middle of the night. The air was getting thinner, and it was starting to get hard to breathe. In addition, the trail was getting slimmer and slimmer, so what used to be groups of people hiking together was now single file. It was so dark that you couldn’t see what was down, but when you thought about it, it added more chills to your already frozen body. (To be guidebook-accurate, the mountain is only 3,776 meters or 12,389 feet high, and isn’t necessarily considered “difficult” to climb. I’m not sure I agree with the latter, but if you’re comparing to Mt. Everest, then yes it is technically not “difficult.”)

And then, just when I thought my body would stop working, and just when I thought I could practice all the swear words in my 3 languages no more… the space around me got slightly lighter and I didn’t see too many people above me. Just a little bit more… and I was there. On top! 

We made it just when the sun was coming out. It was, to say the least, beautiful. Time seemed to stop. (My heart almost did too from the exertion.) We made it. We finally made it.

The beauty of that moment lasted until my stomach started to grumble like crazy. We found a little hut that was selling instant ramen – for like a gazillion dollars. I can’t remember how much it was at the time, but I remember being shocked that it was like 7-8 times the usual amount – and this was cheap instant ramen! But think about it: someone has to carry that product and water up a freakin’ mountain. It was probably the most delicious ramen I have ever had.

Another amazing fact: there are vending machines on top of Mt. Fuji! Those were 4x the usual price,but again, someone has to lug that stuff up a mountain. I was so desperately cold, so I was willing to pay any price just to hold that tiny can of warm goodness. It may have been the slowest I’ve ever sipped on a can of coffee.

Then the sun was out in its full glory, and it started to get HOT. Talk about a bipolar experience… I went from shivering and semi-frozen to a sunburn with blisters. We then followed the massive crowd down the mountain, and that descent took half the time. The path was wider and the sand at your feet was soft, so you almost ran/slid down. Talk about vigorous exercise after not getting any sleep! All I wanted to do was curl up in bed, which I did eventually get to do after many more hours of trains, buses, and walking with my now-heavy-again backpack. 

It was a terribly exhausting experience, but one that I am so proud to have in my completed bucket list. I climbed a freakin’ MOUNTAIN. I didn’t realize how big that mountain really was, and I didn’t plan x number of steps per hour to attain my goal in x hours. I took one step, and then the next step, and then the next step – and before you knew it, I reached the top. It was tiring, painful, cold and terrifying – but I did it.

It’s like the phrase 「千里の道も一歩から」(senri no michi mo ippo kara), or “the journey of a thousand steps begins with a single step.”

Do you have a “mountain” that seems ridiculously insurmountable? What steps have you taken to climb it? I’d love to hear your stories, so please comment below or on social media.

JJ Ying on Unsplash.com

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