Climbing Mt. Fuji

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A picture of Fuji I took last winter. There isn’t any snow during climbing season.

Last weekend, after a bit over half a year of living in Japan, the wife and I accomplished one of our long term goals, climbing Mt. Fuji. It was a unique once in a lifetime experience that left me with mixed feelings. Climbing Mt. Fuji managed to be a rewarding challenge and a bit of a letdown at the same time.

Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft). It’s an active volcano that last erupted in the 18th century. It’s a free-standing mountain, not part of any range. Considered a holy place it has been the destination of pilgrimages for hundreds of years.

Our trip started at 2pm on Saturday when we met up with our tour group, TokyoSnowClub, in Tokyo. Judy and I got there a bit early so we wandered around and decided to eat a disappointingly greasy burger at Tokyo Hooters. When the rest of the group arrived we hopped on the tour bus for the 3-hour drive to the base of Mt. Fuji.

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Ramen at 5th station

The 5th station Yoshida Trail camp where we hung out for several hours to acclimate is basically a tourist trap. It’s several alpine resort type buildings filled with overpriced gift shops and mediocre restaurants. We bought ourselves a climbing stick, changed into warmer clothes, ate some ramen, and did a quick bit of yoga.

Around 7pm with the sun set and the rain at a constant drizzle, we began our long ascent. We climbed in a single line of what seemed like hundreds. Looking up or down the mountain all one could see in the dark was a zig-zagging line of headlamps. We climbed for hours and the rain and cold worsened the higher we got. Every two hours or so we took quick 1o minute breaks at one of the many way stations on the trail.

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Before we started hiking. The miserable weather just started.

It quickly became obvious that while we prepared ourselves physically we did not prepare ourselves materially. The clothing we brought was woefully inadequate for the downpour and the freezing cold. Two-thirds of the way up both of us were completely soaked, out of spare clothes, and showing early signs of hypothermia. Every break we took was excruciatingly cold.

Making matters worse was the fact that something I ate earlier did not sit well and that unpleasant indigestion mixed with a dash of altitude sickness led to numerous bathroom visits at every way station. Growing up at sea level I do not do well with quick ascents so by the last leg of the climb I was having a nice case of nausea, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, and an overall case of misery.

Our climb to the summit took about 8 hours. 8 miserable hours of constant freezing rain, altitude sickness, nausea, headaches, soaked clothes, and chills. A constant march over steep switchbacks and sharp volcanic rocks. After 8 horrible hours, we reached the top. The highest point in Japan.

Waiting for the sunrise on top of Mt. Fuji was not a fun experience. By the time we reached the top we were soaked and out of spare clothes. Our jackets were under-matched for the 32f degrees. We huddled together shivering and sharing our last hand warmer. When the sun finally started to rise we silently cheered, enjoyed the view, and quickly began the long descent.

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Above the clouds.

Seeing the sunrise from on top of Mt. Fuji was a beautiful experience. I will always remember and be thankful for the opportunity to see a sunrise from the top of “The Land of the Rising Sun.” I’m glad I got to share the experience with my wife. She kicked my ass in motivation and kept me going the whole time.

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The first of the rising sun.

Our climb was a challenge, we underestimated the weather, the altitude, and the quality of our gear. While the climb itself was technically easy the rain and cold really sapped our strength. By the time we reached the top we were soaked, frozen, and tired from being up for 24 hours.

The disappointing aspect of Mt. Fuji is its popularity. Fuji is one giant volcanic tourist trap. My favorite aspect of hiking is the quite nature. I love long trails through empty canyons where the only sounds heard are your breath and wildlife. Mt. Fuji is not a spiritual experience in nature. It’s an overly commercialized amusement park. The climb is less of a hike and more of a long line at Disneyland with the peak being the destination. Every hour or so there are little way stations selling 7 dollar Top Ramen and 5 dollar water bottles. You are constantly at arm’s length with hundreds of other climbers who are talking, smoking, taking pictures, and eating. I have to admit that I was a bit let down. In my mind, Fuji was a serene holy mountain filled with monks and ancient temples. The reality was a bit jarring. It was a long trail filled with loud tourists.

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Some post climb curry. Overpriced and underwhelming but it looked cool and we were starving.

All in all the experience was well worth the effort and sore muscles. We will always have some great memories from our climb. The sunrise was beautiful and being above the clouds was an ethereal experience. Both of us agreed that given the chance we would do it again. Now we have to make our way to Peru for Machu Picchu and Tanzania for Kilimanjaro.

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A Plan to Climb

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I took this picture in January from the sacred springs.

Mount Fuji, 12,388 feet of Japanese national symbol that I will be climbing. Judy and I scheduled our Mt. Fuji hike for the end of August. We will be doing an overnight hike in order to reach the summit of the caldera and watch one of the worlds most famous sunrises.

I’m beyond excited and a little bit nervous. A 12,388 foot 6 hour hike is pretty tough for most people but my number one worry is the elevation gain. I’m a sea level guy, from Long Beach to San Diego I have never lived anywhere with any decent elevation. It took me awhile to adjust to the mountains at Bridgeport Mountain Warfare training. I even had a hard time running in California’s High Desert.

So in order not to embarrass myself I started a more intense strength and stamina training regimen. My goal is to train for the next two and a half months motivating myself to accomplish a great climb but also vastly improve my health and fitness.

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I can’t think of anything more motivating than a giant sacred mountain.

Defeating Resistance

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Shibuya Crossing. Embrace the crowd!

My wife just shared an awesome experience on her blog today. Climbing. Obstacles. She talks about her recent experience going to a climbing gym and how scared and intimidated she was at first and almost didn’t go. She powered through her doubts and went for it, climbed some walls, learned some new skills, and gained a valuable life experience in the form of self worth and confidence.

Watching my wife go through a fantastic physical and mental transformative journey in this last year has been inspiring. After several setbacks and some self appraisal she realized that she wasn’t happy with her physical and mental health and became determined to kick fear in the head and start achieving her goals. She went from being embarrassed and afraid of working to bench pressing and squatting in gyms filled with combat veterans. She went from swearing that she hated the outdoors to becoming a dedicated hiker. Along her way she inspired me, got me going along, and helped me become a better more mindful and focused individual. Give her blog a read, I think it’s worth the effort.

The fear of failing, the fear of looking stupid, the embarrassment keeping her from going to the gym or going climbing is our worst enemy. We all face it 24/7. It’s the constant nagging voice in our heads that keep us from challenging ourselves and attaining our greatest potential. It’s the voice telling us to stay in and avoid social engagements. It’s the voice that tells us to not take the challenging position at work. It’s the nagging voice that we use to justify our lack of trying new food, new experiences, new environments. It’s what keeps us locked away in a safe comfort bubble. Afraid to branch out and adventure.

Steven Pressfield, in his magnificent book for writers and artists The War of Art, defines this self defeating fear as Resistance. The shadow lingering behind us, constantly whispering in our ear that we are nothing but failures. That we will embarrass ourselves that we will be laughed at. It creeps into our thought process like a parasite and disguises itself as reasonable doubt. It manifests in ideas like “I don’t know, it’s not a good day for working out I think I will have some ice cream and sit on the couch,” or “Ill finish this story next week, right now my internet is rather spotty and I can’t really research.” Resistance is the enemy of art and achievement.

Being an Sailor in Japan I see it first hand in my fellow servicemen and their families. Sailors who have lived in this beautiful and marvelous country for years who refuse to step outside the small local American bubble. During my first week here I was teaching myself how to ride the train. I was approached by another American asking for directions, he had no idea how to use his ticket. After I helped him out I asked him how long has he been in Japan. He floored me by answering three years. This man allowed resistance and his fear of change to lock him up in a small bubble.

“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Of course I am guilty of the same mindset. I often balk at going out with friends because I don’t want to step out of my comfort zone. I never finish my short stories because I’m afraid that once they are done they will be horrible. I make idiotic excuses about why I have to cancel my gym session or why I can’t go running today. But once I read Pressfields book I learned to recognize my biggest enemy. I learned to identify the trigger words and traps laid by resistance.

When I graduated IDC school several months ago I was handed a list of duty stations to chose from. My first gut reaction was to pick something comfortable. I could of stayed in California and gone back to work with the Marines. It would of been well within my comfort zone, I have been there and done that. But after several hours of soul searching with my wife I knew that the scariest choice on the list was the one we had to take. Japan.

I am not going to lie, it has been a challenge. Numerous times; while selling my cars, packing, dealing with the paperwork nightmare, having to be separated from my wife and dog, and living in a hotel room for two months, I have cursed myself for making this choice. Yet as soon as my mind clears and I refocus my perspective I realize what an amazing opportunity I have been given. In my short time here I have seen Mount Fuji, eaten Sushi in Japan, visited ancient Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples. I have the privilege of living in a magnificent country and experiencing a vastly different culture first hand. An unforgettable and life changing experience.

I promise myself to continue keeping an eye out for my insidious shadow of resistance. I know that it will be a life long struggle. I know that I will lose many more fights in this never ending war. But I will keep fighting.

But today I celebrate. After nearly two months of running around I was given keys to my new house. A amazing three bedroom house in a Japanese neighborhood. For the next three years I will be living in a foreign country amongst the local people. I expect it to be a challenge, from the language barrier to the cultural. Yet I will keep an eye out for my shadow and keep it out of my life.