On Monday August 26th, 2002 around 5:30pm I began what no man from the flatlands of the central Ohio valley should set out to do. I started my weak willed and torpid attempt to clim Mt. Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan. Fuji-san stands 3,776 meters tall and is in fact a dormant volcano (it's pretty tricky how they name it a mountain when that isn't exactly accurate).

The day I went the weather seemed ideal and just in case I was thoroughly prepared with my sneakers, denim jeans, one pair of socks, no gloves, T-shirt, and spare sweatshirt (should I get chilled at the peak and need some extra warmth). But just to play it safe I also bough a stick. Sticks make you look cool [especially with the Japanese battle flag tied to them] and you can use them to paddle with if the Mt. becomes flooded and you need to escape in a row boat fashioned out of a hallow tree trunk.

Pictured Above: Mt. Saint Helen (and if you believe that you should stop reading this now because the subtle wit that will permeate this page will be much too baffling for your gullible little mind to comprehend).

Pictured on Right: That's me giving the "index finger pointed skyward" sign, which shows my confidence in making it up, up, and away. Just one look at my face and you can tell I'm a climbing machine fueled with skill, experience, and tenacious perseverance.

5 minutes into the climb and I was ready to call it quits after concluding that this kind of B.S. was to be reserved for mountain goats and Neanderthals who've never heard to elevators, helicopters, or travel documentaries on television.

Actually, it wasn't all that bad. First of all we started at the 5th level (out of 10) of Mt. Fuji. A bus takes you that far and that's where the climbing begins. So I'd already made it 2,300 some meters of the way up without even breaking a sweat [aside from the sweat of concentration that gathered on my brow as I vigorously attacked the buttons of my Gameboy Advance]. And to ease the pain of my inexperience I was in a tour group and we had a climbing guide with us. Some of the people in my group were in their 50's or 60's so we were going to climb at a slow steady pace, perhaps even slow enough for my feeble frame to keep up.

And so it was that I started out with hope in my heart and love unfurling throughout the mountain side. The scenery was beautiful, the weather was pleasant, and life was well worth living.

In fact I climbed from 5:30pm to around 8:30pm, making it up 60% of the height without any strain or exertion. I was tapping my toes as I climbed feeling as if I were on top of the world. And at about 3,000 meters above sea level that wasn't too hard to imagine.

Ah yes, the beauty. The splendor. The unfiltered magnificence of nature.

At about 8:30pm I settled down in a bed in a lodge on the 8th level of Mt. Fuji. I and my fellow climbers snuggled in safe and sound with no worries to weigh us down, and nothing but carefree abandon to lighten our joyous load.

But all that shit changed real fast the moment we set out to finish our climb. Unbeknownst to us at the time all of the climbers that were scheduled to set out after us were forced off the mountain due to severe weather towards the top of the mountain (starting right around the 8th level and going all the way up. Yee hah!). So when I set out for the final leg of the climb Mother Nature was ready and waiting to throw me over her knee and spank my little bottom blue. Ouch!

I started my climb at 11:45pm and wouldn't reach the top until 4:30am the next day. That was 4hrs and 45mins of pure, unadulterated hell. The wind was freezing cold and quickly snatched all feeling out of my hands and toes. It was also gale like in its force and more then once threatened to blow me back down to the base of the mountain. Add to that the mist and fog which rendered my glasses unwearable. After taking off my glasses, left without a flashlight, and in the pitch darkness of night I wasn't exactly leaping gracefully from rock to rock like a gazelle. Not that I wanted to open my eyes anyway as there was entire beaches worth of sand blowing down and around every pore in my body (i.e. sand in my ear, sand in my eyes, sand in my nose and in-between my toes). And I was constantly testing the hardness of the rocks that make up the mountain as I bashed, stubbed, and blundered my body across them. It was a point in my life were comfort and happiness were fleeting shadows and whispers of concepts I might possibly have known in another life long LONG ago.

Never the less, as the picture to the left can attest, I did make it to the summit of the mountain. And to be quite honest, by that point I really didn't care. The only prize that seemed to be waiting in store for me as I got to the top was an equal amount of ass kicking punishment on the way back down. Which seemed like a pretty big jip after all the exertion and pain I'd just gone through.

However, I did get to see the sun rise from the summit of Mt. Fuji which has always been something that seemed to be somewhere near the core of the Japanese spirit to me. So some sort of goal was accomplished in the end and some enjoyment was had during the process.

But enjoyment was no where to be found during the 4 hour hike back down the mountain. If you look to the right you'll see what I saw for over four hours straight with no interruption. Sure it looks pretty. But ignore the blue sky and other travelers on the road. Because no, I couldn't focus on any of that crap. Instead I was forced to stare down at the rocky pathway to ensure that each step I placed was one that would allow me to breathe a few moments longer. That pathway covered in tiny pebbles and smallish lava rocks was about a solid as a bowl full of jelly. I slipped and fell and busted my bottom blue on that seemingly never ending zigzag from hell more times than I care to remember. And when I finally made it to the bottom I was forced to use the last of my physical and mental strength to curl into a little ball and cry.

All in all though I'd have to say Mt. Fuji was definitely worth the constant pain, sporadic boredom, and occasional fall. There were times while I was climbing it that I loved it (the stars were especially nice) and times while I was climbing it that I abhorred it. But once I was down and able to reflect on the experience as a whole I did have a great sense of accomplishment, a unique experience for a guy from Ohio, and some kick ass cuts and bruises to show to my friends and make them think I'm really tough and rugged. OK, I'm still a little shaken up by that whole climbing down the mountain ordeal, so I think I'm going to go cry some more now.


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