Rising to 3,776 meters above sea level and dominating the Chūbu region, roughly 100 km from Tokyo, Mt Fuji is Japan’s tallest and most iconic mountain.
Serving as the preeminent symbol of Japan, Mt Fuji is climbed by 200,000 people each year. The majority of these climbers head up to the volcano’s summit during the summer (June-September), when an estimated 2,500 people reach the top each day. This often results in overcrowded slopes, especially on weekends.
Climbing Mt Fuji in the off-season, specifically from April until early June, is an excellent alternative to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more idyllic experience.
Why hire a guide to climb Mt. Fuji?
An off-season climb requires hiring a guide on Mount Fuji in order to obtain a permit. This crucial step makes both planning the ascent easier and ensures a safe as well as an exciting trip. Hiring a local guide also provides interesting perspectives on the mountain’s cultural importance to Japan.
Careful planning is a key part of any successful expedition to the summit, especially in the spring when temperatures can reach -20 °C, not including windchill. If it feels windy in Tokyo the day of or the day before the ascent, then winds are likely to be in excess of 100 kilometers per hour at the summit of Mt Fuji.
Therefore, packing warm clothes and dressing in several layers is one of the most important parts of preparing for the ascent. The climbing itself is not overly technical, requiring the use of ice axes and crampons toward the top. Even on the steepest of the four routes to the summit, slopes will not exceed a gradient of 27 degrees.
Climbing as a cultural experience
Climbing Mt Fuji is more than just another notch in the mountaineering belt. It is also a cultural, even spiritual, experience.
The mountain has long held religious significance to the island’s people, beginning with the native Ainu and Shintoists, the latter of whom considered the volcano to be sacred to the goddess Sengen-Sama. A shrine to the goddess, who embodies nature, sits atop the summit.
Japanese Buddhists believe that Mt Fuji, which is one of three sacred mountains in the religion, is the gateway to a different world. This explains why experiencing “Goraiko”, or seeing the sunrise from the top of the mountain, is so sublime.
Mt Fuji Routes
Each of the four routes to Mt Fuji’s summit is composed of 10 stations, with the tenth station of each being the same one at the summit. Paved roads lead up to the fifth station on each of the routes.
In the off-season, most climbers begin from the fifth station due to the limited daylight and lack of open mountain huts. For those seeking to experience “Goraiko”, which is depicted on the country’s flag, beginning at or before midnight is the best way to reach the summit in time.
In April, May and early June the snowline tends not to begin until about the seventh or eighth station, regardless of the route. Until the snowline begins, the hiking is very steep with a quite rapid gain in elevation over scree and loose stones.
The Yoshida Trail is the most popular one for climbers aspiring to see the rising sun from the summit of the mountain. In the winter it is also one of the most difficult climbs due to the icy nature of the slopes past the eighth station (3,250 m).
For climbers heading to the summit during the daytime, which offers spectacular views out over the various surrounding lakes and gorgeous cherry blossom blooms, the south-facing Fujinomiya trail is the best one to take.
At about the eighth station, regardless of the route, the climbing gets tougher. The altitude is above 3,000 meters at this point and those who have not properly acclimatized prior to the climb may begin to feel the effects. Ice axes and crampons are required to traverse up the steep snowfield and wind speeds increase closer to the summit as well.
There and back again
After passing under the torii gate, which marks the beginning of the summit, a climber’s reward is incredible views out over the surroundings.
Many climbers opt to sled or ski back down and descents via the Subashiri and Gotemba trails are also quite popular since they go past the ash deposits from Mt Fuji’s last eruption in the 1700s.
One thing many off-season climbers note is the peace and tranquility that seem inherent to the mountain both during the ascent and descent. This sense of calm and peace is unimaginable in the summer and all the more reason for undertaking an off-season ascent.
If You Climb Mount Fuji
You can book a guided trip to Mt Fuji with a local certified guide at Explore-Share.com, an online booking platform for guided adventures worldwide.