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This climbing Mt. Fuji hiking guide includes preparation tips, trek routes, overnight stays, and what to do if you don’t get to the summit.
Climbing Mount Fuji was more of an adventure than I had originally planned. Wedged snuggly between two locals within a sea of blue sleeping bags, I laid deadly still, having rehydrated and filled myself with painkillers in a desperate attempt to extinguish the migraine that was filling my pounding head. One hour later, I realised that I had succumbed to severe altitude sickness at 3,250 metres, which was soon marked by regular bouts of vomiting. One hour away from starting the 1 am ascent to the summit, the accomplishment of trekking Mount Fuji and standing atop the mountain was fading fast. I had to accept defeat.
Unable to walk very far and close to passing out after any strenuous movement, I requested my mountain house staff to get me down the mountain fast – the pain only worsened. When you’re an avid trekker, you learn to listen to your body and take the correct measures to protect yourself. This was that moment.
“The doctor is busy,” said the mountain house staff member. “You will have to wait for sunrise… and get down yourself.”
Nonetheless, the Mt Fuji hike and standing upon Japan’s famed peak and biggest natural wonders was a highlight of my trip. Here’s how you can experience climbing Fuji and successfully summit Japan’s highest peak.
- Climbing Mt Fuji Hike Guide FAQ
- Preparing to Climb Mount Fuji
- Mt. Fuji Trails – Which One to Choose
- Hiking the Yoshida Trail
- Safety on Mount Fuji
- Summiting Mount Fuji and Getting Down
- Travelling in Japan
Climbing Mt Fuji Hike Guide FAQ
Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest and most photographed mountain, with an elevation of 3,776 metres. It’s also known as Fuji-san or Fujiyama.
Visible even from the Tokyo city skyline on a clear day, Fuji lures trekkers with her attractive symmetrical, snow-capped frame and promises of a glorious fiery-sky sunrise. Known to be not too difficult to hike, the small entry fee, and the fact you don’t need a guide, Fuji remains a popular commercial climb.
Fuji is also a sacred site, with many climbers as pilgrims on a special journey to the top of a peak given god-like status.
How much does it cost to climb Mt Fuji?
Mount Fuji was once free to climb. The donation-based entrance has since turned into a mandatory fee, helping to protect and maintain the trails. The climbing pass now costs around ¥1,000 – less than $10.
Buses from Kawaguchiko train station to the 5th Station cost 1,500 Yen one-way (Around $11).
A mountain hut for one night will cost around 5,500 Yen ($45) without food and 7,000 Yen ($55) including two meals (dinner and breakfast).
How long does it take to summit Fuji?
The average time spent on the trail climbing from the 5th Station to the summit and back down again is approximately 10 hours. This is discounting the time spent in the mountain hut resting.
Is Mount Fuji a volcano?
Fuji is an active volcano, although its last eruption was in 1707, so there is no immediate threat when hiking this great peak.
How difficult is the Mt Fuji hike?
The Mount Fuji hike isn’t considered difficult – it’s more a matter of stamina and how you react to altitude. There are no technical aspects to climbing Fuji, just long, zig-zagging pathways on rocky trails, many of which have safety barriers and paved ledges. Also, you do not hike Fuji starting at the foot of the mountain – the start of the trails at the 5th station reduces the overall length of the hike.
When is the best time to climb Fuji?
The best time to climb Mount Fuji is during the official climbing season, from early July to early September. This period is also the ‘no snow’ season, and climbing outside of this time is prohibited due to safety on the mountain with harsh weather conditions and the closure of mountain huts and other facilities. I hiked in August and found the climate comfortable.
Can you climb Mount Fuji without a guide?
Yes, you can. The majority of people climbing Fuji are without a guide. You will never feel alone as the trail is always full. Just remember to pack everything you need, including layers, plenty of water, snacks, money and medications.
If you do not feel confident hiking Fuji alone, guides are available and will further ensure a successful summit. Ask your accommodation about recommended local guides.
Preparing to Climb Mount Fuji
I like to be fully prepared when I climb a mountain, and the opinions of other climbers, not just locals, is crucial in getting things right. It’s not a situation where I am willing to take risks.
Where to stay before and after the hike
Many people come directly from Tokyo, but I was advised to travel a day or two beforehand and stay in the area, limiting the added exhaustion of an extra travel journey right before the hike.
The most popular and well-established place to stay is Lake Kawaguchiko in the Fuji Five Lakes region at the base of the mountain, alongside Lake Yamanakako, Lake Shojiko, Lake Saiko, and Lake Motosuko.
K’s House Traveller’s Hostel in Kawaguchiko has a great view of Mt. Fuji, complete with a scenic rooftop lounge. It has a mix of Japanese-style private rooms and modern-style dormitory rooms. Dorms start from €70. The nearby K’s House MtFuji has private rooms for €160.
Right in the heart of the Fuji area, it also caters for travellers eager for adventure. Not only were plenty of travellers willing to share their Fuji stories of trial and error, attempt and failure, or ‘I only came here to relax and look at the view,’ but the hostel was the information hub I needed – boards contained detailed information about the climb, the temperature and estimated times for sunrise was updated daily. The staff were always on hand to answer the many questions to help you prepare.
What to pack for Hiking Mt. Fuji
You’ll need to pack light for the Fuji hike as you will be carrying your bag, but you also need to bring the essentials for two days, including the overnight mountain hut stay. Consider a 25-30 litre hiking backpack with a 2-litre hydration bladder and take the following (most of which you will be wearing and not carrying as extra).
- Sturdy, already worn-in hiking boots or walking shoes with good grip for the volcanic, rocky and gravel terrain.
- Layers. Wear what you need and pack more to layer up for when it gets colder at altitude. A thermal base layer, a moisture-wicking t-shirt or long-sleeve top, a warm jacket or fleece and a windbreaker or down jacket.
- Pack waterproofs – pants and a waterproof jacket, because Fuji weather is unpredictable.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses. It may get foggy but don’t be fooled by the sun’s power on the Fuji climb.
- Headlamp for the early hours of the summit climb and use in the mountain hut.
- Minimal toiletries for the overnight stay.
- Medications – take your regular medications and get some Diamox in case of altitude sickness.
- Snacks like nuts and protein bars to last for approximately 10 hours of hiking time.
- Cash for extra snacks, drinks and meals. Credit cards are not accepted in most mountain huts.
Mt. Fuji Trails – Which One to Choose
The Fuji climbing experience isn’t too complicated – here’s where to start, what trail to choose, and what to expect from Japan’s famed pilgrimage hike.
There are four main trails for climbing Mount Fuji: the Yoshida Trail, the Subashiri Trail, the Gotemba Trail, and the Fujinomiya Trail. Each has a varying level of difficulty regarding steepness and the type of terrain, and the trails are identifiable by their particular signage colour.
Each trail begins at the 5th Station of Fuji mountain. However, each trail has its own 5th Station location, so you must plan your arrival accordingly.
It is recommended to make reservations for mountain huts in advance of your trek.
Yellow: Yoshida Trail – Easiest and most popular
The easiest and most commercial path is the Yoshida Trail, with a zigzag mechanism of maintained paths, plenty of rest stops, and access to toilets and mountain huts. Ideally, start around midday at the 5th Station to reach the mountain house on the 8th Station after 3 PM for the overnight stay. You then sleep until it is time to begin the ascent to the summit (the 10th Station) in the early hours of the morning for sunrise after 4.30 AM.
- Ascent: 6 hours
- Decent: 4 hours (on a different path to the ascent trail)
Red: The Subashiri Trail – Relatively easy and less crowded
Another relatively easy Fuji path is the Subashiri Trail, which starts at the 5th Station. People often choose this route as it is less crowded than the Yoshida Trail, especially in peak seasons, and is considered to have a more beautiful approach on sloping paths. However, once you reach the 8th Station on the Subashiri Trail, the path to the 10th station summit is the same as that on the Yoshida trail.
- Ascent: 6 hours
- Decent: 4 hours (on a different path to the ascent trail)
Green: The Gotemba Trail – Longest and least trodden
The longest path up Fuji is the Gotemba Trail, which undoubtedly has the lowest footfall of all the trails as it winds up the mountain in a different direction. Due to its length and more rugged volcanic terrain, Gotemba is more difficult than the Yoshida and Subashiri trails. However, experienced hikers take this route because it has more scenic views at higher elevations.
- Ascent: 7 hours
- Decent: 3 hours (path of descent rejoins the path of ascent midway)
Blue: The Fujinomiya Trail – Steepest and most challenging
There’s always a steep and arduous path on every mountain, and Fujinomiya is just that. It may be the shortest of all Mt. Fuji trails, but it is a sharp and tough incline to the summit on challenging and rocky terrain. Despite being a busy route, it is not advisable for general everyday climbers to take this approach.
- Ascent: 5 hours
- Decent: 3 hours (on the same path of ascent)
Bullet Climbing – Fuji in One Day
There is an option to start your trek at 9 pm or 10 pm and climb through the night, reaching the summit for sunrise and making your way back down. This is known as Bullet Climbing and is not advised due to the dangers from exhaustion and falling rocks and trail accidents in the dark. You will notice signs at the 5th station advising against this method and doing so at your own risk.
There’s a third option, which is to traverse a much harder route that’s barely trodden, although it isn’t advised unless you are a more experienced hiker.
The 5th Station Starting Point
Depending on your trail, there are various routes to your designated 5th Station start point.
Greeted by swarms of people, who speckle the open space in a sea of bold colour, you soon get sucked into an atmosphere of nervous excitement as you begin your trek on flat ground.
Yoshida Trail 5th Station: Yamanashi Prefecture side
A one-hour mountain bus ride from Fujisan or Kawaguchiko train stations will bring you to the most well-known of Mount Fuji’s four 5th Station Fuji Subaru Line, standing at 2300 metres.
Subashiri Trail 5th Station: Shizuoka Prefecture side
Take the mountain bus from Gotemba or Shinmatsuda train stations to the Subashiri Trail 5th Station at 2000 metres.
Gotemba Trail New 5th Station: Shizuoka Prefecture side
Take the mountain bus from the Gotemba train station to the Gotemba Trail New 5th Station at 1450 metres.
Fujinomia Trail 5th Station: Shizuoka Prefecture side
Take a mountain bus from Mishima Station / Shin-Fuji Station, Fuji Station or Fujinomiya Station to the Fujinomia Trail 5th Station at 2400 metres.
Hiking the Yoshida Trail
Close-up, Fuji isn’t as attractive as she is from afar. The initial tree-lined paths slowly fade to charcoal-coloured gravel walkways and rocky walls of grey and horizon-hiding fog. You soon come to realise that the trek isn’t incredibly scenic.
Only then did I begin to appreciate the crowds, whose hues of yellow, green, pink and blue added saturation to an otherwise muted mountain canvas.
Although you are only climbing around 1,500 metres from the 5th Station to the summit of Mount Fuji, it should be noted that during this approximate six-hour climb, you are climbing this height relatively quickly.
The climb is steep and strenuous in parts, and it’s only when you look down that you understand how sharp an incline you are on.
A short climb does not mean you are not immune to the effects of altitude, which can kick in pretty rapidly.
I took short breaks when I reached every new mountain station; I factored in small stops for re-fuelling my energy with snacks; I walked at a slow and steady pace and drank lots of water; I did everything you are supposed to do.
Safety on Mount Fuji
The number one rule here is: you are responsible for your safety.
Altitude Sickness – What Do You Do?
The altitude hit me, and it hit me hard. Importantly, I didn’t succumb to buying a canister of oxygen and relying on it in an obsessive way like many Japanese were doing, which can dangerously mask the effects of altitude.
In most mountain climbing situations, such as during the Everest Base Camp trek, a person with obvious symptoms of altitude sickness is immediately taken down or stretchered down (if more of an emergency) to get them to a lower level of altitude to recover. Usually, you are advised not to continue with your trek.
I expected to be treated with the same immediacy – my mountain house was between the 8th and 9th Stations at 3250 metres – but that was not the case.
The first aid medical centre was on the 8th Station – not far. Yet not one member of staff would contact a doctor to see if I either needed help or if there was any way that I could be taken down (I saw cars). I managed to find a Japanese lady who spoke English, and she, too, tried to reason with them to no avail.
Instead, I was told to wait until sunrise as by then I would be fine, that the doctor was busy (even though they didn’t check), and to buy an expensive canister of oxygen to make myself better. I wasn’t even given a hot drink, and I was told I would have to pay insane prices if I wanted anything, including more water.
So while I spent the day leisurely climbing Mount Fuji, I was left for six hours in a dizzy haze, depleted of all energy and vomiting into a plastic bag.
So to that, I say be prepared. If you know you suffer from altitude sickness easily, take Diamox. Make sure you have painkillers. It seems it requires a lot to be able to get help getting down the mountain.
Climbing Plan Form
Something that wasn’t around when I climbed that has been implemented since is the compulsory Climbing Plan Form. This must be filled out and submitted before you ascend the mountain – it states the route you plan to take, who you are with and an emergency contact in case of search and rescue.
You then must wait to receive permission to climb Mount Fuji.
Summiting Mount Fuji and Getting Down
Luckily, I had someone looking out for me – the Japanese lady wasn’t just my translator in a time of struggle, she became my friend. She promised me that she would summit Fuji and detour back to the mountain hut on the way down to pick me up.
I was awoken by the mountain house worker around 6 am. As he entered the room and aggressively pulled apart the curtains, and said bluntly: “Get up, it’s sunrise, you feel better”. I did feel better, but not that much, yet this was my cue to get out.
But the lady had kept her promise and was waiting for me. We talked and laughed down to the 5th Station, where we both sighed in relief and delighted at the finish.
I saw the sunrise over Mount Fuji through her photos as we ate ice cream – it was incredibly beautiful watching the sky change from dark blue to fiery red and then to clear blue sky above intense crowds of people.
Then she said to me: “I will never climb a mountain like this again. It was hard, and I didn’t enjoy it.”
“I’ll be back again one day”, I replied. “I’m not finished with it yet.”
Travelling in Japan
Is Mount Fuji just one of the many destinations on your Japan itinerary? From city-hopping to overall planning, check out my Japan articles for more inspiration.
- Starting from the Capital? Here’s what Tokyo is like.
- Trying to decide where to go and how to budget? Here’s the cost of a Japan trip.
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