Climbing Mount Fuji

Dateline Japan, August 23

A party of one is not a good number for climbing any mountain so I joined a tour led by a bilingual Japanese lady called Emiko.  We were subsequently joined by an official mountain guide who spoke no English but Emiko translated. There was, Charles, Chris, Steve, Theon and Annie, Jessica and another six whose names I don’t recall.  Joining an organised party meant that I didn’t get to choose my route up the mountain (there are several) and went up the most popular one, the Yoshida Trail, starting at the Kawaguchico 5th Station.

Plan of the Ascent

 

The Kawaguchico Station has good road access and plenty of facilities such as shops, parking and restaurants but is already above the tree line at 2,305 metres.  Some might say that starting a 3,776 meter summit over two-thirds of the way up is cheating but I had no option.  Indeed the full Yoshida Trail does start 1,450 m lower down at the Sengen Shrine.    My Swiss friends will be pleased to see that the architectural style at the 5th Station has been borrowed from them!

The climb to the rim of the crater is about 5.8 km but the first third of the distance is a gentle traverse across the face of the mountain to join the Trail at the 6th Station.  In fact the route starts by descending and then climbs again to 2,390 m; on the way up I saw several ponies with exhausted climbers on them being led back down!

We started in the afternoon; it was bright but overcast, ideal conditions for climbing.  What struck me immediately was the sheer number of people making their way up; individuals, groups, whole families, old and young.

The experienced climbers among you will already have worked out the climb proper starts from the 6th station, a rise of some 1,400 m in under four kilometres.

Theon at the 6th Station

That’s steep (if I could remember my trigonometry I could tell you the angle of ascent.)  Add to that, it is an uneven rocky path which required hand holds in places and you will understand why I described it as a harder climb then Kilimanjaro.  It’s not as high or as long a climb but it is much steeper and unrelenting in it’s ascent. Parts of it reminded me of Mt Blanc.  We climbed up to the 8th Station stopping for short rests on the way arriving at around 6 p.m.  Here we had a light evening meal and relaxed.

There are toilets in the way up costing 100 or 200 Yen a time and there is no peeing in the mountain for us men, the Japanese consider it a sacred mountain and that would be a desecration, not to mention the environmental aspect.  The refuge we stayed in was very similar to European ones with communal sleeping in wooden bunks.  I dozed rather than slept till we were woken at about 11.45 for a cup of black tea and a briefing on our final ascent.  At an altitude of 3,100 m altitude sickness was a possibility but I did not succumb.  (Medical Note: I took 600 mg ibuprofen every four hours on the way up to eliminate any headache/reduce any joint pain and stopped taking my statins two days before.)

The idea was to reach the rim before dawn to see the sunrise so we set off in the dark wearing our miner’s lamps.  It was much colder now but an incredibly clear night and we looked out over the lights of Tokyo and could make out the Tower.  Looking up, the stars were fantastic with the Milky Way arcing across the sky.  I found Orion (on his side) and oriented myself.  Then we joined the queue.  There were literally hundreds of people with the same plan as us and progress up was very slow.

Actually an advantage because rather than have a specific rest stop we had lots of little stops as we waited at various bottleneck points on the way up.  We finally reached the rim and had a cup of coffee and some breakfast at one of the many refreshment stations.  Dawn was at about 4.45 p.m. and I took half a dozen pictures of which this is the best.

 

 

 

 

I had about two hours at the top and looked down into the caldera.

Some people were breathing pure oxygen from small aerosol canisters which can be bought at the various stations on the way up.  I didn’t buy one but was amused to see the price change.  In Tokyo they can be bought for Yen 450, at the 5th station they were Yen 900 and by the 8th staion they were Yen 1,500 !

I collected a few pebbles (illegal) and took photos, then it was time to go down.  It was a long, boring descent down a different ridge where the ash had been bulldozed into path.

Theon and I walked down together

There was a lot of dust because the slightest breeze lifted the ash with every footfall.  The view was good and we watched the morning mist burn of lakes Kawaguchico and Yamanakako.  I slowly took off more layers till I was wearing no more than I had on the way up the afternoon before.  We regrouped when we got back to the 5th Station and drove to a Spa to wash off the dirt and dust of the climb and have a good lunch.

Diving at Sipadan

Sipadan Island, Celebes Sea

Sipadan Island lies off the east coast of Sabah province, Borneo.  It was formed over thousands of years as living corals grew on top of an extinct volcano that did not quite reach the surface  The island plunges over 2,000 meters straight down to the sea floor;   so both pelagica and reef fish can be seen together.  I am often asked which of my many dives is my favourite; I find picking a single dive impossible because different dives have different features but tSipadan is up there in my top five. Continue reading

Crossing the Alps on Foot

This year the adventure group, of which I am a member, decided to walk the Haute Route from Argentière in France to Zermatt in Switzerland.

We started as a group of eleven plus two Swiss guides. Five of us (Pierre, Catherine, Denis, Christian and I) had climbed Kilimanjaro two years earlier and the others had joined at various times since then. Here are some of the party

Continue reading

Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, Oldham

The Curriers is affiliated with the Wing and provides modest contributions to its all-ranks’ welfare and social facilities. They invited a few of us down to Oldham and see one of their training operations. We boarded this Chinook and flew over to a forward field station they had set up.

We had lunch at the field station, that’s Chistopher Rome gesticulating with our hosts. And finally, me with a big smile on the way back.

Marco Polo Returns!

Lou and I got back earlier this week from our short break in Venice.

We stayed at a magnificent, but aging, palazzo called Ca’ Zanardi. It had elegant plastered ceilings and our bedroom had rich fabric on the walls rather than paper. (you can find it here ) But what it doesn’t show is that the plumbing is unserviceable and it lacks the mod. cons. we take for granted in hotels these days. It was more like being a guest at a friends house where one is too polite to draw the host’s attention to the shortcomings. Its a great place to experience for a few days but not a ten day holiday.

We did the usual tourist round; Rialto Bridge, coffee in St Mark’s Square, the Doges’ Palace and Museo Correr. It was Lou’s first trip so they had to be done. After that I dragged her round some churches where we had fun trying to guess which of the saints it was that were either side of the inevitable Madonna and Child. With the help of our book we became quite good at it! With a Titian or a Tintorreto in virtually every church it was a rich experience. One doesn’t go to Venice for the food but we did have one good evening meal in the Calle dei Oca and a bad one in the Campo S. Maria Nova. Temperatures were in the high teens Centigrade which is well above average for this time of year. The sky was clear and the low winter sun lit up the city with a warm, side on glow.

Attached are a few pictures to give you a flavour. That’s me outside La Fenice. We didn’t go to the opera because there wasn’t one at the time we went but we did go to La Traviata at the ENO the day after we got back.