Climbing Mt Fuji: Know Before You Go
Make no mistake: Mt Fuji is a serious mountain, high enough for altitude sickness, and on the summit it can go from sunny and warm to wet, windy and cold remarkably quickly. Even if conditions are fine, you can count on it being close to freezing in the morning, even in summer. Also be aware that visibility can rapidly disappear with a blanket of mist rolling in suddenly.
At a minimum, bring clothing appropriate for cold and wet weather, including a hat and gloves. Also bring at least 2L of water (you can buy more on the mountain during the climbing season), as well as a map and snacks. If you're climbing at night, bring a torch (flashlight) or headlamp, and spare batteries. Also bring plenty of cash for buying snacks, other necessities and souvenirs from the mountain huts and to use their toilets (¥200).
Descending the mountain is much harder on the knees than ascending; hiking poles will help. To avoid altitude sickness, be sure to take it slowly and take regular breaks. If you're suffering severe symptoms, you'll need to make an immediate descent.
For summit weather conditions, see www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Mount-Fuji/6day/top.
The mountain is divided into 10 'stations' from base (First Station) to summit (Tenth). The original pilgrim trail runs from the base station, but these days most climbers start from the halfway point at one of the four active Fifth Stations, all of which can be accessed via bus or car. The intersection of trails is not well marked and it's easy to get lost, particularly on the way down, ending up at the wrong exit point; this is a good reason to climb with experienced guides.
To time your arrival for dawn you can either start up in the afternoon, stay overnight in a mountain hut and continue early in the morning, or climb the whole way at night. You do not want to arrive on the top too long before dawn, as it will be very cold and windy, even at the height of summer.
Fifth Station Routes
Around 90% of climbers opt for these more convenient, faster routes. The four routes are Yoshida Trail (2305m), Subashiri (1980m), Fujinomiya (2380m) and Gotemba (1440m). Allow five to six hours to reach the summit (though some climb it in half the time) and about three hours to descend, plus 1½ hours for circling the crater at the top.
The Yoshida Trail is by far and away the most popular route. It's accessed from Fuji Subaru Line Fifth Station (aka Kawaguchi-ko Fifth Station), and has the most modern facilities and is easiest to reach from Kawaguchi-ko town.
The less trodden, but more scenic, forested Subashiri Trail is a good alternative. As it merges with the Yoshida Trail at the Eighth Station, it's possible to combine the two by heading up via the Yoshida path and descending via Subashiri by schussing down its loose volcanic sand. Though be aware you'll end up at Subashiri Fifth Station, so it might not be an option if you've parked your car at Kawaguchi-ko Fifth Station.
Other Fifth Stations are Fujinomiya, which is best for climbers coming from the west (Nagoya, Kyoto and beyond) and the seldom-used and neglected Gotemba Trail, a tough 7½-hour climb to the summit.
Historically, Fuji pilgrims began at Sengen-jinja near present-day Fuji-Yoshida, paying their homage to the shrine gods before beginning their 19km ascent up the sacred mountain. Today the Yoshidaguchi Trail offers climbers a chance to participate in this centuries-old tradition. Purists will tell you this is the only way to climb, saying that the lower reaches are the most beautiful, through lush forests along an isolated path.
It takes about five hours to reach the old Yoshidaguchi Fifth Station – you can cut this down by half by catching the climbing-season bus from Fujisan Station to Umagaeshi (¥500).
The trail meets up with the one leaving from the Fuji Subaru Line Fifth Station (also known as Kawaguchi-ko Fifth Station) at the Sixth Station. Count on around 12 hours to complete the climb from Fuji's base to summit.
Fuji Subaru Line Fifth Station
The road to the Fifth Station from Kawaguchi-ko, on the Fuji Subaru Line, stays open as long as the weather permits (from roughly mid-April to early December). Even when summiting is off-limits, it’s still possible to take the bus here just to stand in awesome proximity to the snowcapped peak.
From roughly mid-May to late October, you can hike the flat Ochūdō (御中道) trail that hugs the mountain at the tree line; it stretches 4km to Okuniwa (奥庭), where you’ll have to double back. At either end of the climbing season, check conditions before setting out.