Now, I have never understood why one always says “they say”. I mean, wouldn’t you know who they are who say all these nice words when you say they say? How foolish would “they” feel when “they” would realize that “they” are just “they”, without being given names? And how big a fool would you feel when I say, that I do not know who “they” are and am just aimlessly digressing on who said that line, when my only intention to say that was to let you know that I climbed Fuji the first time and reached the top, and so will not have to do it again, and hence proved that I am a wise man like the good old Confuscious!! – Q.E.D!!!
Phew! Wiping sweat from forehead! Man, what was that for?
OK. After that brief display of some emotional rantings, let us get back to sanity.
Quite evidently, I am very ecstatic about the fact that I scaled Japan’s highest volcano mountain, measured at around 3760 meters, and where you can breath with only about 64% of the normal oxygen level.
Now that does not seem too ominous, isn’t it? One might, with an air of nonchalance and complete disregard for correct information, stick his neck out and say, “Eh!! 64% oxygen!! How tough can that be?”. Well, my friend, firstly, do not stick out your neck for too long, else, you might hit your head on a pole. Secondly…well, there is no secondly now, as I wouldn’t want to dive into the technicalities of what thin air can do to your body, but suffice it to say, that if ever you go to one of these high altitude mountain treks, HAPE and HACE would be acronyms you’d want to look up before taking your neck-that-sticks-out with you!!
Anyways. Well, it all started with the 11:00 AM coffee sessions in office, which we Indians carry along with us anywhere we go. A casual remark made by yours’ truly to do a trek to Fuji gathered steam between me and a good friend of mine. Soon enough, I knew this was something which was not entirely my cup of tea. Partly because, it had a strange smell to it – these vending machines!!
Deciding on the time was not too difficult, as the Obon week had arrived in Japan – which is the summer holidays and when most companies except for the hard-working ones (Read : Desi ones) do not work at all. However, this is also the time when most people trek up to Mount Fuji, as July and August are the official months during which it remains open and accessible. A quick mail to the one’s interested, and we had ourselves a motley group of 8 people, including a girl, a Dutch, and a weekend to spare.
This was the plan :
Carry enough warm clothing, A litre of water, torches and/or headlamps, easy-on-the-stomach-and-bag food such as protein packs, energy fluids, bananas and chocolates.
Reach Kawaguchiko 5th stage (2400 mts) by 5PM –> Take the trail from Kawaguchiko up,walk slowly, taking frequent breaks –> Reach the 8th Stage by around 1 AM –> Take a long break –> Then cover the remaining 2 stages to reach the summit by around 4 AM in time to catch Goraiko – The Mount Fuji Sunrise which is supposed to be one of the most spectacular sights in the world!
Although in a fit of excitement, I had dived into this plan, however, it was not without that seed of doubt which had seeped in. The last time I had trekked was around 6 years back while still in college, and, well, lets face it girls, I am not getting any younger! I mean, if you want me, you’ve got to have me now!! Anyways, getting back to the point – this was no trek through the jungles or on abandoned railway tracks through the hills. This was at a height which would make your heart skip a beat, with weather conditions you’d rather have avoided and stayed indoors watching a movie. So, with those proverbial butterflies in the stomach flying around, we headed on.
Reaching Kawaguchiko was itself an adventure, what with something called the IST, which gets into overtime mode wherever you have a group of Indians trying to make a plan. And this I say with no malice whatsoever, ’cause for all the split second decisions we took from changing buses to trains and reading Japanese train schedules and stopping strangers on their way to ask for instructions, we almost cooked up a mini-India for ourselves right in the heart of Japan – shouting, running to catch a train, et al – and still managed to be there on time with enough to spare! Traffic jams, and time delays back home do have their use after all…
Not one to let the butterflies fly around too much, we decided to start off immediately. Re-arranged our bags, torches out, bought the famous Fuji sticks, cameras ready, a few quick snaps, some curd rice with lemon pickle, and we were all set!
Well, I would have liked to give you a step-by-step account of the entire walk up to the summit, but then, for most part, it would be just blank lines and dots. ‘Cause, after reaching the 7th stage at around 3100 meters, all the small talk and the incessant chattering had disappeared; giving way to occasional shouting of names, or stopping for a bit to enjoy the sunset (mostly it was to catch some breath), and a multitude of thoughts committing harakiri in my head:
Ok! Got to do this…keep walking…you’re johnny walker…ah! nice whisky…wish I had a few pegs now…damn!..stop it…remember the trekking days of college…But that was an era back…yeah, I can walk man!..this is easy..just keep your head down..oh, those lights at the top look so distant!!.. …damn, I had decided I would do this when I was to come to Japan, and now that you are, you cannot be thinking like this…what kind of a joke did he crack?…hmm…no mood to laugh also?…ok..concentrate on the walk…ok, don’t take it so seriously…if needed, can take rest in one of the mountain huts…NO!!..will not…think about how you’d feel on the top…hmm…wish I was in my room now, would have been watching a movie…
And so on, I kept going. I do not know what the others were thinking, but I am quite sure it was pretty much on the same lines. By around 2 AM, after having encountered the cold winds, some unclimbable rock structures, finishing a few protein fluid packs, a lot of huffing and panting, some konichiwas to the Japanese and smiles to a few brave Indians we came across such as us, we arrived at the 8th stage – 3400 meters. Henceforth, from this stage, it was supposed to be only a 90-minute walk, but this was the toughest deal yet. The air had got thinner, breathing was heavier and the cold winds didn’t seem interested in abating. Keeping our heads down, we kept on walking slowly along with the hundreds of others, and at around 4 AM, we saw the lights a few rock-steps ahead of us, streaking out through the darkness into the swirling clouds above us.
By the time we had reached, it was only my friend and I (the originators of the plan). We had missed the others. We still were not sure if we had reached the top yet – we kept looking but could not see any trail. Dizzy with no sleep and fatigue, I asked one of the Japanese trekkers if this was the top. He smiled back, and said, “Hei!! This is the top of Mount Fuji!!”.
My friend and I smiled at each other, gave a high-five, and sat down there silently looking at the crowd waiting in anticipation of the sunrise. Clouds and mist making a heady combination all around me, I realized that Curd-rice with Fuji-san had….finally happened!!
Date : 17th August, 2008
Time : 3:50 AM
Venue : Summit of Mount Fuji, 3760 metres (Above MSL), Japan’s highest and most prominent mountain.
State of mind : **&#%@@, &^#**@#!!!#
State of body : creak, twist, aaahh!!, man…!!