Saturday, August 11, 2007

Climbing Mt. Fuji: Lights Above

-Strange Pilgrims
-Lights Above
-Into Sleep
-The Summit
-The Descent

It was very dark that night on Fuji. It was cloudy most of the time--blocking out the light from the moon and the stars. When we began, the only light we saw was from our headlamps, and two yellow blobs above on the trail.

In my mind, I imagined that one of those yellow blobs of light was the summit. Later, I'd find out that this was only the first of many outposts, and that the actual summit was a kilometer above the clouds--far out of site.

The map I got from the park ranger had about a dozen named huts lining the trail up the mountain. Each hut had a different name and varied a little in their details, but shared the same concept. They exist to serve exhausted travelers on their treks up the mountain.

Many people would begin their hike in the evening, then overnight at one of these huts, and then get an early start the following morning. I talked about this in my previous post about the Mountain.

Some of the huts provided small kitchens--serving hot rice, noodles, and soup--while others just provided drinks, bathrooms, and place to sit outside. I used those hard benches to catch my breath, pass out, and sigh at the length of the mountain that lay ahead.

Around 4am, when the sun began to illuminate the clouds above, the lights of the huts dimmed and they became a little less magical. They were no longer heavenly guides hovering above me, but merely soggy, worn buildings where I could sit and rest for awhile.

I arrived at the Fujisan hotel, at the 8th station, about 8:00am or so and was surprised to find as close to a hotel as one could expect on the side of a tough volcanic mountain. People were stirring, food was cooking, and they accepted credit cards.

On the trip up the mountain, had been buying a bottle of water at every other hut, giving them my empty water bottle, and moving along. But by the time I reached the Fujisan Hotel, my Yen supply was getting low and I knew that I had to make it the rest of the way up the Mountain, and then back down. So, I used my credit card to buy two bottles of water (cost about $5 per half-liter).

They had a wireless credit card machine! I knew in theory they existed, but what a better place for such a thing--on the side of a mountain where communications cables were impractical or impossible. However "up" they were with the technology, they were very down in courtesy. While each hut previous had allowed me to leave empty water bottles when I bought a new one, Fujisan Hotel refused.

I was not happy. I had two full water bottles, and no room in my bag for the empty one. As I turned the corner, I placed my empty water bottle on the windowsill outside. The courtain was closed. I got a few steps away, when someone called after me. I rolled my eyes and turned around. One of the workers from the hut came jogging toward me.

"Card," he shouted. I had forgotten my credit card with the cashier. That would have been a story--losing my credit card on the side of Mt. Fuji.

He had not noticed the water bottle I left. In my peripheral vision I kept my eye on the water bottle and thanked the man. I turned and walked away, my credit card in hand and that empty water bottle on that window sill.
Mt. Fuji Huts List

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