Mt Fuji killed my iPhone, but the sunrise was worth it

Mt Fuji killed my iPhone, but the sunrise was worth it
Photo credit: Todd Symons/Newshub.

As I stood before the behemoth of Mt Fuji - or 'Fujisan' as the Japanese call it - I wondered, 'What the hell are we doing?'.

For days, Fujisan had been covered in cloud. But here was the whole thing, bigger than I'd imagined - 3776m of bigness. 

We'd arrived at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine, a beautiful prayer spot on the edge of Fujiyoshida City, where they used to worship the spirit of the mountain. 

It was here we'd been told we'd find the Yoshida Trail, the way to the summit.

Most people looking for a way to the top of Japan's highest mountain will catch a bus to about halfway up and join the trail at what's called the fifth station. From there, it's roughly six hours to the summit. 

Mt Fuji killed my iPhone, but the sunrise was worth it
Photo credit: Todd Symons/Newshub.

Being idiots, we thought that would be cheating. We'd start our climb at the bottom.

About 5pm (yes, pm), we took the first steps of what would be an 11-hour trek. Our back-of-the-tourist-pamphlet calculations told us we'd get to the top just in time for sunrise at 4:36am the next morning.

Finding the trail wasn't hard. Neither was the walking part, to start with. But a sign at the first marker left me mildly terrified - it said there had been bears spotted in the area. 

'Well, that's just great,' I thought, kicking myself for not praying to the mountain god. 'We're going to be eaten by bloody bears.'

About an hour later, we came to the first station. There are nine on the way up, which used to be rest houses for Japanese pilgrims bound for the summit. 

The ones nearer the top are still operating as huts where climbers can sleep. But there were no signs of life at the first four, which had been left to rot.

All that remained of one was a pile of broken timber and a sign saying it used to be there. The information boards boasted that some had shrines with statues of Buddha. But Buddha proved hard to find in the dark. 

Mt Fuji killed my iPhone, but the sunrise was worth it
Photo credit: Todd Symons/Newshub.

By the time we'd reached the second station, our two-and-a-half hours of sunlight had expired, and we were forging ahead under the guiding light of a five dollar head torch bought at a store called '2Cheap'. 

Its light wasn't strong enough to find the big man. Fearful we'd instead find a big bear, we just kept walking.

At about 9pm, the sounds of civilisation could be heard through the trees; a woman's voice on a loudspeaker. Soon we stumbled on to a road and what appeared to be a hut, assuming it was the famed fifth station.

This was where the sane people begin their journey, though it looked smaller than the picture I'd found on Google. 

We sat down outside, eventually working out it wasn't the fifth station at all, but a simple, small restaurant in the bush. No one was eating inside - we guessed it was too late. 

But the staff, with nothing else to do, seemed fascinated by us. One by one they emerged to tell us we needed to put on more clothes. One dragged a half-barrel stacked with wood and set it ablaze with a powerful gas torch. Next thing, we were being handed marshmallows to toast. 

We sat for about an hour, resting our legs and filling our bellies with questionable katsu chicken sandwiches bought at the 7-Eleven back in town. We put on our warmer gear and set off to join the riff-raff.

Mt Fuji killed my iPhone, but the sunrise was worth it
Photo credit: Todd Symons/Newshub.

Twenty minutes later we found the sane people at the sixth station. In the first four hours of our ascent, we'd seen one other soul; a runner who wasn't going past the first station. But here we'd stumbled out of the bush and into a seemingly endless line of hikers snaking their way up the mountain.

We walked another hour or so, clambering over rocks and climbing the steep sets of stairs to the seventh station. It was one of the real ones. People were tucked up in bunks inside. 

Plebs like us, who hadn't paid to stay, weren't even allowed inside, and dozens of hikers were squished onto the limited seating outside. There were pay-to-pee toilets and a small canteen where they sold chocolate bars, hot noodles, and water. 

It was getting colder now and the wind was picking up. We thought we should keep moving. 

There were two more stations before the summit. At each, with the altitude beginning to have a say and with our legs tiring, we'd take a much-needed break. 

My stomach was doing flips, and that questionable katsu sandwich was suddenly feeling like a terrible choice. At one point, vomiting seemed like the only option. Instead, I swallowed hard and told myself I'd come too far and too high to stop now.

We might have been mad, but our timing was perfect. Nearing the summit, dawn was stealing the darkness. Men with glowing red traffic warden batons tried to herd this pack of bleary-eyed sheep to the summit, where fierce winds were picking up. Get it even slightly wrong, and you could lose more than your footing. 

There was one final archway, then stone stairs to the summit where we found crowds holding cell phones pushing against a railing, trying to capture the moment. 

Even the toughest couldn't last long there. The wind was bitterly cold - cutting through the thickest of clothing like a million tiny daggers. More than a dozen men were seeking refuge in the toilet block - dashing in and out to snap pictures. 

As the sun poked its head above the horizon, I pulled out my iPhone to snap my own, but the screen went black. The freezing temperature had sucked the life from its battery. 

Desperate to resuscitate it, I warmed it the only way I could: by putting it down my pants.

Thick fog began to blanket the summit, rolling in to block the view, only for a strong gust to move it on again, revealing the most spectacular sunrise I will ever see. 

Each time that happened, there was a communal gasp of wonder. It truly was a sight to behold. The sore legs, the aching back, the throbbing head were all worth it. 

Now we just needed to get down the damn thing.

Todd Symons is a producer for Newshub.

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