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How I climbed the highest mountain in Japan

My story: My mom is a flight attendant and flies to Tokyo often...  a few of her friends had climbed the famous Mt Fuji in years before, so she asked me if I wanted to try it with her.  SURE!  I said...  LOL....

That was in December.  I had never worked out before, I could count the number of times I had been in a gym.  But after a quick google of Mt Fuji, I realized I needed muscles.  STAT.  I had until mid July...  so I joined 24Hour Fitness and got a personal trainer.  Best thing I could have done.  The misery of squats, stair stepper, rows, situps, pullups - I'd soon find out they were all worth every short moment of pain.  

We stayed in Narita, Japan where the airport is.  There were 43 of us total including our 4 guides.  1 for the front, 1 for the back, and 2 to float in the middle.  No one would get left behind.  

I am a super googler.  I'm a researcher.  A planner.  So over 6mos I googled what the terrain looked like, what things to bring, what the hike was like, what to expect with weather-  and what I was personally concerned about-  what it was like to climb the mountain with Asthma.  I've had it since I was 12.  I've been in the hospital twice. BUT a year ago I tried a new drug called Breo and it has 110% changed my life. For the first time I feel like I can breathe! I went from using my inhaler 2-3 times a day, to maybe 5 times in a year! I went from "severe asthma" to "mild" but even with the Dr clearing me and said I had nothing to worry about, I still had concerns. Soooo I googled that too.  A lot.  LOL

We left the hotel in Narita at 1am on a bus...  we arrived half way up the mountain (5th station) at 4am.  We hung out there for about an hour to acclimate to the altitude for about an hour, then started our hike at 5am.  There was a short 10-15min very flat easy walk before the climb started-  there were several who hadn't done research who were like "this won't be bad at all!"  once we started the CLIMBING trail, I know there was a point- about 10min in- that lots of people were suddenly having an OH S*** moment.  lol There are stations about every 30-45 min where there's a restroom and sometimes a stand with snacks... I'm gonna say now that the protein bars I brought were way better than the candy bars full of sugar they had- but to each his own.  They also stamp your hiking stick at each station if you want (see notes below about these).  Station 5 is where you start, station 10 is at the top-  and there are a few extras in between.  I set out on my own pace and never stopped at one station for more than 5 minutes.  I didn't want my muscles to get cold, and I was afraid if I stopped too long I wouldn't get up.  HA  This was more and more true the farther I went.  

After about the first 2 hours of hiking, my shins and calves were so sore I couldn't imagine how I'd get to the top. After 3 hours I was happy I was half way there. lol  but I had to keep going...  there are markers every once and a while that say how many km you have left, I depended on looking for the next marker to feel like I made some kind of progress!  The switchbacks were killer. They felt like they would never end...  and once I got 5 hours in on my climb, it was painful to walk more than a half a switchback at a time.  Once I got to the 9th station, it was no longer a physical thing.  Every single muscle hurt from my butt to my toes.  every. one.  at this point it was more of a mental challenge. I had to make myself keep going.  I was my own cheerleader and had long ago passed my 2nd wind, or even my 10th wind.  I had to rely on my deep inner drive to get this done.  I had gotten this far, there was no way I wasn't going to make it.  It got to the point I would take 5 steps.  stop.  breathe.  Take 5 more steps. stop. breathe. But then I made it!   

I started at 5am, I hit summit at 11:30am.  It was hard. It hurt.  BUT, I climbed the tallest point in Japan.  I climbed Mt Fuji.  I put my mind to it, I had a goal, and I crushed it.  43 people went, 22 made it to summit.  I was #11.  The little 5'5 girl with Asthma who had never climbed a mountain before, hit summit at 12,388 ft in 6 1/2 hours. It's a pretty cool feeling. :) 

6 and a half hours of constant climbing and hiking up, an hour and a half at summit, then 3 (yes, three) solid hours getting down.  Just when you think you may pass out at the top, you have to work to go down.  LOL  I left summit at 1pm, and made it back to camp at 4pm.  My toes were pointed up all the way up, and my toes were pointed down all the way back.  Just when I thought all my muscles hurt on the way up, you use new ones you never knew you had on the way down.  You don't really climb down, you slide.  Those hiking poles?  It's like skiiing on lava rocks for 3 hours.  I busted ass twice and had bruises for a week. This part, is also not easy! But I really really wanted to get down at this point... so you keep going. 

I've done a lot of things in life I didn't really think I could do-  actually, most of them I didn't really think about it.  I just did what I needed to.  I set goals.  I made the impossible, possible.  I kinda try to live my life that way, and this was just another reminder that I can still do anything I set my mind to.  If you can ever climb Mt Fuji, I say do it!  It's hard, your muscles will hurt, you will want to quit, a lot, but you can do it. But you MUST train.  You can't do this if you can't do even a few sit-ups or push-ups.  Do squats.  Do the stair climber. (I hate that stupid machine) but it helped. Run a 5k.  I did my first ever this spring! But you have to train if you want to make it to the top.  I couldn't have done it otherwise. And research! I did a ton of it, and to save you 6 mos of googling, here's all my planning in a nutshell:

Packing my backpack:  BTW, all my research totally paid off.  When I packed my backpack the night before I questioned if I needed all this crap.  But I used every single bit of it.  Clothes:  I wore a tank top, the ones that are breathable.  Workout pants.  Hiking boots (not too fancy, this was my first climb and could have been my last)  I found some one Merrell waterproof ones for like $60.    Waterproof EVERYTHING is a plus.  I bought waterproof wool socks I googled for about $25.  Also worth every penny. that was the base layer.  I brought a long sleeve running top for when it got chilly, then REI co-op brand hiking pants and jacket for the summit.  I'll stress here that you NEED this. It is a night and day climate change from even an hour before... crazy  lol  Also in my pack:  sunscreen.  use it on your face before you even start. sunglasses (I brought cheap ones I got free at a music festival).  Beanie. A neckwarmer- I brought the one I got when skiiing last year. Waterproof and weatherproof gloves-  I bought Seirus brand at REI.  2 large cans of oxygen.  I got these at the sporting goods store in Japan...  I never felt like I "needed" them, but I stopped every once and a while and took a few puffs-  I never got altitude sickness and never had asthma issues either! Bring 100yen coins for stamps and the toilet-  I brought prolly 2k worth of yen (100y is $1)  Things that I read were "optional" when I googled but glad I had:  hiking poles (I bought in the mall in Narita, WAY cheaper than at home.  basic ones are just fine) and ATV goggles.  People thought I was nuts when I put them on at the summit, but 30 min into our decent, everyone said I was the smartest one there (duh) ha! I got them for $35 at Cabella's as a last minute thought. My backpack was Cotopaxi and had space for a water bladder.  GET ONE.  Last thing:  I brought my favorite protein bars from home.  About 4-5 helped me with the energy I needed on the way up.  My trainer gave me advice I didn't get anywhere else-  I taped every toe and the back of my ankles with the white sports tape. When everyone else had blisters and bleeding toes, mine were just sore. The one time I was happy about that!  :)  

The walking stick:  you can buy a stick on the mountain in different sizes- some bought the full size, but I had hiking poles-  the stick is in no way a replacement for the poles. So instead of trying to hike up with 3 things in 2 hands, I got a small one and had it in my backpack until I wanted to get stamps at each station...  and I didn't have to check it at the airport to go home!  Definitely get one, I'm glad I did.  But you don't need the big one... it will honestly just get in the way.

And finally, my pics!  

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