Saturday, September 01, 2007

An Attempt on Mt. Fuji: Part B

Might as well tell you now that I had no reason to break this posting into two parts except that I had gotten tired of writing. As far as their different lengths go, if your sense of symmetry is offended then I doubt we can be friends any more.

We descended Fuji after two blissful hours on top, during which time Michelle appeared and Juhi and Juhi’s Japanese Friend did not. There was nothing to be done except shrug at what was a fairly likely outcome all along, wonder if they would manage to make it back to the bus by 10 AM, and enjoy the delicate bouquet of Fuji Peach Wine. This fruity drink complemented nicely the beginning of our hike, when we passed out neon purple glow bracelets as a way to keep track of our group (dubbed Team Purple Fuji, although I preferred the name Team Homosexual Firefly) in the darkness.

The descent of the mountain was a whole new ball game. For one, we could actually see the mountain we had ascended in all its barren, sere blandness. Nice view though. The way down also turned out to be a different path than the way up, which explained why we didn’t pass any descenders on the ascent, except for a couple wusses who we got a good laugh out of. We were instead treated to an uncountable, possibly infinite, number of switchbacks composed of jagged volcanic gravel. On the one hand this was cool because I could sort of slide-walk my way down. On the other hand it turns out this ate away the bottom of my cheap tennis shoes about as well as if I had stood in a puddle of strong acid for the same period of time. One little kid had the idea of trying to slide down on his butt, which I watched intently, but it turns out this was not a very good way of traveling so I didn’t try it myself. Another sight that cheered me was the many, many people dragging their expensive walking sticks listlessly behind them in a limp grip. Validated!

By miraculous chance Juhi and Juhi’s Japanese Friend crossed paths with us near the last way station at the bottom, having come down the way they went up. The first thing Juhi did was loudly swear out the mountain for being too steep, so I decided not to make any “wuss” comments.

One feature of the descent that I appreciated but couldn’t fully enjoy were the several covered rock shelter tunnels that ran parrellel to the path in order to protect hikers from sudden avalanches. I walked through all these tunnels, despite their poorly conceived layout that made them much harder to go through than the path, waiting the entire time for all the over-confident hikers to shriek in terror and be buried alive by cascading stones. Unfortunately this didn’t happen, so I have to save my smug look of safety-mindedness for some other time.
The worst part of getting down Fuji is that after you reach the bottom, thinking you have finished your journey, it turns out that the bus stop has been relocated to the top of a hill a million miles away from where you come out.

We got back in just over 4 hours, 2 hours quicker than the ascent, and so had to kill a couple hours in town that we could have spent on the summit. Pressed to our limits of endurance, everyone immediately wandered off dazedly on their own and lost all contact with the others until just before the bus arrived.

So there it is, easy as that. Nothing left to do but count the slow minutes on your 2 hour trip back in a hot bus before scrabbling around on last minute errands until 11 at night and waking up at 5 AM the next morning in time to ride local trains for 8 hours. Yeah!