Mount Fuji; Japan’s highest and most famous mountain

Mount Fuji is one of the most well known and popular mountains in the world and is most definitely the most famous mountain in Japan. It is often proclaimed as the most climbed mountain in the world, seeing around 300,000 climbers annually. Fuji is also Japan’s highest mountain, by a fair margin, reaching an impresive 3776m and sits right on the eastern coast making it’s prominence over the surrounding landscape extremely impressive.

It has four main summer hiking routes up the mountain and a huge amount of infrastructure, huts, up tracks and down tracks, to support such a large number of visitors. But that large number of hikers are almost entirely crammed into the official climbing season, early July to early September or shoulder seasons immediately preceding or proceeding those months.

Mount Fuji and the Gotemba Peace Park

Very few people climb the mountain in winter and finding useful information on skiing Fuji was hard to uncover. Essentially the largest hurdle for climbing Fuji in winter is access, which roads are open? At least at this point in time, the Subaru line provides access to the northern flanks of the mountain, it’s currently open to the fourth station of the Yoshida trail (about 2100m) and is open from 900am and cars and hikers must exit by 400pm. On the southern flanks of the mountain, the Gotemba and Fujinomiya trails lead off the Fuji Sky Line road, which was cleared with snow but access was blocked beyond the elevation of Mizugatsuka Park about 1250m.

Fuji Route Map

Nate and I set off to climb the mountain early on the morning of the 28th March 2018 and we elected to climb the south-eastern flank of the mountain from the Gotemba route with the hopes that the warm temperatures and sunshine would ensure we had acceptably soft conditions, even up at the summit (3776m). A note of climbing from the southern flank in winter is that you have a massive vertical gain to accomplish to make the summit, about 2500 metres, more with a ski into the crater.

With just 2.5 hours sleep, we drove up past the road notification barriers up to the Gotemba road turnoff and parked, along with one other early morning mountaineer, in the trees just off the Sky Line road, and prepared for a long walk in the dark up to the summer trailhead.

Approx route of the Gotemba Route on Fuji
180328 Fuji Gotemba (1 of 42)
180328 Fuji Gotemba (2 of 42)
180328 Fuji Gotemba (3 of 42)
Nate preparing to start hiking at 230am
Walking up the cleared Gotemba road, we quite quickly made the carpark and summer trailhead and parking lot

We continued up from the trailhead in running shoes until we reached consistent snow coverage at about 1600m we stashed our shoes and got skinning.

Nate in the dark with the city lights of Gotemba behind
Nate in the dark with the city lights of Gotemba behind
#DPSskis ;) These skis were made for walkin', and that's just what they'll do
#DPSskis 😉 These skis were made for walkin’, and that’s just what they’ll do

We continued up with headlights until the pre-dawn light illuminated the mountain and slowly turned to a golden sunrise.

Nate hiking in the pre-dawn light
Sunrise hiking
Looking up in the morning glow towards the summit
Red sunrise in the land of the rising sun

From sunrise, it was a sunny day with a bit of katabatic wind keeping temps just a touch chilly. The slope angles on Fuji are pretty moderate, normally 30′ ranging up to 35′ when you approach the higher parts of the mountain. We managed to skin with ski crampons to about 3000m and from there on it was easier to boot crampon. We spent so many hours walking up this iconic mountain that there are a tad too many hiking pics.

Joel Cramponing up towards the summit
180328 Fuji Gotemba (20 of 42)
We ran into a Japanese mountaineer who had spent the night on the mountain and he took our photo at the hut at 3000m
Joel ski crampon'ing up
Crater Victory!
Nate walking up the final pitch to the true summit with the crater visible
Nate walking up the final pitch to the true summit with the crater visible

After making the crater rim at the top of Gotemba route, it’s a short walk around the rim to the true summit of the mountain. The true summit has an automated weather station on it which… detracts a little from the sense of victory of summiting the mountain.

Approaching the summit
Nate’s arty shot
Joel and Nate at the summit post – 3776m!

We had plenty of time, getting to the crater rim at about 1000am and the true summit not to much later, we decided to ski into the crater.

180328 Fuji Gotemba (28 of 42)
180328 Fuji Gotemba (26 of 42)
180328 Fuji Gotemba (27 of 42)
Joel’s lazy turns into the bottom of the crater

Once at the bottom fo the crater, there is no-where to go but back up through the amphitheatre of the crater to the rim.

Joel starting to hike out of the Fuji Crater
Joel making the last few steps of the crater

We got to the top of the rim and started to get ready for our descent down the mountain proper. There were a few clouds rolling in so there wasn’t too much fluffing around or taking too many photos on our descent.

Nate snowboarding down Fuji
Nate snowboarding down Fuji

The run down started out a little bit firm, but very edge able, and got better once we got to about 3500m and the whole way down to about 1800m was excellent skiing and then heavy-wet snow back to the shoes. It’s pretty incredible how long the run down the mountain is. I guess you get to reap the rewards of all those hours of walking.

A tired Joel back at the shoes

We continued skiing down the strips of snow below the elevation that we stashed the shoes, eking out as much as we could.

Ski any and all strips of snow below normal snowline

After the snow stopped an easy walk down the soft black stone paths lead us back to the sealed road.

Nate walking down the soft black rocks that the Gotemba route is famous for

It was a huge day with little sleep and on the tail end of a busy three weeks of ski touring for me. It was 11 hours 10 minutes car to car and 2649 vertical metres and just over 20km lateral travel. We drove back to Gotemba town, got Indian for lunch and I went to sleep for the better part of 14 hours.

The next day Nate and I did some touristy things around the base of Fuji.

Nate donging the bell at Gotemba Peace Park
180328 Fuji Gotemba (42 of 42)
180328 Fuji Gotemba (40 of 42)
180328 Fuji Gotemba (41 of 42)