Malaysian tour leader climbs Mount Fuji for the first time


By LEESAN

Climbing up the 3,776m-high Mount Fuji was a symbolic experience for the columnist. — Photos: Apple Vacations

It was 4.30am and the temperature was a cold 3°C. But after 16 hours of walking and hiking, I finally set my feet on the 3,776m Kengamine peak of Mount Fuji in Japan.

I was emotionally overwhelmed by it all, but it was a blissful feeling, having just conquered the highest peak in Japan. This was made even more special at is was my first trip back to the country after more than two years of not being able to visit because of Covid-19.

It was also my first ever attempt to scale the mountain!

I felt truly blessed and grateful for all the people who had given me the strength to keep moving forward all this while and helped me change my destiny. I also reflected on all the things that have happened.

Our seasoned mountain guide Nakamura, having noticed my eyes welling up with tears and being deep in thought, stood quietly beside me, not saying a single word. It seemed like everyone who climbed Mount Fuji that day were quietly reflecting on something or many things, whether good or bad.

One thing’s for sure, we were all determined and persistent to reach the top.

Nakamura made a high-five gesture to everyone in the group, yelling at the top of his voice: “You did it! You’re now standing on the highest peak of Japan!”

The day before, at 12.30pm, we started our journey from the Fujisan Gogome at an altitude of 2,305m above sea level. We made our way uphill along the popular Yoshida trail. We had to trek up a nearly 80° slope, some on very tough and challenging sand limestone or black volcanic gravel terrain, but we managed to overcome all these safely.

With a strong determination, we finally made it to the top of what every Japanese sees as the most sacred mountain. We felt fearless.

On the Fujisan 10-gome peak, I was standing on the fringe of the giant volcanic crater that was 800m in size, and 200m deep, marvelling at Nature’s unrivalled powers. I tried to imagine just how massive Mount Fuji’s last eruption in 1707 could have been. From what we were told, it was that very eruption that shaped Mount Fuji into what it is today.

Whichever angle you look at it, Mount Fuji always seems to lie in a dormant state and is veritably the most majestic, elegant and idyllic active volcano anywhere on Earth.

The entire 90sq km Mount Fuji area and its foothills includes the fabulous Fuji Five Lakes (Yamanaka, Kawaguchi, Sai, Shoji and Motosu), listed in 2013 as a World Heritage Site.

I remember going to Japan for my tertiary studies in 1991. I had wanted very much to conquer Mount Fuji back then and see the mysterious volcanic crater with my own eyes. However, I always seemed to be too busy ... plus I also had a very long list of other excuses, so I never quite got the chance to do it.

Finally, after many years, I fulfilled my dream this year.

The columnist (above, far left) with his travel buddies on their life-changing journey up Japan’s sacred mountain.The columnist (above, far left) with his travel buddies on their life-changing journey up Japan’s sacred mountain.

Mount Fuji is snow-free and dry from July through mid-September each summer, with temperatures averaging between 15°C and 0°C (it goes down 0.06°C every 100m up), making it safe and suitable for trekking activities.

Because of the pandemic, Mount Fuji was closed to visitors for two whole summers, joining the rest of the planet in a very rare moment of stillness.

As a matter of fact, folks in the travel industry have also been “confined” to our little space by the virus for almost two-and-a-half years. The reopening of Japan and Mount Fuji this summer has given me a new motto: Whatever happens to us, we will continue to climb every mountain and embody the spirit of outstanding bravery.

People say Mount Fuji’s weather in the summer is highly unpredictable with brief bouts of thick fog, strong winds and showers interspersed, with some sunny skies and cool breezes. So if you plan to climb during that time, you would definitely need to be sufficiently prepared for anything and everything!

In our life, we will also come across unpredictable setbacks every now and then, but many of us have learned to “prepare the umbrella before it rains”. Hopefully, we will somehow manage to overcome each of these hurdles and be able to see the sunshine at the end of the tempest. In every demanding journey, there will always be small moments of joy, as well as some reassurances that we experience along the way, so don’t give up too easily!

At exactly 5am on that special day, we were greeted by the so-called Goraikou, the day’s first ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds. Over 2,000 hikers cheered in excitement. We had all waited in darkness to witness this precious moment, heralding the start of a new day.

My heart grows even stronger now!The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.

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