Climbing Mt. Fuji – Your Complete Guide
Climbing Japan’s highest and most iconic mountain, Mt. Fuji, is no easy feat. With our comprehensive guide, you’ll be ready to take on this arduous challenge.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Mt. Fuji (or Fujisan) was a clever fabrication by the Japanese Tourist Board. The iconography of the old volcano seemingly knows no bounds; its image is ubiquitous, inescapable but somehow always welcome, teetering on the edge of cliche but never falling over the edge. The symmetry, the nobility, the majesty – well-worn descriptions that will never expire. And best of all for the guys at the Tourist Board – these qualities have come to represent Japan more widely – Fuji is Japan.
If you’re still wondering, I can assure you the mountain is very much real. It couldn’t be more real in fact. Though if further evidence is required, you can go and climb it for yourself, or alternatively, ask one of the 300,000 people who make the ascent every year. If the former option appeals, we’re here to give you all the answers to your burning questions on the subject. When can I climb? How do I climb? What do I need? How likely is it that I’ll die? All these questions and more are answered below. Read carefully, for the mountain poses very real dangers for the ill-prepared, and the rewards of planning will last a lifetime.
When can I climb Mt. Fuji?
The official on-season for climbing the mountain begins in early-July and ends in mid-September, though opening times for the different trails can often vary by a number of days. During this time the weather conditions for climbing are optimum (though temperatures can still be cold), the snow has melted, the rest huts and first-aid stations are in operation and the transportation serving the mountain is running. Those with little mountaineering experience are strongly advised to climb during this period.
Trail opening times (subject to change in the event of extreme weather etc):
Yoshida Trail: July 1st – September 10th
Subashiri Trail, Gotemba Trail, Fujinomiya Trail: July 10th – September 10th
How do I climb Mt. Fuji?
The answer to this question can be broken up into several parts. The basic information you need to know is that there are four routes to the summit with slightly differing characteristics. Your choice of route should be based on your experience and fitness as well as the practicalities of getting to a particular starting point. These starting points (or Go Gomei) are located at the fifth (with the tenth being the summit) station up the mountain. Paved roads lead to these stations so they are openly accessible – beyond this it’s down to you.
The most popular station is the Fuji Subaru Line Go Gomei – the access point to the Yoshida Trail. Here there is a settlement catering to the needs of climbers, with restaurants and supply shops (though be sure to bring supplies ahead of time or risk being ripped off). This station and correspondingly the Yoshida Trail is the busiest of the four. Though don’t be fooled, it is the ease of access from Tokyo rather than the ease of the trail that draws the crowds. Yoshida also has the largest number of rest huts and first-aid points to service the crowds. This is probably the safest option for a climb but your view on the way up may be dominated by someone else’s behind.
The Fujinomiya Trail begins at a higher altitude than the other three, making the climb slightly shorter. This trail also has plentiful huts on both the ascent and descent, at each station up until 9.5. The actual trail itself is considered one of the steepest and can be rocky – though perfectly manageable in suitable footwear. The 5th station begins at Fuji No Miya Guchi Go Gomei and it’s the second most popular trail to the top.
The Subashiri Trail comes in at third place for most popular, with an average number of climbers of 33,000. This is thus a relatively quiet trail; however, the final portion of the hike does meet the busy Yoshida Trail. There are fewer huts on this route but the path is gentle and tree-lined up until the 7th station, plus on a clear day, views of Tokyo are possible.
The least populated of the four is the Gotemba Trail. Huts are sparse and the ground volcanic but it is often remarked that this is perhaps the most atmospheric of the trails. This is a trail probably best reserved for more experienced hikers – the lack of huts making it important that your estimated timings are accurate.
How long does it take to climb Mt. Fuji?
The average time taken over the 4 trails is around 6 hours up and 3 hours down. Obviously though, this ranges from climber to climber depending on experience, fitness levels, weather conditions, chosen trail and a multitude of other factors. If you consider yourself to be a thoroughly average person, the above times are a good estimate, if not, think carefully about your limits and give yourself plenty of time to reach a hut or the summit.
These times do not include resting at a hut part-way through your ascent. Most people choose to time their ascent with the intention of witnessing the sunrise at the summit. Climbers aim to reach the 7th or 8th station on day 1, rest in a hut for a number of hours and begin the final stage at midnight/1:00am for a sunrise of 4:30/5:00am. This is not unusual so expect to be joined by a throng of people doing the same.
Ascending and descending in a single day is possible though is discouraged by the authorities. Reason being, the climb and way back down can be exhausting even for experienced climbers and the lack of shade leaves one exposed to the sun for long periods – a potentially dangerous combination. Think carefully before choosing this option.
Do I need to make reservations at the mountain huts? What are the prices?
It’s probably a good idea to make reservations. With 300,000 taking on the mountain yearly, demand is high and volume limited. Various huts (mainly along the two most popular routes) are able to take reservations in English, though should these be full you might like to enlist the help of a Japanese speaker. Should you be unable to do this, Fuji Mountain Guides run a booking service for foreign climbers, for a fee, which could be a good option should you become desperate.
Prices for an overnight stay at a hut hover around 5,000 yen, rising to 7,000 yen including meals. Various huts also offer the option of hourly rates for a short rest, typically 1,000-2,000 yen per hour. Huts also sell a variety of food items, drinks and climbing equipment at pretty high prices. Huts are basic in their style and amenities but how often do you get to stay at a quasi-hotel part-way up the side of a volcano?
It’s been said by various sources that you are highly unlikely to be turned away from a hut for not having a reservation. Climbing Fuji can be dangerous and the nights cold, so it would be a fairly cruel decision to allow weary climbers to go unsheltered. However, there are no official guidelines on this, so it’s a risk run at your own peril and goes unadvised from us.
What kind of equipment and clothing do I need to climb Mt. Fuji?
Health and safety should come first, second and third when climbing any mountain and preparing yourself with the correct equipment and clothing goes a long way towards achieving this.
Clothes should be warm but ideally breathable for combating temperatures that can drop below freezing at the summit. Gloves should be included in this and probably a hat too. What’s more, the mountain can be prone to rain so ensure you have a waterproof jacket and trousers on hand. Shoes should be hiking boots: sturdy, comfortable and waterproof.
A head light is also an essential item for the night climb portions. Though admittedly the busy sections will be illuminated by a thousand other flashlights, it’s a good idea to have your own for checking the ground directly beneath you. Keeping hydrated and energized is vital, so water and food need to be brought along. Around 2 liters of water is advised and food should be high in energy and easy to eat. Both are available at huts but don’t rely on them, they are sporadic and expensive. You will also need cash money for your climb. Huts do not accept credit/debit cards so ensure you have enough cash to pay for your lodgings and anything else you may need. A supply of change is also a good idea as toilets along the way generally charge 100/200 yen.
How difficult is the climb? Is it dangerous?
Compared to other mountains of similar heights, climbing Fuji is relatively easy. The trails are for the most part pretty gentle with the occasional steep section. There are no sheer cliffs, rock falls are rare and the surface can be rocky but not overly so. Warning signs along the route caution climbers against any potential dangers there may be.
The biggest risks come from exhaustion, dehydration and altitude sickness. To avoid the effects of any of these, it is advised to take the climb at a comfortable pace, drink a lot of water and rest often. As mentioned, the official advice is to split the climb over two days; predominantly to do with giving climbers a break from the effects of heavy exercise and thin air.
How do I get to Mt. Fuji?
On a clear day, you can see the mountain from the heart of Tokyo (and vice versa) and it is from here most people depart from.
As noted earlier, the Yoshida Trail is the most popular because Fuji Subaru Line Go Gomei is simple to get to from the city. Indeed, from Shinjuku Station, a Highway Express bus will take you straight to the station. This 140-minute, 2700 yen trip (one way) departs from Shinjuku West Bus Terminal 4 to 10 times per day during the on-season and is by far the most convenient way of going about it. You can find the bus timetable here. Tickets may be available on the day, but booking ahead is advised.
For the Subashiri 5th Station you first need to head to Gotemba Station close to the mountain. Again, the easiest and cheapest way to do this is by highway bus. Services operate daily from Shinjuku Station and cost 1,680 yen (one-way). For detailed information head here. Once at Gotemba Station catch a further bus to the 5th station. 7 to 11 trips run daily during the on-season, costing 1540 yen and taking an hour. Gotemba 5th Station is also reached from Gotemba (train) Station. A one-way bus ticket costs 1,110 yen, takes 40 minutes and there are 4 to 7 trips daily during the on-season. Click here for the bus timetable for both.
Fujinomiya 5th Station is best reached from Shin-Fuji Station – a trip costing 2,380 yen and taking around 2 hours. Shin-Fuji Station itself is on the Tokaido Shinkansen route. Ticket prices can be found here and booked online.
Can I climb Mt. Fuji in the off-season?
Yes, you can. There is nothing prohibiting entrance onto the mountain pretty much all year round; however, from October to mid-June, conditions can be perilous and it’s extremely ill-advised to attempt to ascend the mountain during this time. Each year there are those that never leave the mountain through an underestimation of the seriousness of the climb.
If you’re desperate to beat the crowds though, huts normally open for business a few days before the beginning of the official season and remain open until mid-September. It is generally considered safe to climb at this time though transportation to the 5th stations is much more limited. Off-season bus timetables can be found here.