Sea to Summit - Tokyo to the top of Mt.Fuji


Maximum Pace
Nov 4, 2006
Colonel “Hannibal” Smith, from the A-Team says it best; “I love it when a plan comes together!”
And, from “Sea to Summit” the plans went perfectly. Unfortunately, the proposed “Summit to Sea” return trip was not so successful. But let’s focus on the positive, and let the negative make us wiser.

Andy (andy_w) and I had been mailing each other constantly for the last two days; “Are you taking your backpack all the way to the top?” “What kind of shoes are best?” “Should we buy convenience-store food before heading up to the 5th-Station?” etc. I think we had all the questions out of the way about 8 hours before ride-out time. And for those we didn’t, it was “let’s see when we get there”.

I left home at 23:25, and headed for Rte.246 and Kampachi-dori, where Andy and I had planned to meet at 00:50am. It’s 30km from my place, and even though I arrived about 10 minutes early, Andy was already waiting. I had a gel, filled up my water-bottles, Andy took some pictures, and we rode out just before 1:00. For ease of calculation, I’ll “zero” the meter here.

00:55 – 0km: We left the convenience store at Kampachi-dori, and headed straight down Rte.246. Andy told me it was his first time ever on that stretch of road. During the day, and in times of heavy traffic, Rte.246 can be terrible. But at this time of night, there were very few cars and not too many trucks either, so we were able to hold a really good pace. About 20km later, we turned right onto Rte.16 and headed for Hashimoto.

01:30 – 37km: We had reached the Hashimoto 7-11 (just at the beginning of Rte.413), and stopped for our first break. The outside temperature must have been around 26-28oC, and we were both covered in sweat. We were also way ahead of schedule, and we both decided that “we really didn’t need to go at this pace the rest of the way, did we?” I clamped my “Fenix” flashlight to my helmet, and changed the batteries in my main “Cateye” light, because we were now about to embark on the “Doshi-michi” section of the ride.

04:10 – 77km: Should convenience stores really be called that if they’re not open 24 hours? “Daily Yamazaki”, a reputable convenience-store chain, has a shop about 9km before the tunnel. However, it is closed between 11pm and 6am. Thankfully, it has vending machines, so we stopped there to fill up our bottles again (Beware though; One of the machines took Andy’s money, but kept his drink). The sky was still dark, but had lightened just enough to be able see the outlines of the mountains around us.

05:05 – 86km: We were at the top of Doshi-michi, and had finally made it to the tunnel. It was all downhill from there – At least until we hit the base of Mt. Fuji anyway. By then, the sky was light enough for us to see without our lights, so the short descent to Yamanaka-ko was fast and reasonably safe. There was one idiot driver though, who almost pulled out of a side road in front of Andy. When we got to the T-junction at the lake, we turned right (I was going to turn left out of habit, until Andy informed me that going right was much shorter – Thanks!), and followed it around the lake. The weather was perfect! The views of Mt. Fuji, spectacular! And needless to say, our speed dropped considerably as we looked for places to stop and take photos, and/or just stare like morons. We found a nice little beach on the lake, and two early-morning fishermen came out of their shack, and took photos of us. From there, we made our way around the lake until we got to the Rte.138 turn-off, from which there is an almost 9km downhill run into the Fujiyoshida town center. It was a lot longer, and a lot more down-hill than I remember it, but it was great fun. We stopped off in front of the Mount Fuji Shrine to take some photos before we finally arrived at “Jonathan’s” family restaurant just on 6am.

06:00 – 106km: Right on time! The timing couldn’t have been any more perfect. We settled into a booth seat, that would have been long enough to lie flat on and have a snooze, and ordered two breakfasts – each! Andy had the “Morning set with rice” and the “Toasted sandwich & chips”. I had the “Japanese-style Hamburger with rice” and the “Pancakes”. 100km seems like the perfect distance to work up a big appetite. Once our tanks were full, we left there at about 7:20, and headed straight across the road to the 7-11 to pick up any last-minute supplies. In my case, 2 Amino-Vital gels, a sandwich, and a piece of cake, all to be eaten during the hiking phase. We left there about 10 minutes later, and headed towards the Subaru Line toll-gates.

07:50 – 112km: The start of the Fuji hill-climb. It costs 2,000 yen for cars, and 200 yen for bicycles. We paid our toll, and went straight into the 23km climb. Although it’s not a steep climb, it is very long, and apart from a few short flattish sections, it doesn’t really let up until 2km from the top. During the first half of the climb, Andy would generally start pulling away on the steeper sections, but he would slow down when it flattened out to give me a chance to catch back up, until finally, there were no more flat sections. The last I saw of Andy’s back wheel was about 3/5 of the way up, and he was a couple of hundred meters ahead of me. Then he rounded a bend up ahead and I never saw him again until the top – Still, thanks Andy, for at least trying to wait for me! Andy was maybe 5-10 minutes ahead of me at the top. However, neither of us stopped at all during the climb, and that’s what counts! Isn’t it? Right!?


09:42 – 135km: 5 years ago, I went in the “FunRide” race along this course on my old steel-frame bike – It took me 1hr 37min. This time, after having already ridden over 100km, and carrying nearly 4kg on my back, I was only 15 minutes slower – Not too bad. As far as how we were doing time-wise, we were sticking to the original schedule like glue. Andy and I found a place to lock up our bikes just near the start of the hiking trail. We then changed our shoes, put on some dry-clothes, and bought some drinks. Then, we were ready to start “hoofin’ it”. We set out at 10:20.


The ride gradient.


10:20 – The Fifth Station: The most noticeable thing about Fuji-san this time was how many people were there! There were literally thousands of people milling about in the car-parks, restaurants and waiting areas; some, having just returned from the top, and others, like us, just getting ready to start the climb. Once the bikes were safely secured, and we had changed into our hiking garb, we joined the masses in the march to the top. The first kilometer or so is actually downhill, and Andy & I, with our long gaijin-legs, were already overtaking people. Once we got to the bottom of the downhill section, there was a sign that says it’s the official start, and that it’s 6km to the top from there. Not too far after that, and we were at the Sixth Station at exactly 10:50. The sign said it should have taken 50 minutes, but it only took us 30, so we knew we were doing O.K. From the Sixth Station onwards, it would be much steeper.

When you think about “pacing”, you normally think “Fast vs. Slow”, but in the realm of hiking, it’s more like “Comfortable vs. Uncomfortable”. You settle into a pace that you can handle – Usually just under you pain threshold. But if you suddenly decide to go faster than that, your head starts spinning and your ears feel as though they’re at a house-music convention, up close and personal with the front-of-house speakers! I bet the police wish they had something like that: “If you go over the speed limit, we’ll turn up your blood-pressure until your ears start pounding!”

11:20 – The Seventh Station: After only an hour’s climbing we were already at the 7th Station, 2,700m above sea-level. We stopped there for a quick break, and a photo shoot before continuing on. From here, all the way to the top, the landscape wouldn’t change very much. It’s a cross between steep make-shift rock steps and untouched rocky outcrops that have steel poles hammered into the rock, and chains strung between them on either side of climbing course. Sometimes the chain on the left offers the easiest way up, and sometimes the chain on the right makes for easier climbing. You don’t even need to use the chains if you don’t want to – Just find the path of least resistance, and scramble up using handholds in the rocks – All the while, waiting for that pounding in your ears to tell you if you’re over-doing it.

The “Station” numbering gets a little out of whack too. After the “Seventh Station” at 2,700m, there’s an “Eighth Station” at 3,100m. But then, instead of having a 9th-Station, they have an “Original Eighth Station” at 3,400m. And above that, there’s even an “Eighth-and-a-half Station” at around 3,500m. But there is NO “Ninth Station” – I don’t know if that is a superstitious thing, like some hotels not having a 13th floor, or if the person responsible for the “Original Eighth Station” went up too high, and set up camp in the wrong place, or … Oh, who cares?

13:00-ish – Above the Original Eighth (Ninth) Station: We stopped for lunch. I don’t remember exactly what time it was, but it was a little less than an hour from the top. Time to eat the sandwiches we had bought at the 7-11 five-and-a-half hours earlier. We were only about 300m (vertically) from the summit by then, but the going was really slow – I remember each and every step took almost a second, and very rarely gave more than a 10cm vertical gain – taking about 8 seconds for every meter of vertical travel. Not only that, I was just beginning to feel the start of a headache coming on, and I could only hope it didn’t get much worse.

14:00 – THE TOP OF MOUNT FUJI: We had done it! We had ridden out from Tokyo (essentially sea-level) to the “Fifth Station” of Mt. Fuji, and then climbed all the way to the top. From Kampachi-dori, it was basically a 13-hour one-way trip. Not only that, we were STILL 100% on schedule – Pretty impressive, eh! I too, “love it when a plan comes together”. After this point though, the “plan” didn’t stay together too well.

I had heard from quite a few people that you can send a postcard (to yourself, or anyone else) from the top of Mt. Fuji, and I really wanted to do that. However, that meant walking around the crater to the Post Office there. Andy had been telling me all the way up, that if the weather was nice, walking around the crater was one of the highlights. Anyway, when we got to the Post Office, it was closed! By then, we were almost halfway around the top anyway, so we continued walking, first to the weather-station, which is at the highest point, and then around to the western side before returning to where we had originally reached the top. The walk around the top took over an hour, and 10 minutes. And by the time we had had a break and something to eat, it was nearly 15:20 before we were on our way down. We did have some spectacular views though, when the clouds parted.

I learned a very important lesson that day – Hikers are IDIOTS!

Let me explain. I will admit some bias, in that my brain was/is still in “cyclist” mode – And to me that means, “Going downhill equals going more than twice as fast, and having several times more fun than going uphill”. To a hiker, it means “Going downhill is only very slightly faster when you fall on your arse, and is equally or more physically demanding than going uphill”. ie. Hikers are idiots! If cycling was just as much “fun” as hiking, I would be a very happy member of the “Tokyo Knitting Club”.

Yes, people! Three hours of torture. Three hours of slipping, falling on rocks, getting stones in one’s shoes, feeling one’s knees turn to jelly, and generally having any bit of enjoyment torn away from one’s soul. That is what it is like to come down from Mount Fuji. Even before I was half-way down, I suspected that I wouldn’t be able to ride back to Tokyo. When I told Andy as much, I could see the disappointment on his face.

18:10 – The Fifth Station: Almost an 8-hour round-trip. Despite my complaints about the descent, I really enjoyed the climb. The whole process of putting one foot in front of the other, and physically feeling your limits in real time is the epitome of “feeling alive”. Andy and I still had other things to worry about though – The sun was going down, and we wanted to at least be off the mountain before it got dark. Still in our hiking clothes, all we did was change our shoes, put on our gloves and helmets, and we were going downhill (the FUN one) again before 18:30. It really is an enjoyable descent. We had the first half of it all to ourselves – Almost a constant 55km/h, without any need for braking (apart from a couple of hairpins at the top). From about halfway down though, we ran into a line of slow-moving cars. As we overtook one after the other, the real culprits finally came into view – Two local buses. Just as we made it around them, we were able to enjoy the final 2-3 kilometers unobstructed at full speed before we raced through the toll-gates at the bottom. From there, we headed to the nearest family-restaurant – “Saizeriya”, this time – to figure out our next moves.

18:55 – Fujiyoshida, Saizeriya Restaurant: We made it down from the mountain just as it started getting dark. I didn’t know whether Andy was still contemplating riding all the way back down Doshi-michi in the dark or not. I don’t imagine that would’ve been too much fun. I called my wife, and had her check the train times from Fujiyoshida – If we left in the next 25 minutes, we would make it. Now that we knew there was a train, Andy also decided that it was the safer way to go, so we went to the convenience store next door, and bought some garbage bags.

19:51 – Fujiyoshida (Railway) Station: We made it onto a crowded train, with our bikes wrapped in plastic. That particular train ride was only slightly more enjoyable than the hike down from the top of Mt. Fuji, but we finally made it to Otsuki at 20:39. From there, we jumped on the “Azusa” Express train, which was much roomier, and had very comfortable floors. We even managed to get a seat after Hachioji. Andy changed trains at Tachikawa, and I went all the way to Shinjuku, and then home on a local train from there. I finally got home at 23:15 – 10 minutes inside the 24-hour limit for this ride. Yeah!

Special Thanks to Andy, for being the perfect companion. It was great to have someone to share the adventure with. Thanks for waiting for me, particularly on the hike descent – That wasn’t my greatest moment, and you really were patient with me when you probably could have been down much quicker. I truly appreciate it. You’re more than welcome to join me on any future rides! Travis

All up though, we were really lucky with the weather! Even at the top, it was an almost tropical 15 degrees C. The wind was never an issue, and we had some great views. Although I must say, the summit of Mt. Fuji is not a very comfortable place for those not acclimatized to the altitude.
Likes: thomas