Sunday, July 29, 2012

Conquering Fuji

2012 has been shaping up to be a pretty great year so far for Matt and I.  We've gotten to do and see a lot of the things that we've been wanting to since moving to Okinawa.  By far the biggest one for us was getting to climb Japan's tallest mountain - Mt. Fuji.  That's right - we climbed a mountain!!  Now, the reason its taken us awhile to do this is because Mt. Fuji has a very specific (and small) climbing season where it is warm enough in Tokyo to climb all the way to the cold top without it being TOO cold (like, deathly cold).  The official climbing season is July-August.  We really wanted to make a whole trip of it with our group of friends, and this year was the first time we were all actually available.  I am not lying when I say that the girls actually booked our hotel  a year in advance, so you can imagine we've been looking forward to this trip for a long time!  Did I mention we climbed a MOUNTAIN?!?

Our sunset flight up to Tokyo

We got to the hotel late, but not too late for some Sangria!  

The guys cheering to our upcoming climb the next day

There are two different ways you can climb Mt. Fuji - during the day or at night.  We went back and forth about what we wanted to do, but ultimately decided to go for the night hike.  We thought it would be a unique experience, and if you get lucky with a clear night, you will see an amazing sunrise at the top of the mountain.  So, even though everyone else who had climbed recently had gotten poured on, we hoped for the best, and went for it:)

Around 5:00 pm finding our way through the Tokyo subway station to our bus

Matt and I on the 2  1/2 hour bus ride that took us to the mountain's 5th Station (where everyone starts climbing from)

The sun setting on our way up to the base of the mountain

One of the funnest parts of climbing Mt. Fuji (maybe the only fun part some might say!) are the hiking sticks that you purchase at the beginning of the trail at the 5th Station.  You use them to climb, obviously, but there are also many stations along the way that take a hot iron and "stamp" or "brand" different designs into your stick.  Some of them have little pictures while some of them say what elevation you are at.  The higher you get, the fuller your stick gets with these stamps - it ends up being a unique souvenir to remember the journey by.  It's not a cheap souvenir, though.  Between the initial cost of the stick, the cost of each stamp, and the cost to get it on the plane home with us, it came to well over 5,000 yen, which at today's yen rate is close to $70!

Beginning the journey at around 8:00 at night

One of our first rest stops on the way up... you can tell this is near the beginning of the night, because we're all still smiling and wide-awake

Our sticks getting stamped at the 6th Station

The girls - yes, we are wearing headlamps.  Everyone was doing it.

The climb started off along an easy hiking path, and quickly turned into us climbing straight up rocks.

Imagine 8 1/2 hours of fun terrain like this!

Matt and I about 3/4 of the way to the top

Group shot - getting closer!!

We had amazing weather - no rain at all!  Once we climbed above the clouds, the night sky was INCREDIBLE!  One of my favorite parts of the night hike by far!  This is the slope of the mountain and part of the night sky.

Especially near the end, it got super crowded (probably because there's only 2 months out of the whole year that everyone is climbing!) and we pretty much had to climb/wait in line to get to the top.  

The sky turning light as we make our way toward that last Torii gate...

I was literally running up the mountain at this point as the sun was coming over the clouds!


It felt like we were floating in the clouds - the sky was so beautiful

Check out this video clip of the top of Mt. Fuji as the sun is starting to come up:

Matt and I at the top - I cannot even describe the level of exhaustion here

Sunrise around 4:30 am

We did it!!

Getting our final stamp at the very top of Mt. Fuji

Altitude Sickness is something that affects some people as they get higher and higher in elevation.  It causes headache, nausea, all sorts of symptoms.  It affects some people greatly and others not at all.  The good news is, it didn't affect the girls at all.  I, although completely exhausted with two sore feet, felt completely fine the whole time!  The bad news is, it started to affect some of the guys, Matt being one of them.  Shortly after seeing the sunrise and laying down for a short nap, the guys started to feel nauseous, and wanted to get down as soon as possible, which was fine with us, as it was quite cold up at the top, and as soon as you stop moving is when you really feel it.

The way down started off nice - downhill seemed super easy compared to what we had just endured.  Everyone who had climbed Fuji before had warned us that the way down, although much quicker than the way up, was the worst part.  I can now tell you - the way down is the WORST PART.  It is one big, steep, pile of dirt and loose lava rocks that slip and slide under your feet the whole time.  It is hard to even find solid ground on the way down.  You don't hike down, you literally slide down on your feet.  It is so steep that it is really hard on your knee joints as well as your toes that are constantly banging into the front of your shoes!  It's an understatement to say we were in pain when we made it to the bottom.  It took us 8 1/2 hours to climb up, and only 2 1/2 to get down - 2 1/2 hours of pain!

Matt taking a nap at the top of Mt. Fuji

It was quite cold - he even busted out a foil blanket for warmth (which I, unfortunately, did not get a photo of)

The start of the way down

Started off with softer dirt like this - harder to walk through because you kind of sink into it, but easier on the knees and feet.

Remnants of snow left on the mountain

It quickly turned to lava rocks

Check out this video clip of us on the way down... sorry for the shakiness - I was quite unstable!  Also note that it is hard to see just how steep this really was!

Stopping for a moment on the side of the trail to rest.  I could not feel my feet at this moment.  I'm literally hanging them over the side of the steep mountain - that is straight down!

There are no more pictures after this one, and that is because you really don't want to see us after this point!  We all looked like zombies - literally, dirty, droopy-eyed, zombies that could barely walk!  We were cranky and hungry for real food.  I have personally, never felt that level of exhaustion in my life.  It was easily the most challenging thing (physically and mentally) I have ever done this far.  To me, it was worth it.  I'm glad I did it.  It wasn't always fun (it actually had very few fun parts), but I'm glad I did it.

There is an old Japanese saying that goes, "He who never climbs Fuji is a fool... but, he who climbs Fuji twice is twice the fool!"

Once is good enough  for me.

Check that one off the bucket list!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Up, Up, and Away

Okinawa is really pretty to live on, but it is even more gorgeous from the sky. I had heard about other people taking aerial tours of Okinawa a couple of years ago, and I have been wanting to do it for ourselves ever since. Quite fortunately for us, our friend Nick is a pilot, and we got the opportunity to fly with him a couple of weekends ago. It was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, and we met up early to do some paperwork and get the plane ready. And by plane, I really mean small, tiny Cessna - the kind many people are frightened to fly in!  

Our ride

The take-off and landing were so much fun. The flight had it's bumpy spots, but overall was surprisingly smooth for such a tiny plane. The best parts were obviously the amazing views - we have flown over Okinawa before, but only on commercial planes that fly much higher. It was so cool to be able to see the island from a "birds-eye" view, but also be low enough to recognize everything, including some of our favorite dive spots. 

On the flightline

Check out this video clip of us taking off - you may have to fast forward a little bit to get to the actual taking off:)

Cape Zanpa - aka Bolo Point


West side of Okinawa (East China Sea)

So pretty

Look at that reef!

East Side of Okinawa (Pacific Ocean)


Tunnel on Miyagi Island

Coming in for the landing

This was an amazing experience!!  I am so grateful Matt and I got to do this while living here - it makes you appreciate Okinawa and how beautiful it is in a whole new way:)

Thanks for following!