Saturday, July 31, 2010

All Fall Down

I don't remember why Eric and I both brought our Grateful Dead t-shirts on this hike, but here's proof that we did. I was, at that point, grateful NOT to be dead. There was no fire on the mountain, the rain was not in a box, and of all the stations on Mt. Fuji I found no Terrapin Station. I was, however, a bit dizzy.

Picture a bright blue ball,
Just spinnin', spinnin' free.
Dizzy with the possibilities.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.
(Ashes, ashes, all fall down.)

Throwing Stones -The Grateful Dead

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tough, Separate-Type Jacket

Here I am, wearing my "tough, separate type jacket" (as recommended in the brochure) pointing east. I am smiling because at last I can see a sliver of the ocean and a trace of pink in the sky.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever

. . . but on a cloudy day, you can't. This photo was taken near the top as we began to head down. If you look closely to the right on the ridge of the foreground, you can see the torii gate Alex passes through (ch. 38), inserting a 5-yen coin in a crack, following Japanese tradition. After the gate, the descent steepens. I think Eric resembles Peter Sellers in this photo. I expected to see an inflatable parrot on his shoulder.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Once a Volcano, Always a Volcano

Here is the Fuji Sancho post office box in which to mail postcards to friends. (sancho = mountain top) The post office was crowded; the only shelter at the top. (The white light is the reflection of the flash of my camera.)

To an American, Japan is full of juxtaposed contradictions. The portable toilets and vending machines at the stations and the post office at the peak led me to think Fuji somehow wasn't a real mountain or a tough hike. Yet the trail is still 6,000 feet of vertical hiking at high altitude, and the broad caldera at the top reminded me of the magnitude of this active volcano.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Lunatic Rings the Bell

I reached the top about half an hour after dawn at 5:00 AM on July 20, 1991. It was raining, cold, and crowded. This is a photo of me ringing the bell at the top. You can't see anything? Well, neither could I. I was dehydrated and exhausted, my muscles shaking, and the rain was nearly snow. This was not "one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind," but the barren volcanic surface of Fuji was like the moon, and the experience was decidedly lunatic.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"I'm SO Tired . . ."

I have no photos from this part--the hardest part--of the climb. It was dark and we were all busy paying attention to feet and flashlights. The trail was easy at the bottom and grew steeper as I grew more tired. Once I was beyond the generators, the only sounds came from other hikers: no animals, no birds. Soon, there were no plants. I was glad I had brought water; the vending machines at the stations sold only soft drinks and beer, which astonished me. (Both that there were vending machines on a mountain, a sacred Shinto shrine, and that they didn't dispense water.)

From American Fuji, Ch. 38: "The path . . . became a 45 degree angle switchback. To the right, up, up, climbing rocks and pseudo-steps, then to the left, up, up, on a slippery gravel grade. Again, to the right. Some stretches of path had ropes on metal posts, but other sections had nothing to keep someone from sliding off a sheer cliff." "[Alex] saw only the bobbing light from his flashlight, his tennis shoes, pumice, granite, and, when he paused to look up, the sky. More clouds crowded out the stars."

The hike became more arduous, requiring me to find footholds in large rocks (in the dark at 2:00 AM). It got cold and started to drizzle and I began to slip here and there, dizzy from altitude and fatigue. I was only at Station 7. As Eguchi would say, it was "a long and winding road."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lucky 13

We reached the trailhead at 11:00 p.m. I was struck by the loud, large generators at the bottom. Later, I would learn they powered vending machines. I was ready to go to sleep. Groups of young hikers with flashlights encouraged each other with unison shouts of "gambatte!" before heading up the trail. Even at night, I was still broiling hot in my jeans and it didn't seem possible it would be cool anywhere, even on a mountain top. The sky was clear and I saw shooting stars. I picked up a brochure that I couldn't resist including in my novel.

From American Fuji, ch. 38: "The map was half in English, half in Japanese. Mount Fuji was divided into ten levels, or stations. The parking lot was at the fifth level; Alex had already accomplished half the ascent in the taxi. Only foot traffic could continue through the higher stations on the Fujinomiya Trails. The map included stations labeled "Station 9.5" and "New Checkpoint," that augmented the original stations, so the 3,776-meter summit was the 13th actual station, though it was called the tenth."* This makes sense when you're in Japan.

The 13 stations gave me the idea of doing 13 blogs about climbing Mt. Fuji. Anyway, 13 has always been a lucky number for me.

*Quoted with minor snips by permission from myself.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Stroke Count Matters

The following day we had barely recovered from our hangovers when it was time to take the train to Fujinomiya station. Because we were doing it Japanese-style, which meant hiking at nighttime in order to greet the sunrise at the top, we took the train in the afternoon and had dinner in Fujinomiya. Veronica and I are attempting to be "human kanji." The first three characters on the sign read FU-JI-YAMA. The FU was too complicated to mimic, so I am posing as YAMA and Veronica as the JI. Yes, we are out of order. When I wrote kanji, my stroke count was usually out of order, too. Stroke count is a big deal in Japan.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Left My Heart Where?

Of course, when you drink too much beer in Japan, you inevitably end up singing karaoke with total strangers. The Japanese man between me and Eric worked for NTT, and the song we sang was I refuto mai haato in San Furanshisuko ("I Left My Heart in San Francisco"). It was one of three English songs on the playlist. The others were Hei Jiyudo ("Hey, Jude") and Raabu Mi Tendaa ("Love Me Tender"). Tony, Paul, and Elvis were still the top English karaoke hits in 1991 in Shizuoka.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The First Sip Is the Best

Perhaps I drank too much beer. What can I say? The day was hot and the beer was cold. By the empty chairs, you can tell we were the first customers, arriving before the end of the work day.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Traditional Beer

I decided to climb Mt. Fuji the traditional Japanese way. That meant starting by rounding up friends and getting drunk. I imported my good friends from Okinawa, Eric Shaffer (L) and Veronica Winegarner (far R). They are married but that posed no problem for the adventure. I'm in the middle to the left of my friend and colleague Shigeko. We're at a beer garden on the roof of a downtown Shizuoka hotel. A typical miserably humid overcast day that I describe often in American Fuji.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Aiming High

On a rare clear day, this is what I could see from my front balcony. The clay tile roof is the local branch of a bank. As Mr. Eguchi said (ch. 37): "Feet on the ground, head in the clouds. That is the way to be."

I vowed to climb to the summit of Mt. Fuji (12,388 ft.) before I left Japan. Thus begins the saga of my ascent.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tanabata: the Star Festival

Tanabata is my favorite Japanese holiday and American Fuji is my version of the Tanabata story. Tanabata, or the Star Festival (July 7th), celebrates the story of two lovers, a cowherd (represented by the star Altair) and a weaver (Vega) who are separated by the Milky Way and allowed to meet only once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th month. People writes wishes on strips of paper and hang them on bamboo branches. If the night sky is clear enough to see the two stars, your wish may come true.

Here is my wish this year, folded into a crane as Gaby folded her wish. I don't have bamboo--or Gaby's tomato plants--so I hung it in my lilac. I am wishing for grants or fellowships to help me take some time off to write another novel. With our current heat wave, I doubt the sky will be clear, but here's hoping!