Fuji by Mountain Bike

Fuji by Mountain Bike

Perhaps every foreigner who comes to Japan considers at least one single outdoor adventure, climbing Mt. Fuji. It is one of those things that every visitor feels they have to do while in Japan; like going to Kyoto. Mountain bike! Two thousand meters of vertical drop by bicycle! Most people never consider that Fuji can be done this way, but it can. There are countless bulldozer trails going up the mountain to the big weather station and many mountain huts along the way. And even better, you can cut your descent time by as much as 2-3 hours!

There are some good things too about climbing Mt. Fuji. The views at the top of course are incredible. You are at the top of Japan, 3776 meters. On a clear day you can see 100 plus kilometers or more to all the surrounding mountains. On the south side you see the Pacific Ocean spreading out from the bay below. And, you bag another 3000 plus meter peak, if you are into doing them all.

Before you grab your bike and run off to Fuji, clear up a few important matters. One is that you most likely cannot get to the top purely, if at all, by bike. You will be carried your bikes up to the top after a futile attempt at riding up the loose pumice on the bulldozer trail. Therefore, it is important for you to have a light bike, or be really strong (or both would be best). Your run of the mill mama-chatty (Japanese street bike) wouldn't cut it. You may go in September so the ground may have been looser, ...or perhaps firmer than earlier in the season? In other words, just be prepared to ride up or hike up, depending on the conditions. Even if you could ride up, and even if you were trying to do it slowly, it would beat any endurance race out there. The last point is: Fuji is crowded during the summer. Unless you want to wait in an 8-hour slow moving line to the top, knocking those near you off the mountain with your bike every time you turn, it is suggested that you go when others aren't. That means going during the weekdays, absolutely NOT during Obon, and definitely best in the fall, say September.

You may start your trip from the Fujimi side (south side) of the mountain, at the end of that access road. You may start from any of the access points, however the northern side tends to be very steep, and snowy during the early season. Gotemba, another good access point starts higher than any of the others, which saves you time and effort. Most people start their hike very early in the morning so they can catch the sunrise. On the other hand you might be preferred to sleep in and were the last ones up that morning. Start at about 6:30 am! After unsuccessful first minute or so riding up the mountain, you may shrink your bikes down to carrying size, and strapped them to your packs. September is nice because of the lack of crowds. You will see only a dozen people that day, and half of them are also carrying bikes up.

You might be hiked up to top in about 6-7 or so hours. Along the way all of the huts may already be closed, so you have to carry all of your needed food and water. When you have arrived at the top you might be saddened because the Fuji Summit Post Office is also closed. Damn!?

The top is very cold and you could see ice hanging off the crater walls in the center of the peak. You may take some great poser pictures of riding around the summit area on your bike. You could show everyone back home these pictures as if you had really ridden to the top by bike! After riding around and using up all your adrenaline, you may get really sick. Your head might be started to pound and your whole body started to ache. You will be realized that you hadn't drunk enough on the way up to this high altitude, and that you will be feeling the effects of slight altitude sickness. You may ascend 2000 plus meters in one day which is a big shock for the body.

Despite the sickness you should be managed to walk around the summit and enjoy the views. It will be an incredible day for views. Right about then, you will be heard what sounded like big chainsaws! What the... Look to the south, and see many off road motor bikers coming up the bulldozer trail. Is that legal? Hopefully this way to ascend Fuji won't catch on!

The Descent

Now the fun part! Going down is pretty straightforward. There are several bulldozer trails going down, and you can see which ones to take from the top. By memorizing the general landmarks (with a map as a backup), you can find your way back to your car easily. Don't go down the wrong side. It would be a long walk around!

It is a scary thing at first, pointing your bikes down hill. You might be felt as if you going to bike off a big bump, and then fly threw the air to the bottom, much like a ski jumper does after leaving the jump.

It will take you something like 7 hours to get up, and only an hour to get down! Going up is tedious, and coming down is not easy, but well worth the effort up. Walking down a mountain is always to hardest part for you. You have reached your goal. Your adrenaline has been used up for the last part of the ascent, and now you will be coming down, literally and figuratively. This kind of descent allowed you to get the adrenaline flowing again and enjoy it more than the ascent. It is recommended doing Fuji absolutely only once, and if you are going to do it, do it only once by bike or by ski/snowboard. It is tedious enough; so add some excitement to it! And, it makes for great pictures and great stories afterward!

When to go

Official season starts in July. There is usually a lot of leftover snow up higher until then, especially on the north side. September starts getting cold, and this thins out the crowds. It is suggested going at this time of year. Skiing Fuji in late April and May is also good, but challenging, depending on the temperatures and snow conditions. March and early April can be treacherous due to icy slopes. Crampons, ice axe, and maybe even roping up would be a must.

What to bring

Be prepared, as usual, for the normal weather changes that you experience on any mountain, especially in September. It can snow on the top in September. Bring a rain jacket and/or a windbreaker at least, and other layers. Bring enough food and plenty of water, as there is none during the off-season. A first aid kit and a helmet would be good too for the semi-controlled descent. Bring a topographic map to help you find the right trails and roads. Check beforehand to make sure that the bulldozer roads appear on it.

As for altitude sickness, you may or may not feel the effects on Fuji. It depends mostly on the person, as well as that person's intake of water. Several hikes get sick in Japan, including on the not so high Mt. Shirouma (in Hakuba). You might be more susceptible than most. Just drink more than you feel like drinking and you will be fine. A good indicator is the color of your urine. If it is clear, then you are probably drinking enough.

Have fun!