How to Climb Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji Trip Planning Information

Mount Fuji reflects in one of the five lakes at sunrise. Photograph copyright DAJ/Getty Images

The highlight of every climber and hiker who visits Japan is an ascent of 12,355-foot (3,766 meter) Mount Fuji, the country's highest mountain. Mount Fuji, also called Fuji-san (富士山), is a dormant stratovolcano with a graceful symmetrical profile that is visible for over 100 miles on a clear day. The great mountain has long been revered in Japanese culture, art, and religion, with artists drawing inspiration from its terrestrial perfection and climbers by trodding up its sacred slopes to witness the rising sun, another symbol of Japan, emerging blood red from the ocean, a pilgrimage called goraiko.

Summer Climbing Season is Popular

The usual climbing season, which means the busiest time, to climb Mount Fuji is July and August when the snow has melted away, the weather is generally calm and warm, and the huts along the trails are open to provide shelter and food. It is important, however, to remember that Fuji is a high mountain and even in summer the temperatures can plunge below freezing and storms accompanied by severe weather and high winds can occur. Climbers need to bring plenty of warm clothes and be prepared for emergency situations by carrying some or all of the Ten Essentials.

Climbing in the Off-Season

Climbing during the off-seasons is great for experienced and prepared climbers since they don't have to deal with crowded conditions, allowing for a wilder experience. Be prepared for cold temperatures and high winds, even in the spring and autumn shoulder seasons. The climb is also longer in the off-season since all transportation to the Fifth Station is closed, requiring more hiking.

Mount Fuji is Crowded

It is extremely popular to climb Mount Fuji, with as many as 400,000 people trekking to the summit every year. The good news is that most of the climbers come during the two-month summer climbing season so if you plan an ascent at other times of the year, such as June or September, then you can avoid the mobs.

During the busy season there are many bottlenecks on the trails simply due to the sheer numbers of people going up and down as well as more trash left behind. If you have to visit in summer then plan to climb Fuji-san during the first couple weeks of July before the summer school holiday begins on July 20.

Crowded Ascent is a Cultural Experience

During these crowded times, the hike up Fuji-san is more like plodding up a long outdoor staircase rather than a solitary wilderness outing. Still, this busy annual pilgrimage is a cultural experience not to be missed by many visitors. After resting and eating in the evening at one of the huts, you set out at night to reach the summit for the sunrise at 4:30 a.m. the next morning. As you step upward in the darkness, your world defined by the ring of light from your headlamp, the sounds of other climbers surround you. Cries from group leaders rallying their charges rise above the din. When you finally reach the summit, a line of hikers snakes upward to the summit viewpoint for their obligatory summit photograph in the gathering dawn.

Accidents and Deaths on Mount Fuji

Accompanying an increase in climbers on Mount Fuji is a corresponding increase in mishaps, accidents, and deaths.

In 2012 there were 76 missing people and 6 of them died. The most common affliction for climbers is altitude sickness since most climbers are coming from low elevations and have not properly acclimatized. The best cure, of course, for altitude sickness is to descend to a lower elevation with more oxygen. Many climbers also get hypothermia, a chilling of the body's core temperature due to wet clothes and severe weather.

Mount Fuji Fatalities in 2011 and 2012

At look at Mount Fuji's accident statistics for 2012 and 2011, with six each year, reveals that 9 victims were from Japan, two from the United States, and one from Slovakia. All were male. Ten of the victims were alone. Three deaths occurred in January; two in March, May, and June; and none in February, August, September, and October. Most deaths over the period from 2003 to 2012 were the result of slipping on either snow and rock; often on the descent.

Deaths in the colder months were mostly from hypothermia and freezing to death. Other climbers died from heart attacks or other physical problems.

Mount Fuji is a Bucket List Peak

Climbing Mount Fuji is on a lot of people's bucket lists. It's not a hard climb but it does require preparation, proper equipment, good physical condition, and, like most mountain ascents, good judgment. It's not a great climb but rather a lot of slogging up crowded trails with over-priced concession stands and way stations. Still the summit views, especially at sunrise, are special and never forgotten. But after climbing Mount Fuji, remember the old Japanese saying: A wise man climbs Fuji-san once, but only a fool climbs it twice.