Why We Climb?

There really is no proper way to describe the expedition that is climbing to the top of Japan’s highest peak on less than three hours of internet café cubicle sleep during what had to be the busiest weekend of the short climbing season, but I’ll throw some adjectives out there: stupid, beautiful, punishing, remarkable, defeating, engaging, humbling, and, well, you get the point. Mt. Fuji’s summit (all of 3,776.24 m) is no laughable peak, nothing to shake your walking stick at, or look up at and think “Ehhhh, no worries…how hard can it really be?” And while it’s perfectly tee-peed complexion may look quite stunning – even gentle – as you whiz by in the comfort of your window Shinkansen seat trying to snap a photo or two, once on the rock itself, it gets downright ugly, at times even hellish.

But, that is the intrigue of the climb, is it not? The desire to defeat such things as the ascend up Mt. Fuji is all part of the human condition. We must go higher! Trek further! Push ourselves to the absolute limit! Why? Because we downright believe we can!

And, so we did.

The six of us conquered the beast in no less than 12 hours on no less than 20-minutes of shuteye, surviving on nothing but peanuts, chocolate, and chocolate-covered peanuts*. We hiked all evening, through the entire night, and into the wee hours of the morning when we realized the goal of summiting for sunrise (Ryan and Shak somehow ended up making it) was just not possible due to the excessive crowds and limited trail space. At this point, it did not matter, the sunset a welcoming blessing to one of the longest periods of darkness that I can recall.

We sat on a cluster of disagreeable volcanic rock, clutching each other for any hint of warmth, and took in what I will always remember as The Sunrise. Swarms of people cheered as the sun poked its radiant face through the distant horizon, appearing as far from us as the summit had three long hours before. My body and mind were in such states of excessive exhaustion that I could barely focus my camera to capture the surreal beauty which panoramically surrounded us, not that a lens can do what we witnessed much justice anyway. But there we were, 100 meters from the top, thanking the good Lord for another day, trying desperately to process exactly what we were about to accomplish.

At this point my mind trailed back down-mountain to roughly four hours before when it did not seem like summiting was even at all possible; the mountain had seemingly won, the wind frigidly swirling around us, and we were about to give in to its persuasiveness. As we sat in that moment looking down at whatever village happens to scatter itself throughout the mountain’s foothills and up at the stars that seemed inches away, I thought about how it does not matter when we summit, or even if we summit. Just the fact that we are out here together living this life, experiencing as much as we possibly can, even if that means occasionally overstepping our physical boundaries, this has all been simply a sensational and literally indescribable adventure.

Perhaps climbing mountains is unambiguously metaphorical. Ascending Fuji did not necessarily change my life, but life-changing events do not always present themselves right after they occur. And to wit: never again, Fuji-san. Thank you, but never again.

*My first asterisk! But, seriously, we also ate a ¥600 cup of instant noodles! And drank lots of water.

A Mt. Fuji photo album can be seen here.

Brandon’s – good friend and fellow climbing-mate – recollections and amazing photos of the adventure can be viewed here.

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