December 16, 2013 10:59 AM   Subscribe

I’m a healthy but sedentary person. One of my greatest wishes is to climb Mt. Fuji. If I have 5 years to get ready, what should I do to prepare physically?

I’m in my early thirties, very healthy, thin and flexible, but I’ve never liked exercise. Don't smoke, don't drink too much, I like walking. I'm not used to extreme weather.

I’ve researched climbing Mt. Fuji (I’ve visited the Fifth Station before) and I’d love to do it in about 4 or 5 years. I have a lower-intermediate knowledge of Japanese and I have a Japanese friend who’d be willing to come with me and translate if necessary.

Considering the logistics are all taken care of, what should I do to prepare in a physical sense?
posted by clearlydemon to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Disclaimer: I am basing this account on a slightly-imperfectly-remembered tale an old college friend told me in the early 90's.

It's my understanding that climbing Mt. Fuji is more of an endurance thing than a mountaineering skill thing. It's not that you have to scale sheer rock cliffs or anything like that - it's just walking, up an incline. ....For a really long time.

My aforementioned college friend climbed Fuji during a stint in Japan as part of this weird George Lucas stage show; I remember him saying it was something that he and a few of his friends on the tour just decided to do, rather than it being something they'd trained for or anything. Granted, these were dancers and stunt guys, so they were quite fit, but I remember his account as Fuji being more just a very long walk up a very long incline. He was fine - they even timed it so they started in the middle of the night so they could be at the top just by sunrise.

So maybe just....walking long distances?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:08 AM on December 16, 2013

Shitload of deep knee bends?
posted by nathancaswell at 11:10 AM on December 16, 2013

I helped another MeFite plan a trip up Mt Fuji last summer with a companion who was 60 years old. Please feel free to MeMail me for more info.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:11 AM on December 16, 2013

I am sedentary and healthy. I climbed Fuji with no preparation close to your age. I had crappy shoes. It took work, but was fine. My husband went with me, and got a little loopy from the altitude. Not sick or anything. I didn't notice the altitude, but I tend not to.

I don't know any Japanese, and didn't need to for the climb.

I agree with your college friend's summary. Most people start in the middle of the night to do the climb, it seems. We were climbing in a long line of people!

Good luck!
posted by pizzazz at 11:14 AM on December 16, 2013

Hundreds of thousands of people climb Mount Fuji every year, of all ages and physical conditions. Even I've walked around on it a little. It's just a long walk up a gradual incline; there's no "climbing" involved. You'll be fine.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:32 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I haven't climbed Mt. Fuji, but I've done a fair amount of backpacking and hiking. From the accounts I've read, you shouldn't need special preparation as long as you enjoy long walks.

If you want to make the experience more enjoyable, I'd suggest the following:

If your plan is to start from the Kawaguchiko 5th station, go for long walks every week, gradually working yourself up to a 20-25 mile hike by late spring/early summer. You can taper off in the fall. Take a few weeks off in the winter, then start again late winter/early spring, and build up to 20-25 miles.

In the third year, add stair climbing exercises once or twice a week until you can comfortably climb up 10 flights or so without feeling winded at the top. Again, start small and progress so that you're doing all 10 by late spring, at the start of the Fuji climbing season.

The combination will give you endurance (long walks) and climbing strength (stairs). You'll combine the two in the ascent. If there are a few serious hills on your walking route, so much the better. Again, though, this is all about making the physical aspect of the ascent into something you can tackle with ease, so you can focus on the rest of the experience.

If you're planning the longer ascent from the Gotemba 5th Station, I would lengthen the long walks to 30 miles and the stair climbing to 15 stories.

Check with people who have done the walk about equipment. As a thin person you may be more susceptible to losing body heat at the higher altitudes; good thermal layers and a windproof outer layer would probably be a good idea. I find that a lightweight collapsible hiking staff helps a lot on long climbs, though you might want a wooden one if you plan to get the official seals burnt in at the stations.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:34 AM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

For a good and lengthy description of what it's like for people of varying ages and health, take a look at the novel American Fuji, by Sara Backer. It looks like chick lit, but it's not. It's a really lovely book that is about loss and confusion and grief, grieving the death of someone in one instance and grieving one's view of oneself, due to chronic illness, in another instance. But it also has funny moments. It's one of my favorite books, in part because I have the same chronic illness, and I think this is the only novel that deals with it in any way, but also because I really appreciate the gentle and thorough view of grief. The Mt. Fuji climb is a fairly important moment in the book.
posted by janey47 at 11:37 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have experience with Fuji specifically; but as a regular uphill walker, I swear by my trekking poles.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:18 PM on December 16, 2013

I am the Mefite that KokuRyo mentions (he did an excellent job with the planning, BTW!). The trip was my mother's 60th birthday wish, and we made it happen for her! I'm happy to discuss the experience over Memail, but in summary I'll just agree with what others have said above: It's not that big a deal, and whether you make it to the top has a lot to do with luck (altitude sickness, which is probably the biggest barrier, can strike regardless of fitness level). Our group (60 year old mother, 24 year old sister, and 28 year old me) certainly did not train for years -- about 3 months of vigorous walking and occasional true hikes. I actually found the hike to be very pleasant!
posted by Bebo at 12:21 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was in similar shape when I hiked Mt. Fuji... from the first station! I did nothing to prepare, I did speak a little Japanese but don't remember using it. Wear good shoes, bring snacks, some cash, and a camera! If you have bad knees, bring a knee brace...the stretchy pull over kind made of wetsuit like material. The way down was brutal.

I did have some altitude sicknesses... eating and resting helped; you can buy snacks, fresh home made ramen, a bed, and oxygen if you're in a pinch.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:51 PM on December 16, 2013

I climbed Mt. Fuji from 5th station as a teenager with no prep. I believe it took 12-14 hours up and back. I know we found walking sticks (purchased on the trip as a tourist keepsake) helpful at some points. Long walks and stair climbing would likely be beneficial, but not strictly necessary. Also, I was one of the few in my party who avoided altitude sickness, but I don't know of anything particular that any of us did or didn't do to try to stave it off. It seemed to be the luck of the draw.

Good luck and have a wonderful time! The view is amazing!
posted by wiskunde at 2:11 PM on December 16, 2013

I climbed Fuji last August. I'm moderately fit, but honestly, I saw a lot of folks who were in far worse shape than me get to the top with no problem. If you give yourself enough time (meaning maybe 5 hours from the 5th Station), it's physically not difficult to make it to the top. Doing some stair training couldn't hurt. Agreed with the other comments that the downclimb is no treat. I bought a walking stick on the way up more as a souvenir, and it was a lifesaver on the way down.

Japanese language is not required (though, as in any country, making an effort will delight the locals). All signs are Japanese-English bilingual. Getting there from Tokyo is reasonably straightforward.

When I went, the weather at the summit was lousy (lots of fog) but temp was around 32F. At the base it was 75F or so. I believe they close the mountain to climbers in late August/early September, so you really aren't going to get any extreme weather at all.

Lots of fun, by the way. Enjoy --
posted by hawkeye at 5:17 PM on December 16, 2013

Best answer: Do you have any steep walking paths near you, especially popular ones? We have one here that's a mile and a half (about 2.5 km) each way and gains 730 feet (222 meters) of elevation. It's a tough walk. But after doing that for two months I discovered I actually was able to run a few blocks. And then I cut my time down walking the path, and I can actually run further than I have since I was a teen.

Having something like that near you is good because you can build up a lot of endurance quickly and not have to go to extreme lengths to get a workout. If not, then just start planning walks for as long as you're comfortable with. You'll start making them longer and longer. If you can find friends that will go with you, it helps. If there's a local hiking meetup group, this is a great way to join other people and having people to chat with.

Once you start getting going it feeds on itself. Good luck!
posted by azpenguin at 5:50 PM on December 16, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everybody, great answers!
I was overestimating the effort involved, so I'm glad it's not as hard as I thought.

I live in a highly elevated city (above 2000m/7000 ft), so hopefully that will help a bit too.

janey47, I'm purchasing that book right now. KokuRyu, I'll contact you when I have firm plans. I'm definitely doing this and I'm really excited.

Thanks again!
posted by clearlydemon at 11:51 AM on December 17, 2013

A bit late to the party, but I climbed it on a whim on my second day in Japan, totally unprepared, stayed overnight.

I was 23, and not in any kind of good shape (I probably weighed about 230, maybe even 240 at the time), and had not done any regular exercise in a long time. It was difficult, it took a long time, and it wasn't, in hindsight, the best idea. However, if you're in even moderate health, 'climbing' Fuji is dead simple. Bear in mind that they'll be instituting a climbing fee either this year or the next, and that everything on the mountain is quite pricey. Other than that, it's really, really not that difficult to do.

Once you do climb it, though, see if you can get to some of the other mountains in Japan. Fuji is just on the top of the list because it's the biggest. There are a lot of nicer climbs out there, of all levels of difficulty. One of the challenges of Fuji, for me, was just how monotonous it was. I love it from a distance, and feel a thrill when I can see it all the way over here in Chiba, but I've had my fill of up close.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:51 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

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