Tuesday, January 20, 2009


We still laugh about it, Mt Fuji on hangovers. The evening after the World orienteering champs banquet 2005. The day had been 45 degrees, five of us in a small car faithfully following the gps and stopping regularly to try and find food that didn't involve some sort of bean curd (harder than you might suspect). We had been in sensory deprivation for weeks, marooned in our event accomodation in the hills above Toyota city. It felt now that Japan had been unleashed upon us. It was so hot, sticky, hazy and my head was throbbing.

Fuji is much like its kiwi counterpart Mt Taranaki in that you must drive to a certain height on the mountain and choose from varying levels of ascent length. We weren't going to let our toxic states make the decision, the longer and harder the better. Chris, Brent, Neil, Penny and I, honed athletic machines until yesterday. Carefree, careless, unprepared and under equipped, but the sky was clear as set off in the early evening.

To extrapolate further I was the most hungover, the previous night had been very ugly, only mitigated by the fact that a brit and a german had succumbed first. I had taken others down with me. The jumping spider hadn't eaten me as Penny had feared it might, and there were enough people at the party to carry me home. My first steps up Fuji were agony. My quads were poisoned, my calves shapeless and my ankles wouldn't bend.

Fuji is a giant pile of sacred scree. As darkness fell upon us like a scratchy, lice ridden blanket infiltrated by grass seed we stumbled up it. I have still to this day never felt worse. The huts were closed to outsiders, square piles of stones amongst the chaos of the choss. Light glimmered from the cracks in their doorways but the only light that beckoned me was that shone in my eyes by my friends up the track. Brilliant, piercing, arcing torture zapping through my retina. We stopped for a sleep, limply and huddled in the limited shelter of a locked building. My silk liner didn't suffice and the warmth of Pennys sleeping bag only centimtres away gave me precious little vicarious comfort as my cold side snuggled up to a frozen wooden doorframe.

Fortunately the rest ended and the strugggle continued, ending surreally in a ghostly courtyard on the summit ridge. Our gossip and exclamations faltered as we became aware of the dark figures lining the walls around us. Pilgrims sleeping on their feet. We peered unbelievingly down the other side at the procession of lights climbing the shorter route. Great switchbacks of orcs each with their walking sticks with bells. Fey tinkling on the air. The cloud cover built as we waited for sunrise and it rained on dawn as we sheltered under Pennys sleeping bag.

Our group split, some opting for noodles, others for the crater traverse. And by breakfast time we were descending, much faster now, heading for the bright lights of Tokyo!

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