The traditional trip up Mt. Fuji takes place in the summer climbing season, a tourist-filled eight-week season that lasts between July and September each year. But for the more adventurous, Fuji can also be climbed in the off-season, a fantastic journey of snow and ice that is a truly unique climbing experience.
Warning: Climbing Fuji in the off-season is a dangerous affair, not only do you have to deal with extremes in altitude, but also snow, ice and inhospitable weather. Several people die on the mountain each winter, and it should not be attempted casually.
When to go
Fuji’s off-season starts as soon as the summer season ends, that is the beginning of September. Snow doesn’t usually fall until November, and then lasts all the way through to June. The true winter months on Fuji (Jan-February) have notoriously terrible weather, and the winds frequently reach over 100kph at the top of the mountain. The safest time to climb in the off-season is from late April through June.
Finding a Guide
If you’re an experienced mountaineer, Fuji can be tackled solo, it is not a technical mountain, just one with several unique factors that make it dangerous. However, if you’re unexperienced, it’s best to use a tour company like Kanto Adventures
, led by the esteemed mountain guide David Niehoff.
Picking a Route
Though all officially “closed”, the summer routes
are your starting point. The Yoshida route on the northern face is the easiest to access, but incredibly icy at points (because of its northern aspect). The Fujinomiya route is harder to get to, but by far the safest. It is on the south side and so the snow gets more sunlight and becomes softer during the climb.
Making the climb
It’s possible to climb from the base of the mountain, but most people start at each route’s fifth station (~2,400m). Most of the public transport to the fifth stations close in the off-season, so you'll have to grab a taxi, or rent a car. From the fifth station to the top (3,776m), it’s a hike of 5-8 hours depending how fit you are. It’s uphill the whole way, with an average gradient of about 27°. In the off-season, there’s no food or water to be had anywhere, so bring your own, and pace yourself.
In mid-winter, the snow-line extends to the base of the mountain, but by May, the snow starts around the 3,000m mark. Once you’re on the snow, you’ll need crampons and an ice axe (and the knowledge of how to use them) or risk a nasty fall. It’s about 45 minutes between each station, and the steepest and most dangerous section of the mountains starts from the ninth station and up.
The summit offers some of the best views across Japan, stretching all the way to Tokyo on a clear day.
Getting down again
The best thing about climbing in the off-season is that you can descend on skis/board or by sled, turning a long old slog of an uphill into a descent that takes a little over an hour. Obviously if you want to ski down, you have to carry the skis up on your back (unless you have a spare pair of touring skis), making an already difficult ascent even harder. Sleds are a less romantic form of descent, but much easier to carry up. Obviously both options are completely optional - you can also walk back down the mountain.
- Ice axe
- Sturdy waterproof hiking boots
- Trousers (synthetic)
- Long sleeve shirt (synthetic)
- Fleece layer
- Base layers (e.g. Heat-Tec)
- Waterproof outerwear
- Food and water for eight-ten hours on the slopes
- Sunglasses/Ski goggles
- Optional: Skis/snowboard/sledge
Final warning: Climbing Fuji in off-season is a dangerous affair, not only do you have to deal with extremes in altitude, but also snow, ice and inhospitable weather. Several people die on the mountain each winter, and it should not be attempted casually.
It is a lot of fun though.