CHAPTER 22: Summit Dawn

July 20, 2018

This photo supplement tracks the events in CLIMB: Leaving Safe and Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. The captions offer “extra features” that didn’t make it into the book.

*This chapter picks up mid-climb, after the events in Chapter 21 – Mount Fuji–for photos of the entire Fuji climb, click through to start there (link opens in a new tab/window) and then come back for the rest of the story.

“Old” Seventh Station–just above our midnight starting point at New Seventh Station lodge

While it’s possible to climb up and back from the summit of Mt. Fuji in a day (and given the altitude of the Fujinomiya trailhead, I actually made several longer one-day round-trip hikes during the 100 Summits year), we opted for the more typical “overnight hike” in order to try and catch the sunrise from Fuji’s summit. This meant hiking part of the way the day before, “sleeping” a few hours at a lodge, and hitting the trail just before midnight for a dark, cold, four-hour climb to the summit.

Ghostly torii between stations 8 and 9

This torii (sacred Shintō gate) stands about halfway between Station 8 and Station 9. This is what it looked like as I passed, shortly before 2 a.m. Although I didn’t know it when I took this photo, this spot would mark the high point of my mother’s climb. She photographed this same gate when she reached it–just as the sun rose over the horizon.

Lucky coin post above Station 8

Kaitlyn and I stopped to photograph the post above when it flashed in the light of our headlamps. Hikers–some of them military, based on the chevrons–leave coins in the post as an offering, for health and luck. The post itself is over two meters tall, and stands at the side of the trail.

Selfies at Station 9

Kaitlyn and I passed through Station 9 just before 3 a.m. This was our final “selfie stop”–above this point, the trail was steep and crowded with hikers marching single file all the way to the summit (which lies a little more than an hour’s constant climb beyond this point). This also may have been the last time I smiled before I hit the summit.

“above us, hundreds of headlamps bobbed across the upper slopes like fireflies dancing in the summer sky.”

The “string of pearls” in the photographs above and below are the headlamps of hikers ascending through the night toward Fuji’s summit.

Hundreds of headlamps, bobbing through the night.

The photos above don’t come close to doing justice to the beauty and magical quality of the sight. The lights also don’t convey the number of hikers moving up the mountain. Most of the headlamps can’t be seen, because the hikers are facing upwards and the photo was taken from below. What you see here represents an unbroken line of hikers, walking in single file up more than a kilometer of winding trail. There’s a photo farther down the post that I took on the descent, looking down across this same stretch of trail, for scale and comparison.

Almost 4 a.m. – the horizon glows with dawn’s approach

I stopped to take the photo above as I passed through Station 9.5 (in a stroke of cruelty, Fuji adds a station between 9 and 10–equidistant from both–as opposed to counting directly from 1-10 like other mountains do). At this point, I doubted I would make the summit in time to see the dawn.

“A white wooden torii that rose up against the lavender sky”

This white torii stands at the entrance to Fuji’s summit. I reached it just a few minutes before the sun breached the horizon. The torii itself is donated by a Shintō shrine at the base of the mountain; it is replaced every few years, using pieces constructed by hand and carried up the mountain from sea level on the backs of men who live in the nearby town and worship at the shrine.

“A yellow glow appeared in the pale sky”

Dawn, as seen from the highest point in Japan.

White torii and sea of clouds

The white torii at the upper trailhead, as seen from the summit area. The “sea of clouds” spread out beneath it hides the towns and cities of Shizuoka Prefecture, far below.

Summit hut and restaurant, Mt. Fuji – with the high point of the crater rim beyond.

Kaitlyn and I were so happy to have reached the summit in time for dawn that we failed to realize we weren’t yet on the absolute highest point–which also meant the hike wasn’t over. We headed for the high point a few minutes after making this discovery.

Fuji Summit Post Office

The plastic-wrapped packages in the photo above are postcards and letters carried up by hikers. The post office will stamp them with a special “Fuji Summit” postmark. I didn’t realize this before beginning the climb, so I neglected to bring a postcard or letter with me for mailing. (But I won’t forget next time–and yes, I do plan to climb Fuji again, despite the old proverb that says “every wise man climbs Fuji once, but only a fool climbs Fuji twice.”)

The wooden amulet I carried to the summit

I bought the amulet above at Hakone Shrine a few days before the climb; the Dao-shaped wooden charm breaks into two pieces, and is intended to be kept by two different people, to connect them despite any distance that comes between them. I originally hoped my mom and I could split it on Fuji’s summit; as it turned out, I bathed it in the light of the rising sun and carried it back down, and she split it after the climb. We still have our (now-separate) pieces, as mementos of this special climb.

Kaitlyn on Fuji’s summit at dawn

Mt. Fuji’s summit crater is massive–so large that many summit photos (like this one) don’t even show the crater itself. (The crater is to the right of the frame.)

Sunrise on Fuji’s crater rim.

“Dawn” on Fuji’s summit was an experience I still find difficult to describe. It was far more than merely the moment when the sun appeared on the horizon. Over a ninety-minute period, sky grew pale, the sun appeared, the sun crested the crater rim, and the sun rose high enough to allow Mt. Fuji to cast a brief but distinct shadow on the sea of clouds to the West. Each of these moments–and the entire process–qualified as “dawn,” and the experience as a whole was deeply personal, and far more emotional than I can verbalize even now, despite the years since it occurred.

Fuji’s shadow on the sea of clouds.

This fleeting moment, which I captured only because I happened to be standing on the far edge of the crater rim when the shadow fell, is one of my most treasured memories and experiences. The 100 Summits year began as an exercise in breaking away from fear, but became a way of life–a set of experiences that transformed me in every way a person can be changed.

On the summit of Mt. Fuji

Standing on the absolute highest point in Japan. A dream come true–and something that kindergarten-me would never have believed possible.

Kaitlyn Bolland on the summit of Mt. Fuji

The picture above is my all-time favorite of Kaitlyn (who is one of my favorite people — so that says a lot). It conveys her joy, her exuberant spirit, and her delight in experiencing new places, sights, and challenges. I feel truly blessed that she was able to join me on this adventure.

The descent.

The photo above shows the same stretch of trail as the one with the headlamps above–but from the top, looking down, after sunrise. I took the headlamp photo from Station 9, which is the second building down–located almost at center frame. In daylight, it’s easy to see the fact that there’s really no place to rest above ninth station except for station 9.5.

Fujinomiya Trail (descent)

The photo above shows the view from just below eighth station, looking down the trail. It looks long, but only takes a few hours to descend.

Team Fuji–reunited at Seventh Station

Left to right: Laurie Bolland, Kaitlyn Bolland, me, and my mom (Paula Ross Jones)–at seventh station, after descending most of the way back to the Fujinomiya trailhead. From this point, it was only a little more than an hour’s worth of trail to the parking lot and bus stop.

After the Fuji climb, I faced a difficult decision: continue pursuing my goal to climb all 100 hyakumeizan peaks in a single year, or shift the goal to 100 historically important peaks, and focus on my goal of overcoming fear and changing both myself and the way I lived my life. That decision…and the climb that helped me make it, are the subject of Chapter 23: Tidal Shift.

* This page is part of the photo companion to CLIMB: Leaving Safe & Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. You can find the story behind these pictures (in hardback and ebook formats, and either in person or online) at your favorite local bookstore or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble (both in the U.S. and internationally).