Fuji-san: descent (下山)

September 11, 2011

After a hike up in the dark and a tour around the summit caldera in the morning light, we descended (下山, “ge”, down + “san”, mountain) from the summit of Fuji-san. A brilliant blue sky arched overhead; clouds of all sorts of morphologies stretched below.  We took a different route down the mountain than the one we used to ascend, this version of the Yoshida Trail sporting a plethora of switchbacks.

Torii, studded with coins, marked the entrance to the summit.

The descent along the dry basaltic scree was dry, but the kingdom of clouds below us constantly reminded us that we were in for a damp hike at lower altitudes. It became warmer and warmer as the switchbacks zigged and zagged; I started out with two jackets, a liner, a tank top, two pairs of leggings, and a pair of shorts, and after about 300 meters down I was wearing just the tank top and shorts.

The contrast between grey and red basalt was present during the descent.  Small plants began clinging to the rocks as we went lower in elevation.

As we went further down the mountain, Mio-chan handed me a mask so I wouldn’t get cinders in my lungs.  Tani-san is still wearing Rachel’s awesome hat.  This map shows how intense the switchbacks were; click for the larger version. I counted upwards of 50 on the sign, and practiced my numbers in Japanese as we descended. “二十五! (25; step step step)   二十四!   (24; step step step)   二十三!   (23, step step step…)”

(I was sitting on MUNI in San Francisco the other day, trying to decipher the kanji on a sign written in Chinese. I recognized the kanji for 三 (“san”, three) and another complicated character (藩, “han”, fiefdom or domain) that I didn’t recognize, followed by or 市 (“shi”, city). It took a few seconds, but I realized that the first one, 三, pronounced “san” in Japanese, was probably the same in Chinese, so that “三藩市” thus referenced the city of San Francisco.)

As we descended, more and more vegetation became apparent on the slopes.  Here, it was mostly scraggly shrub, but it was certainly the most plant life I’d seen since the prior evening.

In some places, you could see where horses had descended the trail.

Suddenly, misting clouds surrounded us, the fog raining on us and keeping the dust down.  One of the same tunnels that we saw on the ascent was less stark in the foggy light.

The scree was a basaltic rainbow of colors: blue, black, brown, grey, red, rust, and brick.

We even met the source of the “road apples”: sturdy pack horses, tethered to trees, waiting for the day’s fares.

My absolute favorite part of the descent was the forest of birch trees, their bark peeling back from their branches and limbs, twisting off into the fog and mist. The summit of Fuji-san was so devoid of life and softness; this silent forest was everything the caldera was not.

The path wound through another forest, this one composed of large conifer trees with their roots gripping at rocks and covered in moss. This was the Japan of my dreams, the Japan of もののけ姫 and the movies of Miyazaki. My feet were sore, my wool socks had holes in them, I was all but out of food, but I’d climbed Fuji-san with an incredible group of friends and was completely satisfied with everything I’d seen and felt on the way up, around, and down the mountain.

More photos from the descent here.

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