By Wendy Brown, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsAugust 30, 2019
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Aug. 30, 2019) -- Because this is the last year Michael and Keisha Fuentez will be stationed in Japan, they were in a "now or never" situation this summer when it came to their dream of climbing Mount Fuji.
They decided to go for it, taking a Camp Zama Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation tour Aug. 24 that would allow them to climb the 12,390-foot mountain in one day. After successfully reaching the summit, they were glad they made the attempt.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience something very dear to Japanese culture, and I recommend it to anybody," said Michael. "It was a little challenging in some parts, and definitely a test of one's will, especially the last 600 meters, but it was a good time."
The tour was one of three Camp Zama FMWR's Outdoor Recreation scheduled for this year's "Fujiyoshidaguchi Trail" climbing season, which lasts from the beginning of July through early September, said Komaki Sierra, a recreation specialist who works for Outdoor Recreation.
The program typically runs a one-day trip in July, another in August, and an overnight trip that same month, Sierra said.
Many hikers like to stay overnight on the mountain so they can get up before sunrise and climb the last portion of the mountain in time to see the sunrise, Sierra said, and this year on the Aug. 31 trip hikers will stay at a hotel located at the 8 1/2th Station, one of many checkpoints along the route to the top of the peak.
Everyone who signs up for an FMWR Mount Fuji tour must attend a safety briefing that includes information about the mountain itself, the equipment necessary to climb it, how to recognize the symptoms of altitude sickness and more, said Hiro Huertas, chief of Camp Zama Outdoor Recreation.
Although it is not a requirement, it is a good idea for anybody who is going on a private trip to also attend the briefing, Huertas said.
While this year's climbing season is almost over, getting ready for a Mount Fuji tour can take time, so hikers can begin preparing now for next year's tours.
For example, Huertas said he recommends those who attempt the climb are in good physical condition.
"Hit the gym," Huertas said. "Try lesser peaks--Mount Oyama or Mount Takao. Those are some good ones if you want to see how well you are [in shape] for Mount Fuji."
In addition to the safety briefing, Nobue Kobayashi, tour guide for the Aug. 24 tour, reviewed safety measures with hikers as they traveled by bus to the mountain, stressing the importance of paying attention to signs at certain trail junctures, taking deep breaths in the high altitude and proceeding slowly.
The bus left from Camp Zama at 4 a.m., and Kobayashi said that while she would have liked to let everyone sleep on the bus, she knew from experience that the safety information would help. Her experience paid off, and all 38 hikers made it to the top and back to the Mount Fuji Fifth Station General Management Center by 6 p.m. for the return bus ride.
Kobayashi, who has been giving tours of the mountain for more than 15 years, said that although she has had everyone on overnight trips make it to the top before, this was the first time that everyone on a one-day trip made it to the top during one of her tours.
Kobayashi said that when giving people advice for a successful climb, she tries to put herself in the shoes of the hikers.
"What if I was you? How do you want to be treated in climbing Mount Fuji? I think it's very important to think of 'what if' situations as a guide," Kobayashi said.
Kobayashi, who hasn't kept track of how many times she has climbed the mountain, said she tries to keep an eye on those on the tour as they hike, but because people are free to hike on their own, she realizes she can't keep track of everyone.
Hikers, however, have her cellphone number so they can inform her if they run into trouble or are going to be late. People started hiking around 6 a.m., and Kobayashi gave everyone a timeline for their hike, with 1:30 p.m., for example, being the latest anyone should reach the peak. Hikers were also free to hike with her as she climbed.
Keisha Fuentez, who hiked with Kobayashi and her husband, said she believes Kobayashi's expertise was part of the reason everyone did so well.
"I felt like [Kobayashi] was really good with staying back and waiting and making sure that everyone had water," Keisha said. "If someone fell, she was there to make sure everyone was OK. I really appreciate that because, with this being our first time, we were a little nervous and overwhelmed."
Likewise, Dawn Wilkie, a civilian employee at Camp Zama who completed the hike, said Kobayashi was "phenomenal" as a tour guide.
"She talked us through everything--slow down, walk slower, take deep breaths. I don't think I could have gotten through it without her," Wilkie said. "My legs were cramping up, so she taught me some breathing techniques and stuff like that. She was very attentive at every station."
Wilkie said that while the hike was challenging, she would do it again.
"I would tell anybody to do it at least once," Wilkie said.
For more information, contact Camp Zama Outdoor Recreation at DSN (315) 263-4671, locally at 046-407-4671 or from overseas at 011-81-46-407-4671.