Sunrise from the Summit


 Sept. 2005 — text & photos by Austin Pick

Precisely at the Autumn Equinox, with astonishing accuracy, the season abruptly switched, and all the broiling distended humidity of the hazy dog-eared Japanese summer suddenly imploded, crowding and stacking upon itself in great heaps of cloud, lazily set afloat, and leaving the now clear skies a color to complement the much anticipated turning of the leaves, all Japan soon to be afire with a psychedelic flourish of falling foliage, ten-thousand private sunsets in a slow drift downward...

Weekend before the Equinox, before the first snows of his long winter, we climbing Mt. Fuji, Shauna and I. Respectfully, lovingly known as Fuji-san, ancient volcano and, at somewhere around 13,000ft., Japan's tallest mountain, for centuries an important Buddhist pilgrimage. In keeping with custom, we began ours in the evening, so as to share sunrise from the summit...

Began at the 5th Station, little mountainside depot where road ends and trail begins, and drifted up through the twilit forest, the gathering darkness, the encroaching cold. Beyond the tree-line we climbed steadily up endless switchbacks, our way lit by the light by the light of the silvery moon, full and following us in her slow measured arc. Around three hours from our start we reached the 7th Station, and nearby, in a shelter under black rock, we curled against the cold for a few hours sleep, or perhaps only to enter what from then on would feel much like a waking dream...

Shauna is Japanese-American, from Virginia Beach, also come to teach English. We met at an Embassy Orientation in the summer; I was still traveling then, she offered me a place to stay; impossible to imagine then that we'd soon be sleeping on the side of a volcano, embracing against the cold, while the warm world, in miniature, twinkled below... We woke once to see fireworks, far below, which we couldn't hear...

And woke again, around 1am, to continue our odyssey upward. Only two of the five ascending routes remain open this late in the season, and both merge to form a single trail for the final scramble to summit. Our route had been all but deserted until we reached the 9th Station and met several hundred, perhaps a thousand people shuffling in single file, hooded, sallow-faced and puffy-eyed from lack of sleep, mostly members of Japanese tour groups from Tokyo, urged onward by guides with lighted runway batons, a bizarre exodus, a starship corral. As the sunrise began to suggest itself in the first slim ribbons of pink, we, in the midst of the march, urged everyone on as cheerfully as we could, and passed, at last, thru the great stone gate at the summit. Conviviality and genuine human warmth glittered all along the rim of Fuji-san's great crater as the sun rose at last, cherrying the top, kissing our icy cheeks with the days first warmth... 

The way down, mostly by a long shale slide, was somewhat quicker than the ascent, but inevitably exhausting. We arrived again at the 5th Station, delirious, at around 10am. Our communion with Fuji-san, thankfully, was blessed with incredible weather. Never before have I felt the hard-edge of the natural earth so keenly, and appreciated its beauty so clearly, as I did on Mt. Fuji. While America was beset by hurricanes, the Middle East by earthquakes and worse, I was climbing a sleeping volcano, and simply being reminded, as these things do, how remarkable it is to be alive. Japan continues to be very good to me, and I hope this finds you all very well. Please be in touch.

Yours with Love, A

10.28.2005


The 5th Station, 2000m; roads go no further...

Obasan sorting mushrooms (Fuji-san is an excellent place for picking)

"Soon after beginning our climb, we passed the valley cloudline"

Break of sunrise from the tip-top, cold & rosy

The hot gem of sunrise opening the morning...

...for the world below

An aura of cloud: Fuji-san from Nirayama  [photo by Shauna Mahony]
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