From our starting point at the fifth station, it had taken us an hour to reach the sixth station, and then another hour and a half to reach the seventh station, but we had been walking for almost two hours without a further station in sight. Soon after that, we came to a small shack, just a rest stop really, and it took us ten minutes just to catch our breath so that we could ask how much farther it was until the eighth station. We were told it would be another thirty minutes. At that point we really did start to have doubts, because the way we were feeling made it hard for us to imagine that we could go another fifteen minutes, let alone half an hour. The light was quickly fading and the mercury on the thermometer on the wall read ten degrees Celsius (fifty degrees Fahrenheit).
Kyoko looked at us with despair in her eyes, and it appeared as if she were having second thoughts. I guess we all were. We didn’t realize that a mountain with such a gradual incline (from a distance anyway) could be so wearing. But we weren’t ready to give up just yet. After a few more minutes of rest, Kyoko nodded silently and gestured for us to go forward. Reluctantly, we did. When we looked back, she was trudging along behind.
After what we thought had been about half an hour, we still couldn’t see the eighth station, although it was dark and visibility was poor. It was also becoming cold and we all felt like we could go no further. Mandy looked miserable, and Kyoko simply looked defeated. I had to admit that I was also quite surprised by how tough this mountain was to climb, in terms of the level of fitness and perseverance required. I, too, felt rather crestfallen and despondent. None of us said anything, and we just stood there in silence, leaning against the mountain, in the darkness. Stars began to appear in the evening sky above us. We rationalized that we had achieved our dream, sort of, in that we had come to Fuji-san and climbed it. However, with the cold night upon us, we were in a bind.
Mandy and I agreed that we couldn’t stay there, as the temperature seemed to be dropping further every minute, and it was becoming rather frigid, but when we suggested that we continue on, Kyoko just shook her head. A freezing wind blew down the mountain path from above, and we all took our long coats out of our backpacks and put them on. We also removed our battery-powered torches and turned them on, as it was then almost pitch black on the mountain.
I mentioned that it would be foolish and dangerous to attempt to descend the mountain again in total darkness. We were now above 10,000 feet, and I was starting to feel nauseous. None of us felt as if we had any energy left. Just then we heard footsteps coming towards us up the gravelly path. As the person’s face came into view, Kyoko gasped. It was an elderly man, who appeared to be in his eighties. He smiled kindly and informed us that the eighth station was only a few minutes up the track. This instantly gave us all encouragement and finally inspired Kyoko to change her mind and continue.
As we walked with the old gentleman, he informed us that every year since his wife had died, he climbed Fuji-san. He also told us about the famous old proverb in Japan, saying,
“A wise man climbs Fuji-san once, but only a fool climbs it twice.” He laughed out loud at this and we all felt a bit warmer and stronger in his presence.