Archive for July, 2008

Fuji climb

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Last weekend I went with the customer on a Mt. Fuji climb which was very fun. It was a heck of a lot of work and it was very tough but I’m glad we got through it in the end.

The customer arranged a weekend event, starting on Friday to climb Mt. Fuji. All the vendors were invited, so a bunch of us from the company went. Actually, climbing the mountain were only gaijin from our company, but we were one of the few gaijin who went. Another competitor, a chinese company also went, but those people couldn’t speak much english. The customer’s english is pretty good, so we didn’t bring any interpreters – not that any interpreters would have wanted to climb the mountain! :)

We started off on Friday morning meeting up in Tokyo around 10am. We then drove up to fuji and had some food at a restaurant there. At 2pm we met up with the group at 5 gome (5th station). There were around 50 people or so who were going to climb the mountain. From the customer, senior management weren’t to be seen, except for my counterpart and another guy who ran the network centre. There were a lot of “freshmen”, people new to the company that year, so the group in general was quite young.

With the customer

We started climbing up the mountain at around 2:15 or so. The first part was pretty straight-forward and we were just on the tree-line so there was a bit of greenery to be seen. The first bit of the climb was mostly gravelly stuff with some stairs. The trees soon passed and then we were just in gravel and lava-stone. That was a bit more difficult and along the way there were sometimes places to rest and get something to drink. They sold wooden walking sticks at the base (5th station) and along the way you could pay to get a brand put on the stick by a branding iron. At the beginning it was very hot and I had little more than a t-shirt on and I was sweating quite heavily in that.
Getting closer to the 8th station was getting very hard and I had to stop to rest quite frequently. It was very difficult breathing and my legs were really tired from the constant climbing. It felt like I wasn’t getting enough oxygen to my legs.

Climbing Mt. Fuji

There were people who brought oxygen tanks with them, but I never tried it. It looked like a large deodorant spray bottle and you’d put it over your mouth and nose and breathe in the oxygen. My customer was also very kind and gave me a soyjoy musli bar and some interesting tablets called O2 or something. I wondered if they were meant for mountain climbing, or whether it was just a coincidence that it was labelled “Oxygen” or something. :)

At this point it was getting quite cool and I had my long-sleeved shirt on and my coat. One thing that struck me is the number of gaijin who were climbing the mountain. There were really a lot of foreigners there.
We finally made it up to the 8th level where some people were already waiting for us and they were having dinner. Dinner was a simple curry rice with sausages, but it was quite good. I don’t normally like curry rice, but I was pretty hungry from the walk. Sebastian bought us all a can of beer up there and it tasted great.

After that we were shuffled to the sleeping area, since they needed the space for others to eat. We were put into bunk beds, a long row of people, maybe 50 or so in the room. Guys and girls were in the same place, but it didn’t seem to bother anybody. We had a wheat-bag thing for a pillow and they gave us covers for the comforters. It was just barely long enough and we all had a rest from around 6:30 or 7 until 2am. Then someone woke us up and we had a bit of food and made our way the rest of the way for the 2 levels.

The night was pitch dark and many, many people had torches to show them the way. None of us had them, but we could just barely see through the rest of the torches. This wasn’t so bad anyways, since the climb the rest of the way in a big queue and going quite slowly. The summit still seemed so far away. This was the most difficult part, since the air was quite thin, I had developed altitude sickness and found it really difficult to move. We basically stopped for a rest every 100-200 meters or so. It was very difficult.

Around 5:20 or so it was light enough to be able to see plenty of things and we could see the summit not too far away. The last 45 minutes or so was a real slog and by the time we got to the top, I could barely move my legs. It was really tough. The sun hadn’t risen just yet, but the distant horizon was getting quite bright like it would rise soon. We stood around and took pictures on the top and then we could see the sun rising. It was an interesting sight because for some reason it looked like the sun was coming up out of the sky in the middle of the clouds, not at the back of the clouds. Some sort of optical illusion or something. So basically it looked like the sun was rising in between the clouds on the horizon. Once we watched enough of the sunrise and looked around the crater on the top, it was time to go down.

View of the sunrise from the top

The whole time now I was quite sick and felt like I was going to throw up the whole time. It was very difficult. We decided to go down again and we trudged down the path that we came up. When we got a bit further, we could see there was another path that other people took to get down which looked better – we were on rough rock and they were on stones. So we thought we could go down easier.

The trip down was quite hard on the legs in a different way, but because of being on the small rocks, it went quite quickly. Indeed in the end, we went down about 2 times as fast as going up. It took around 6 hours to go up the mountain and around 3 to go down.

Near the bottom of the trail I started to get really sick – fighting the altitude sickness the whole time. In the end I started heaving up the water that I had drunk and some gaijin walked past seemingly uninterested that I was coughing up a lung. A little bit after I stopped, he yelled back asking whether I was ok, but there was nothing anybody could do.

On the way down I still managed to walk faster than our competition (we made it up quicker than them and down quicker and we also had our customer’s attention the whole time).

The trip was really gruelling and most of the time near the top I was wondering why I would put myself through that ordeal, but it was a bit interesting and mostly hard work. Of course from the summit it was great watching the sun rise and seeing the curvature of the earth, but it was one heck of a slog.

At the bottom, I sent Nicole an email from my handset with the picture of the sunrise from the top with the words:

“Well honey, we knocked the bastard off”

in reference to the late Sir Ed who said something similar after being the first person to climb Mt. Everest.

Because it was still very early (8am) we made our way back to the hotel at Yamanakako and we had a shower and onsen and then a small sleep before lunch. We drove around Yamanakako which was great – lots of nice places to see out there and a very pretty lake. We went to a flower garden which was really nice. They had a waterfall which every 30 minutes gushed out a lot of water. I chatted in Japanese with two guys from Niigata prefecture.

We got back to the hotel and then in the evening the customer had a big dinner with all the people who climbed plus some of the senior managers. It was pretty much a drunken brawl. We all had to give a bit of a speech and Sebastian did a good job entertaining the crowd, while Akai-san translated his speech from english to Japanese (and for the first part, Chinese, which our competition really didn’t seem to like). Akai-san made big changes to the speech, improving it I think and making it funnier, but it was funny that the customer could understand what Sebastian said and Akai-san’s “translation” of it, considering the two were quite different.

After lots of food and drink, the freshmen were asked to do something funny and they ended up getting dressed in funny clothes, like french maid outfits, superheroes etc. It was really wierd and I’m sure the guys were pretty uncomfortable, but it was all in fun. Then a longer speech by the senior manager who organised it.

Then we played bingo. There were around 20 different prizes – a Wii was the best prize, but there was also an iPod shuffle which would have been cool. I ended up winning something and I ended up chosing out of a hat, a prize which was a strange white dog hat. Very disappointing, since that was the mascot of our customer’s competition, so it was wierd that a vendor won something like that. Oh well, it was a bit odd, but funny still.

I ended up going to bed around 12 and slept so soundly on the futons. It turns out my colleague stayed drinking with the others until 2am when the senior manager who organised it came in and gave a dialogue to the freshmen for around 2 hours! Incredible. He mentioned our company’s name a few times, but never the competition! :)

We headed home on the Sunday, a bit tired and aching and I met up with Nicole and the kids in Harajuku for some shopping before coming home.

Very interesting trip and I’m glad I did it, but not sure if I’d want to do it again. :)