And so we come to the highlights of what I'm sure we will look back upon as the holiday of a lifetime. Mount Fuji is a dormant volcano, 12,388 ft high, and usually covered in snow. It is normally only climbed during July and August because of the weather. In 2010, on the 15th and 16th July, it was amazing to stand next to banks of snow five feet high. About 50 foolhardy, brave and daring puzzlers and guests travelled in three minicoaches to the foothills of Fuji, where we were to spend an hour or so getting used to the thin atmosphere. We had been given detailed instructions about what clothing and equipment we needed to carry with us, including at least two and a half litres of water. Water is heavy.
At this point I will mention one small anecdote, which will always amuse me. The previous evening we had been in a local shop, buying supplies for the journey. Japan in summer is hot and humid, and a constant supply of water is essential. A litre bottle of water or vitamin drink costs about a pound. I was surprise to see that two-and-a-half litre bottles were costing several pounds, until I realised that I was looking at very large bottles of 'sake', rice wine. Fortunately I didn't take any up the mountain.
At about 1 o'clock, our intrepid bunch set off up the rocky path through woodland, zig-zagging up, and slowly ascending the foothills. Alice and I like walking, and often do 5, 10, perhaps 15 miles, but never carrying full rucksacks. Over the course of the next few hours we climbed about 3000 feet, before arriving at the tumbledown shack which was to be our overnight accommodation. Already the views were incredible, especially as we were looking down onto the clouds! Removing our shoes, we slowly entered the building at level 5. Many of us were sleeping at floor level, almost like the bottom of the set of bunk beds, with only 4 ft clearance above our heads, and a meagre 50 centimetres of sleeping space each.
Those who didn't quickly secured ground floor sleeping accommodation had to climb up wooden step ladders to the next level, while some had to ascend even higher to the top level. Our spirits were good, our muscles were aching and after a good meal, in batches of 20, we all tried to sleep in preparation for waking up at about 4 o'clock the next morning ready to begin the next 3000 feet to the top of the mountain. One of the hardest things for me, was sitting down cross-legged at a table about a foot high, Japanese style, for the evening meal. Standing up afterwards was equally challenging! Before turning in, most people went out for a final view down from 9000 feet.