I think we slept fitfully, partly due to exertion, partly from fear of rolling on to whoever was next to us, and partly in anticipation of being rudely awoken at 4 o'clock the following morning. By 5 o'clock we were dressed and outside watching sunrise, truly we were in the Land of the Rising Sun. At that time of day on a mountain it is noticeably colder and, and we were all dressed in what we each considered to be suitable clothing for the final ascent. Rucksacks seemed a little lighter, as our water supply went down. As the air got thinner and thinner, even speaking became too much effort, and we all just seemed to be giving each other knowing looks of discomfort, exertion, achievement and exhilaration. I seem to remember having to stop every 50 yards or so, just to get my breath back before doing another 50 yards. One great memory was watching somebody trying to light a cigarette lighter. He must have spent about a minute flicking and flicking and flicking with no luck. Just as he was about to give up he moved his lighter away from the waiting cigarette, only to see it flare into life but he was too slow to make use of it. He then spent another minute tried to light a cigarette before giving up. There just wasn't enough oxygen to support a flame.
I'm not sure that my words here will ever truly remind me of the pain and exertion required on this climb but I know that I have never pushed my body so hard for so long. As I write this, I work on the 5th floor of an office block. Imagine climbing five flights of stairs every morning, then down again at lunch time, up again after lunch and then down at the end of the day. Imagine doing that for 12 weeks, every working day. Well, we all did that, but in 24 hours. That just about puts the achievement into perspective, but don't forget the we were all carrying heavy rucksacks as well. Eventually most of us reached the rim of the volcano, shattered, but exhilarated, and proud of our achievements. We then realised that reaching the rim was different to reaching the top of Mount Fuji - the top was around the far side of the rim, perhaps 20 minutes walk away, involving climbing up and sometimes down, scrambling over rocks before a very steep final ascent to the true peak.
On reaching the rim, we had our first opportunity to look down inside the volcano and I was fighting back tears at this wonderful sight, looking down into a cauldron, yet one that was lined with deep snow on many sides. The accompanying pictures, and films here will hopefully do much to remind me of the supreme achievement. Battered, drained, but elated, little did I realise that there was more exertion yet to come. Whereas the path to the top was a zig-zagging scramble over a well-worn path, the descent is in an almost straight line downwards, through loose dust, shale and crumbled pumice, perhaps six to eight inches deep. It's too steep to walk down so the only method of ascent is a sort of hopping, jumping, almost skiing type of gait, which plays absolute havoc with one's knees. Whereas the ascent had brought many different types of terrain, views over distant hills and new surprises, going down was an incessant path of deep dust. It was like running across a dry and crumbly furrowed field, with one's shoes steadily filling up with dust and small stones. Eventually we reached the tree line, and the descent started to level out very slowly. Whereas we had climbed as part of a large group, as the day had progressed we had all got separated, so Alice and I found ourselves descending just with our friend Dirk from Germany.
We finally reached the base camp again only to realise that our next adventure was about to begin. We had to get back to the hotel and then travel into Tokyo, across Tokyo and out the other side to get to Narita Airport. We were due to catch a 9 o'clock flight on Saturday morning, so we had decided it wasn't worth booking into a hotel on Friday night only to have to be up at about 6 o'clock with to check-in. Negotiating a very large Interchange Station at 6 o'clock on a Friday night with luggage, looking for a platform who knows where, was a bewildering challenge. To cut a long story short we crashed out at the airport and had a second fitful night's sleep before flying back to England, changing planes at Beijing. I'm writing this two weeks after our return, my muscles are back to normal but my memory will never be.
Finally, I know we would both like to pay tribute to all our puzzling friends in Japan, who did so much to make this holiday so memorable, Edi, Sherry, Naoaki, Yoshiyki, Meiko, Akio, Akio, Kohfuh, Lixy, Osho, and all the team. Special thanks must go to our friend Juno (Junichi Yananose), and his wife Yukari, who looked after us all on Mount Fuji, and make sure that we made it to the top, and even more importantly got down to the bottom. And Iím delighted that the puzzle that Alice gave me for my birthday was designed by Juno, and it will always have pride of place in my collection.