Monday, August 24, 2009

Mt. Fuji

Last week my running partner, Tiffany, and I went to Tokyo with the goals of having some fun and climbing Mt. Fuji. I'm happy to report that both goals were achieved. I'll write more about the rest of the Tokyo trip later, but here's a little break down of the Mt. Fuji portion.
On Sunday we left our hotel at 2:45 am and started the 2 hour drive to Mt. Fuji. Most of us caught a little more sleep and we arrived at Station 5 of Mt. Fuji on the Subaru Line at 5:00am. After a quick bathroom break in Japan's dirtiest bathrooms (most public bathrooms here are super clean) and purchasing our Fuji sticks we were off.
Station 5 is at 2399 meters (7868 feet) and we were looking to get to the summit at 3776 meters (12, 385 feet). The day was gorgeous and the cooler weather was a welcome relief from sticky Okinawa. As you can see in the pictures there was some fog/clouds that limited our view a little, but it was better than the rainy reports we had heard from friends that had recently hiked.
Climbing Mt. Fuji is not an easy hike, but is definitely doable. Going up there are areas where you have to use your hands to scramble over the rocks, but there is no technical climbing involved. At no point did Tiffany or I think we weren't going to make it. We would both get in the zone and during the hard parts I would either have a four count going in my head matching my steps or I would have Dori in my head telling me to "just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming." I know, I know she should have changed it to "just keep climbing", but Dori was tired.
Along with the satisfaction of making it to the top, a major incentive to keep going was to get your Fuji stick stamped. At every station there was at least one, usually more, stamps to collect. At station 5 we bought a plain hiking stick and at every station we would get a different stamp. These stamps were branded into the wood. Each stamp was different with some having the elevation you had reached, one a sunrise, and another a cow (it's the year of the bull here). The final stamp you get is still done with a metal brand, but it is painted red and then pounded into your stick. It was very satisfying to get all the stamps and very expensive too! The stick costs about 1000 yen and each stamp costs 200 yen, except the one at the summit. That one costs 300 yen. I haven't counted all the stamps, but it probably cost a total of 4000-4500 yen ($40-45). It is completely worth it though for a once in a lifetime souvenir.
Somehow, the person who gets sick on a backyard swing was not affected by the altitude. I never felt short of breath or nauseous and thought going up wasn't really that bad. It took us just under 5 hours of hiking at a comfortably quick pace to reach the summit. We stayed up top about an hour and were planning on hiking the perimeter of the crater (Mt. Fuji is a dormant volcano), but the wind was so strong we couldn't stand up straight. So we decided to head back down.
Although I enjoyed going up, going down was a whole other story! Going down there were endless switchbacks made up of scree. Basically it was loose gravel all the way down. You really had to focus on not falling; it was kind of a controlled slide. My achilles and knees were pretty mad at me after 30 minutes and it took us just under 3 hours to get down!
I know a picture is worth a thousand words so here are some pictures and video to sum up our experience:
This is all the stuff that it was recommended we bring. Everything is in individual baggies in case of rain. That way if one bag leaks you still have dry items:
This is near the beginning of the hike and I'm still looking pretty clean.
Here's the start of our hike. It's about 5:30am.
Going up:
This is on the way up the mountain. Sorry for the wind.
Going strong and feeling better than this guy: Not that I am judging him. I mean sometimes you just need a nap.

Still climbing:
Here's some nice shots for you:
When you are almost to the top of Mt. Fuji you enter through some Torii gates that are guarded by Shisa dogs. Makes you wonder who carried those huge statues up that mountain:

Queens of the mountain (please note the dirty face):
Mt. Fuji is a volcano. Here is the crater that is left from the last eruption:
At the top there was another Torii gate and a place where people tied their bells (some Fuji sticks had bells, but I thought that would be annoying so I just got one with a flag). I'm not sure the exact reason that people stick coins in the Torii gates, but we figured it was like a well and made a wish when we stuck in our yen. I wish I could have taken video here because the bells sounded quite beautiful, but the wind was strong enough that we couldn't stand up so I figured you wouldn't get to hear the bells at all:
What goes up must come down (I wasn't aiming the camera quite as down as I thought):
On the way down the controlled sliding of the feet kicked up a lot of very fine dust. We were very thankful that our friend Astrid had recommended we bring handkerchiefs. The air was thick.
On the way down we saw a group of Japanese in costume. There were about 8 Santa Clauses, 1 Rudolph, a Christmas tree, and a skeleton. We're not sure how the skeleton fit in.
On the way down we took a short break to enjoy the view and gives our knees a chance to rest.
Video wrap up:
At the bottom. Tired, but happy.
After all that hard work I treated myself to a Fuji cake. It was delicious. It was more of a sweet bread and was still warm. I don't know if it was just because I was hungry, but it was heavenly.
Stay tuned for the rest of our Tokyo adventures!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Diving in the Keramas

Yesterday we went SCUBA diving in the Keramas. The Keramas are a series of about 400 islands, mostly uninhabited, about 15 miles west of Okinawa. We booked the trip through the base marina and headed out with our friends Magda and Blake and about six other divers.

Luckily for me the water was glass. I can remember my old professor seeing water that smooth in the Gulf of Mexico and commenting that "you could roll a marble to Texas" on it. After the hour ride when the boat anchored the swaying made me a little nauseous, but I didn't get sick! That's a victory right there.

The water was amazingly clear and just so many shades of gorgeous blues and greens. I was a little nervous when we first got there because you could see little jellyfish in the water, but they weren't the kind that hurt. I got stung by a couple on my legs and it was just a little itchy.

On the first dive the dive master led us around the bay in search of sharks, rays, and turtles. We struck out on the rays and turtles, but did catch a glimpse of a few white tipped shark pups. My sister later told me that these sharks are very aggressive - something she recently learned on shark week. I'm glad I didn't know that when the dive master was encouraging us to get closer to get a picture. Ignorance is bliss.

On the second dive we went to a more open water area that had an incredible wall (where the coral/rock meet the ocean). This wall went to about a 130 feet, but we stayed around 60 feet so we wouldn't have to do decompression stops on our way up. The wall was amazing - full of different corals and tons of fishes.

The visibility was 150 feet! That is awesome and they said it gets even better in the winter when there aren't so many algae and coral blooms. We bought a cheap underwater camera (thanks for the recommendation Liza) and we're very pleased with the results. We still have some tweaking to do. We avoided the flash because we thought the casing would cause a glare, but in the one picture when the flash accidentally went off the colors were incredible.

Here are some pictures of the trip. I like coral so don't bother trying to find a fish in every shot - it might just be a coral pattern that I thought looked cool.

Our friends, Magda and Blake:
Some of my favorite shots are these clown fish on their bed of anemone. Click on the second and third shots so you can see the detail. You should be able to see the baby clown fish that the parents were aggressively protecting.
I know this was a lot of pictures, but I promised I pared them down (we started at 190 shots!). I hope you enjoyed our adventure and here's one last shot for you: