2017-02-10

Sea of Trees to Summit Part 1: Climbing Mt. Fuji through Aokigahara Forest (青木ヶ原樹海)

Having done a Sea-to-Summit climb on Mt. Fuji in 2015: 




...my bro and hiking partner  (Be sure to follow him here:  Frame of Travel and here Frame of Travel on Instagram) came up with the idea for 2016's Mt. Fuji climb to start from a "sea" of a different sort. Instead of starting with our bare feet in the Pacific ocean like we did in 2015, we would start from the "Sea of Trees" ('Jukai' 樹海 ) of Aokigahara (青木ヶ原)  forest lying at the Northwest sector of the base of Mount Fuji. Challenge accepted!

Judging by the lack of videos, blog posts, web pages, etc. documenting a similar route, it would seem that my video (1st of 2) of our trip:




....and this blog post are the first to attempt to document climbing Mt. Fuji with Aokigahara AKA 'The suicide forest' as the starting point. From having done this a few times now, I have learned that it is rather difficult for me to hike and take decent video/give running commentary at the same time. When we are hiking our primary focus is on reaching our intended destination, not on making the perfect video, so this blog entry will fill in some of the gaps in the video coverage of our hike.

   I think that it is highly unlikely that we are
 the very first to have gone this way, as it is seems like an obvious variation on climbing Mt. Fuji for the adventurous sort. However, I also realize that most Japanese are too creeped out by the area's reputation to do what we did, and that Aokigahara has not come to international attention until recently thanks to Hollywood's shitty cash grab "The Forest" (saw it; inaccurate as is to be expected from Hollywood, and just unscary as a horror movie) and "The Sea of Trees" (haven't seen this one yet as of 2017/02/19) so this is perhaps the first time this particular route has been documented. So here we go...

   We started our trip late Thursday night, arriving by my car at around 22:30 at the parking lot of the Fugaku Lava Cava (AKA the Wind Cave) free parking lot here, where we found that
you can always find Engrish in Japan, even in the middle of the "Sea of forest"...


   We prepped our gear and headed into the woods, passing one of the many suicide prevention signs in the area:


Translation: "Life is a precious gift from you parents
Calmly think one more time about your parents, your siblings, your children
You are not alone. Before (you act) please seek counseling.
"
-- Contact --
Fuji-Yoshida Police department, Suicide Prevention Association


   Our initial plan was to sleep over night in...Yes I said IN the woods, but after hiking about 15 minutes into the forest, it became clear that the only decent flat spot to set up the tent that we could see (it was pitch black without our headlamps on) was on the trail itself, which would have been a highly-frowned-upon dick move, so we headed back to the parking lot and slept in my car. We got up the next day and began our hike.



   Growing literally on top of a lava flow that covered the area in the year 864, with no real soil to grow down into the plant life that managed to eventually re-populate the area, the forest floor is a dangerous tangle of twisted tree roots, rocky outcroppings, and volcanic holes that range in size from mere ankle-breaker to full-on cave hundreds of meters long.







   We hiked in a loop, aiming toward the wind cave. Coming from the back side, we inadvertently ended up 'gate-crashing' the place and thus avoiding paying the entrance fee... (o_O)






   This happened once I came out of the cold icy cave and back into the humidity of the forest...

   On the way out we fessed up and paid the entrance fee, although the lady seemed more than willing to let us slide.


   Coming out of the Wind Cave, we decided to pick up the trail head from Road 71 to save time instead of trail blazing through the woods (although a post-hike review of the rout we took showed that it would likely have been faster if we had taken the main trail that runs from the Lava cave to Road 71). As we departed, we checked this out real quick:





Sunflowers on the main road (called "National Roads" in Japanese "Kokudō" 71:




While walking along road 71, we stopped and horsed around for few minutes...



   A 'Yorishiro' (依り代) we found along 71 at the edge of the woods. I found this a bit creepy, actually, given the reputation of the area...


   As we were walking along 71, an Oyaji (an "older guy" roughly translated) in a small truck pulled over, got out and came over to talk with us. The writing on the side of his truck showed that he was one of the 'suicide watch' volunteers that talks with people they find in the area to try and dissuade people from offing themselves. In a friendly manner he asked where we where headed (Us: "To the top of Mt. Fuji!" Him: "Sugoi!!"), asked if we had a map, and let us know how much further we had to go until we reached the trailhead, which was quite helpful, since we were starting to wonder if we had passed it. I didn't get pics or video, because my camera was stowed at the time, Japanese tend to be camera shy if it is not them taking the shot or not knowing where it will end up, and he only spent about 2-3 minutes with us before he was off to chat with others to try and stop the growth of more 'strange fruit' hanging from the trees of Aokigahara.

   We found the trailhead, exactly where he said it would be...(Continued in Part 2) 



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