Diary - July

Sunday 1st July
Day 140 - 25km (Well, Paul & Tom)

So...what now?

Ben - "I could just hear my Mum and sister telling me that I needed to rest and recover but at the same time I don't want to sit around. The three of us discussed what to do, and decided that I should take some time to heal and Tom and Paul should walk on so that we could still keep to our schedule for arriving at Fuji for our party 21st - 22nd July.

On the one hand I really struggle with this decision because I am missing mountains and miles but I do realise the need to recover properly. Also I was able to get to the hospital easily and I was in a good place to meet my pal Deb who was on her way from Australia to join us.

Rachel went out of her way again to drop Paul and Tom back at the mountain and I began sleeping."

Paul - "Just a quick note from me about the second half of the day for Tom and I.

The afternoon saw us walking over a pass, under a sweltering sun, on a road that varied between a gravel track and a tarmaced road. Tom was happy to be back in the hills and walking again but I really just wanted to be heading back to Rachel's to spend a few days doing nothing. Sometimes the last thing I want to do is walk, Tom never seems to struggle with these feelings.

We camped fairly early that evening by a river about 1km from tomorrows trail head and enjoyed having only 2 men in the 2 men tent!"

Mt Hiuchi-yama (2462m - No. 45)
Mt Myoko-zan (2454m - No. 46)

Monday 2nd July
Day 141 - 20km

Tom and Paul at the peak of Hiuchi-yamaPaul - "By Japanese estimations today's walk should have taken us between 16 and 18hrs!

Consequently we were up at 4:30am and were walking by 6:15am, silly times of day that have become almost normal recently. Two peaks today but thankfully we were able to dump our packs at the tail head and only carry the essentials up the hill. We made good time up to the first hut. The one thing that slowed us was having to stand at the side of the track and let crowds of up to 50 fellow walkers pass us. Hiking season has
officially started!

We had to trudge over snow fields and up a snowy slope to make the first summit, a strange feeling as the temperature was edging 30°C. From that first summit we were able to see that our intended route along the ridge from the mountain that Ben had fallen off would have been much harder work than the road we walked yesterday. That was a nice finding.

The pair relax in the sunAt the second hut we once again dumped even the bag of essentials, and raced onwards towards peak 2. More snow, lots of trees, boulders, bit of mud then on the summit some really strange boulders that Ben would have loved. Back at hut 2 we finished off our food chilling in the sun with four other guys who had obviously finished walking for the day. It was 3:00pm. To my mind these guys have the right idea! Not us though, we had another 2hrs just to get off the hill.

Some rather lovely sceneryThe best thing about today's walk was the scenery, flat plateaus, lakes, and alpine pastures of knee high bamboo grass. Two peaks wasn't enough for Tom, he wanted more. Does the boy ever tire? Where does he get the energy? He finally let us stop an hour later at the trail head for next day, a nature trail cutting a massive corner by crossing a mountain pass."

Ben - "Well I wasn't with the boys for a couple of days but the time I spent recovering proved really very productive - I surprise my self. Amidst the bread and cakemaking with Rachel, I met and spoke with Josh Raub (another Jet teacher) and he told me about his beautiful girlfriend who work with a TV company and had begun negotiations with her producer about airing a show with us in! Further more she had already translated half our webpage into Japanese ready to put up on the internet! Was this OK Josh asked? OK!..This is great!!! Nagano and its teachers have really been a boost to the promotion of charity and the trek."

Mt Takazuma-yama (2353m - No. 47)
Tuesday 3rd July
Day 142 - 24km

The beforested peakPaul - "We started the day thinking that if we went well we might make it halfway up today's peak to an emergency hut marked on our map. So again we started at the crack of dawn. By 9:00am however, we had crossed the mountain pass, having spent the morning from 6:00am walking along forest tracks and through muddy bogs, sweating under the baking sun. By 10:30am we were at the trail head phoning Ben and happy to hear that Deb had arrived safely from Oz.

We're used to people telling us to be careful, but today that reached new heights as the people in the campsite at the trail head told us not bite off more than we could chew (well that is one translation, another could be - 'Don't be complete idiots!'). It was 11:00am and even by Japanese timing we would be back before dark.

Tom at the top of Takazuma-yamaFor me this was one of the most interesting mountains we have climbed in a while. The first half of the climb was up the ridge wall through real jungle-like forest, following a river, even into the river at times. The second half wandered its way along the ridge towards the peak. My legs were tired, the trail kept going up and down, and Tom didn't seem tired at all, but it was an enjoyable, if hot, walk. The summit climb was steep, steep enough to make me wonder if it would ever end, but the views were great from the top - one side of the ridge filled with cloud, the other clear and sunny.

We made it back down to the campsite by 5:00pm although there was no one to see that we hadn't bitten off more than we could chew. 7:00pm saw us sat in a car headed towards a house and a shower - strange how things work out sometimes. Andy had offered us a place to stay months ago over email. When I rang him tonight to ask if we could stay tomorrow, he immediately offered to pick us up tonight and drop us back here in the morning, to walk back to his place without packs. He is a fellow long distance walker, having completed the Appalachian Trail's (AT) 2000 miles a couple of years back, so was happy to help us out in any way he could."

Wednesday 4th July
Day 143 - 22km


Tom - "After getting up at the crack of dawn, Andy drove us back to Tuesday's pick up point and Paul and I set off down the road back to his house again!

The forested mountain valley turned into paddy fields. We walked as fast as we could spurred on by the thought of a cold shower. The afternoon was spent washing cloths, showering, reading Tintin books and sleeping. Andy got back from work at 5pm and we spent the evening talking about his experiences on the AT and the gear he used.

He had managed to complete the walk with one pair of boots (they needed taping up for the last 50 miles), one pair of cotton shorts, 2 cotton t-shirts, one $50 rucksack, some plastic water proofs and a 7 foot wooden staff he picked up along the way (his most treasured possession!). At 7pm we got a call from Ben and Deb, who had arrived at the local station. The rest of the night was spent catching up on the last few days."

Thursday 5th July
Day 144 - 40km


Tom - "Once again Andy offered to pick us up at the end of the day so that we could do another day without backpacks (Andy calls this slack-packing).

Deb gets a taste of the road lifeWe spent the first 2-3 hours trying to find our way through acres and acres of apple orchards on a maze of roads. We reached Nakano city (just north of Nagano) at 12 and stopped for a lunch break. The second half of the day was spent heading into the mountains along a series of steep windy roads. We had arranged to meet Andy between 6 and 7 at a junction of two roads.

We got to this point later than expected only to find Andy wasn't there. We waited by the side of the road till 8pm when Ben decided to phone Andy's home. This meant he had to walk to a place here he could get coverage on our mobile phone. Deb, Paul and I were laid flat on the warm tarmac, and failed to see which road Ben walked down.

At 9pm Andy showed up having got lost in the hills. The next 2-3 hours were spent going up and down the roads looking for Ben, however we did not cover enough ground as we underestimated how far he had walked (about 5-6km) to get coverage. With petrol running out Andy decided to head into town to get petrol and check his answering machine.

I stayed at the junction and waited to see if Ben would come back. At 12am it started raining and I shouted out into the darkness "Ben, are you there?", only to find that he was walking back up the road and was only 25 metres away.

After phoning Andy's home to tell him everything was OK, we found ourselves a shelter, some cardboard boxes, and smelly carpet (cat pee?) to sleep under. All in all the day was a bit of a disaster caused by lack of communication between the team members. Well at least we've learnt a lesson!"

Friday 6th July
Andy and PaulDay 145 - 25km

Wet Walking

Ben - "A weary looking Andy arrived at our cardboard campsite with Paul and Deb who had done the next few days food shopping in 7 Eleven...not cheap! We sat and regaled them with the idiocies of the night before whilst packing the food.

The day passed as did the good weather. We walked to the trail head of mountain 48 and arrived to sleep in a hut filled with the craziest looking spiders. Deb tended to her sore and abused feet. She is starting to see the folly of taking a holiday with us!"

Mt Naeba-yama (2145m - No. 48)
Saturday 7th July
Day 146

The high plateauNaeba conqueredBen - "Nobody seemed to move for ages this morning. Sleep deprivation had granted us the right to lie in before climbing mountain 48. The climb was through forest to begin with and we met about 15 other climbers on the way up. Near the top there is a beautiful plateau that was a really nice surprise, made even better by beautiful weather. We stopped briefly on the way down for a lesson in Sansai (wild vegetable) picking from a mountain guide and then we headed off again."

Sunday 8th July
Day 147 - 40km

Road Frustration

Paul - "It has happened so rarely really in the past couple of months, it feels worthwhile to mention that all we did today was walk along roads.

Our day started before dawn today, not out of choice but because we were actually camped at a trail head and hikers started arriving at 4:00am. What gets me is the time they must have had to leave home to get there!

Much of the days walking was very beautiful, our roads winding through forested hills and back country. Some of the roads were so quiet we were able to take part in the newest team craze - reading while walking. It's not actually that hard to stay on the road! Differing walking speeds, different desires for the day, a single map, and the baking sun all caused more internal team frustration than we've seen for a while. Injuries and the pressure of trying to reach Fuji in time don't add up to calmness and serenity.

Debs suffered today, her feet like burning coals, what a wonderful holiday we are giving her. The pain got so bad she decided to hitch ahead and take a break while we caught up.

The highlight of the day was hearing from Cat that there were tickets to Thailand available on the dates we wanted and just within our price range. The expense caused indecision initially but by the time we stopped walking for the day, having spent the last hr doing calculations, we concluded that even getting to Korea by train and ferry would not be that much cheaper (travel within Japan is very efficient and very expensive). So we ended the day high in the hills again and ready to give Cat the go ahead."

Mt Shirane-yama (2171m - No. 49)
Monday 9th July
Day 148 - 42km

Paul - "The initial plan for today was to bag the peak (an easy climb just off the road) then get down into town in time for Ben to get his stitches out. So once again we saw what the world looks like before 5:00am and were walking before 6:30am.

An hours walking saw us over the pass and into very different countryside, few trees and wide open spaces, volcanoes. Our guide book was totally unclear about peak No. 49, naming one and showing a path to another. Unable to find anyone to explain we realised we'd have to bag both just to make sure.

All aboard the cairn. Volcanos ahoy.The named peak is officially off limits due to volcanic instability but the summit is about 20mins from the road and the guys doing drilling on the mountainside said that seeing as we'd got this far we may as well go to the top! Very casual with the rules. Very un-Japanese.

It was only at the trailhead to the second peak that we realised everyone else walks up a concrete path to view the volatile mountain and its moonscape landscape from a safe distance and with volcano shelters close at hand.

A very serious Tom contemplates the idea of being in forbidden groundWe also realised that a few hundred people probably saw us getting our proof shot on illegal ground!

Mountain number 2 was also a volcano but a safely extinct one covered in beautiful alpine flowers and hundreds of people there to photograph them. While the volcano itself was safe, it turned out that the summit was 'closed' due to some sort of problems with poisonous gases. We didn't come across any gas, neither had the
Korean's who had left their own summit board.

We concluded our day of illegal activity by walking down a toll road. They really should make the no walking picture bigger - Deb honestly didn't see it!

We didn't get into town in time to get Ben's stitches out but we were able to buy some tasty, healthy food, find out where the hospital was, and fall asleep under a bridge."

Ben has his stitches outMt. Azuma-yama (2354m -m No. 50!!!)
Tuesday 10th July
Day 149 - 40km

Tom - "After an early breakfast Ben and I went to the hospital to get his stitches removed. First we had to wait an hour for the doors to open and then another hour and a half to see a doctor. However once inside the surgery the stitches were out in a couple of minutes and we were ready to hit the road. Ben said his leg felt a lot better with the stitches out.

The day was an absolute scorcher (34°c) which didn't helpwalking. Mt No 50 - halfway there now.We dumped packs at the start of the road we would be walking along the next day and headed towards Mt. Azuma-yama, our fiftieth peak (Yahoo!). We started up the gentle trail at 2pm and fought our way through bamboo for most of the climb.

This peak would definitely be in my top three most boring peaks of the walk so far, but I felt pretty pleased that we had climbed half of our mountains (we have walked over 2000 miles now so we have also completed over half the distance). On the way down we walked past some bizarre boulder formations, where Deb decided to show off her climbing skills (she's very good!).

We reached the bottom of the trail just before sunset and Ben decided to run back to the bags and set up camp for us (6km)."

Mt. Asama-yama (2568m - No.51)
Wednesday 11th July
Day 150 - 26km

The lower peakTom - "The morning was spent walking (or hitching in Deb's case!) to the top of a pass at the start of the trail to Mt Asama-yama. Again the weather was hot and the road seemed to drag on and on. We started up the trail at 1pm and passed by a number of hikers who had bagged the lower peak. The higher peak is officially off limits due to poisonous gasses and volcanic activity.

The view from the lower peakThe view from the lower peak was beautiful as the extinct crater below was filled with lush green forest and surrounded by steep cliffs. We walked from this summit along a ridge to the base of the larger summit which bares a striking resemblance to Mt Fuji. We followed a path up the peak and came across a no entry sign as well as ropes closing off the peak.

The second peak - Paul doesn't think much of the smellNeedless to say we wanted to bag the summit so we hopped over the ropes and reached the rim of the active crater. We had to do a dash to the summit, a 10 minute walk around the crater to reach the highest point. The gasses coming out off the crater were pretty unpleasant so once the photo was taken we headed down as fast as we could.

We camped under the shelter of a tourist information building."

Thursday 12th July
Day 151

The team interviewed for e-gene by MihokoT.V. Day!

Ben - "We were seriously early risers today because we had a deadline to meet, so we walked the 16 km off the mountain in time to be picked up by Josh and Mihoko. This wonderful couple were not only working real hard to make the pending TV programme work but Mihoko is also in the middle of translating our website - all of our web pages! - into Japanese, and now they were coming to pick us up.

They drove us to a restaurant where we ate a complimentary lunch with the producer and his lovely camera crew. The programme (e-gene) focused not only on the charity and the trek but also on the way we are using technology such as the internet. (You can see a copy of the interview online at e-gene's website - check out the cartoons of the Trekkers too. Click here to go. - ed)

It is so exciting to now see the interest in the trek and its aims growing throughout Japan.

After our interview me and the guys left Deb waiting at the station nursing her feet and awaiting the arrival of Tim while we went back to the pick up point to collect the miles. As we arrived back with Deb, Tim appeared from the station as if by magic...and there was much rejoicing!

We camped on a Park Golf course next o the river and were gifted by some very tasty cucumbers from a passer by...life is sweet."

Friday 13th July
Day 152 - 22.5km

Relaxed and Short

Paul - "Tim now thinks we lead a totally easy life: long breakfasts, long breaks, few km's, and someone to pick us up and drive us to their house to stay at the end of the day. He just picked a good day for his first day with us.

The initial plan had been a big road walk plus a mountain but Andre (yet another generous Nagano JET who had offered us a place to stay) only had a short window of time in the evening when he could pick us up. We soon realised we couldn't fit everything in and as we were going to have to hitch to get to Fuji on time anyway there was no rush.

It was a blisteringly hot day and the scenery wasn't thrilling so the day's pace dropped accordingly. By 3:30 we were squeezed into a car and on our way to our first full day off since the 28th of June!

Once again a telephone call gave us the highlight of the day: Penny was happy to inform us that A-JET were willing to accomodate us at the JET Orientation Conference in Tokyo (provide us with a stand and let us speak) . At the very least this means that we will be able to tell a whole load more people about what we are doing.

The evening saw the team divided. Ben, Deb and Tim off to a party with Andre and Kate (another JET in Andre's city, the person who actually picked us up while Andre cooked us dinner), while Tom and I (the light weights) stayed behind, answered the team emails and watched a video (and got some sleep)."

Saturday 14th July
Day 153

Anyone for a Swim?

Paul - "As always much of the day was taken up with trying to get the webpage up to date. As there are so many mountains in this area our routine of writing each week has flown out the tent door (along with our weekly day off!). It was even baking indoors today however, so Tim tempted us away from the computer (a real hard job) with stories of a gorge with deep water, high jumps and rocks to play on.

All his stories were true and much fun was had by all. So much so that we stayed too long, and ran out of time to get to a BBQ and a showing of the Lions vs Australia. Instead we bought food on the way back and cabbaged at Kate's in front of some dreadful TV. A nice relaxed finish to the day."

'Cow Mountain' Utsukushi-ga-hara (2034m - No.52)
Sunday 15th July
Day 154 - 27km

Tom, Ben, Debs, Paul and Tim atop Cow MtPaul - "We'd just finished our last minute typing, eating and packing, and were walking out of Andre's door when I asked if anyone knew where the phone was. As professional hikers we are complete airheads sometimes! The big jumps and rock climbs of yesterday had excited us so much that we all left happily without our phone. We may get it back someday: JETs often visit those rocks.

Kate did us yet another favour and dropped us off back at in the village where she had picked us up the day before yesterday. It was midday and the sun was baking down when we (minus Debs who hitched a lift) finally got walking. Climbing three quarters of the hill on tarmac and taking a really long route to the top (so we could dump packs) we eventually made it to the summit of this 'rugged' peak at 5:00pm.

Kung fu fighting, very frighteningThis is one of those mountains that you just have to figure was very different when it was chosen as one of the famous 100. For a start its summit plateau is accessible via tarmac (we refrained) There is a museum you could visit. There are herds of cows grazing and the actual summit post is hard to find behind a massive hotel and a whole crowd of mobile phone masts!

We got off the hill with the aid of head torches and quickly made camp on the balcony of a nearby café/souvenir shop."

Mt Kiri-ga-mine (from left), Tom, Tim, Debs, Paul and BenKiri-ga-mine (1925m No. 53)
Tate-shina-yama (2530m No.54)

Monday 16th July
Day 155 - 37.5km

Paul - "Tim Craft had been with us for 3 days by now and had never really experienced a 'proper' day (ie a decent amount of distance/pain/boredom etc). We changed that today: plenty of road walking, hot sunshine, another poor (plus crowded) mountain, all rounded off with a second peak which seemed to climb into the afternoon clouds forever. It's not that we like seeing pain in the eyes of those who join us in walking. We just carry on life as we are used to it. I guess we just forget that we've had 5 months of practice. Both Deb and Tim hurt while they were with us - a big thank you to both of them for putting up with the pain to be with us.

Mt Tate-shina-yama, rather foggySo No. 53 had a road nearly all the way up on one side, and ski lifts to the very top on the other. Needless to say it was crawling with people: school groups, day-trippers, pensioners, babies and us: five very sweaty gaijins carrying big bags (yes, we got funny looks). We started climbing No.54 at about 4:00pm, so it was deserted.

The plan had been to get right over the top before camping but the climb was harder than expected. So after 'borrowing' some water from the hut near the summit we pitched camp, once again in the dark, right on top of a protected flower patch (it was dark!)."

Tuesday 17th July
Day 156 - 24km

Starting Yatsu Ridge…and then there were 4.

Ben - "We were the cause of some disgruntled interest from the guests of a mountain hut near our campsite. As we packed away our tents a group came to watch and tell us off. I think perhaps they were bitter because we paid nothing for our sleep and they paid lots.

We were soon stood on a high pass and waving goodbye to Tim. Tim used the most amazing hitching technique. A man was stopped at a road junction and Tim barked at him: "I'll come with you."

We passed many primary school children who were on day hikes in the mountains as we climbed onto the shoulder of Yatsu-gatake. To begin with we made good time, but alas a deep conversation numbed our sense of direction and we took a wrong turn.

Soon after correcting our booboo, we made camp and settled down just before the heavy rain arrived."

Yatsu-ga-take (2899m - No. 55)
Wednesday 18th July
Day 157 - 20km

Ben - "To make up for yesterday's mistake we got up at 4:30am and prepared for the 8 peak monster that is Yatsu-gatake.

A beautiful sunrise touched the peaks with it's fiery glow. We were amazed to see great queues of people ascending to the summits. We soon joined them on this famous and beautiful mountain range.

On the highest peak we encountered a group of elderly climbers…all were roped together. They had managed to tie themselves into an impressive knot. It was like watching school children as they excitedly unravelled themselves.

The descent into Yamanashi ken took 3 ½ hours and we started hitch-hiking at 3:30pm. We were leaving Yatsu-gatake to return in about 4 weeks after climbing Fuji, sorting visas, and promoting the trek in Tokyo. We arrived at Andre's house that evening and began 2 days of paperwork."

Thursday 19th July
Day 158

Pumping out press releases

Tom - "After climbing 4 mountains in 4 days it would have been nice to put our feet up, but we had work to do! Having passed half way mark of the trek (55 mountains and over 3500km completed) we decided to spend the days before the Fuji climb drumming up as much support for the charity as possible.

This involved writing and sending out a press release (which graphically described Ben's fall), to newspapers, outdoor magazines and radio stations. Many thanks to our parents for contacting local papers and radio stations for us.

Tim popped in to see us as he was in the neighbourhood and it was good to see that he had fully recovered from the 3-day torture session that we had put him through.

During the day we were also trying to get tickets out of Japan by any means possible. Cat from Hikone spent the day calling travel agents trying to get flights out of the country for less than 70,000 yen. There were none on the dates we needed. The only options were to catch a ferry to Guam (a very long trip!), or to Pusan in South Korea. Even ferry tickets were hard to come by, but Cat managed to get us some tickets sailing to Pusan on the 25th and coming back on the 28th.

Thank you Cat for all the hard work you've put in!"

Friday 20th July
Day 159

Food for Fuji

Tom - "Another day of emailing and typing. The highlight of the day was our shopping trip to get food for Fuji.

We had asked as many people as possible who had helped us along this trek to climb Fuji with us on the 21st July. As a thank you we decided to throw a cheese and wine party on the crater rim as we watched the sunrise.

Paul and I spent at least an hour searching the shelves of the local supermarket for good cheese (very hard to come by in Japan), biscuits, wine and chocolate.

I'd like to say a special thank you to Andre, who let us stay in his house and use his computer whilst he was tanning himself in Thailand. Help like this is vitally important for us as we are doing our own PR. Thanks also to Kate for letting us use her computer and letting us play with her psycho cat."

Fuji-san (3776m - Mt No.56)
Saturday 21st July
Sunday 22nd July
Days 160-1

Hitching sign  for Mt FujiInto the Death Zone

Paul - "Saturday started at 5:00am and didn't finish until 11:00pm on Sunday! A wild experience that saw all our guests suffering from the altitude and us literally falling to sleep on our feet whilst still walking, as we headed back to the base of the mountain.

Of course you will have to read the book to get all the details but here are a few!

HitchingHitching from Andre's out to the highway took a while but eventually we were picked up (by a lady with a vivid purple fringe) and dropped by the highway tollbooths. Our next hitch took us directly to the trailhead at the base of Fuji (blessed again!) It took us ages, and a couple of wrong turns, to finally get ourselves moving at a respectable pace up to the 5th Station. Dumping 2 full packs of stuff around Station 2 helped. All we carried to the summit was plenty of clothing and our 'Fuji Food' (celebratory wine, cheese, biscuits and cookies).

8hrs of climbing (that 99.9% of climbers don't do) later we walked into the 5th Station. I knew it would be big but even so I wasn't prepared for the veritable village of hotels, shops, restaurants, and car parks that we found at 2300m.

We had about two and a half hours rest before the final 1476m, during which time we cooked some dinner and met up with the rest of the party (Thom, Mihoko, Josh, and Rachel). By 10:30pm we had finished marvelling at the massive amount of chocolate that Deb's folks had sent us for our party (thank you Mr & Mrs Stuart), and were ready for our summit bid! The weather was clear, calm and warm enough for t-shirts and shorts (once you were walking).

The Fuji team (from left,clockwise):Tom, Rachel, Paul, Thom, Debs, Ben, Josh, MihokoHow to describe the climb? A dark trail weaving through a twinkling column of huts? Half seen groups of people slumped at each switch back trying to regain breath, strength and the motivation to carry on? Crowds resting at each of the multitude of huts? Simply a mass of huts? I was expecting a long, torturous, trudge up a sandy path but happily a good portion of the climb involved easy scrambling up solid rock. There was gravel and loose scree but only at top and bottom. By 2:00am we were in the thick of crowds and hardly noticed the conditions underfoot.

The final part of the climb became a mad race through the queues to reach the summit rim before sunrise. It was all looking for foot space, sliding into gaps, making breaks round the side, weaving through walls of people, and dodging hundreds of walking poles.

To avoid such experience Tom forged his own route up a solid rib of rock that shot directly upwards. For his pains he was shouted at by an irate mountain guide who later accosted him on the summit rim, grabbed him by the shirt and continued shouting at him!

As the rest of us neared the summit, colour started draining back into windproof jackets and fleeces worn against the pre dawn and high altitude chill. Dawn found us all on or very near the summit. We were blessed with majestic views, Fuji at its best. The sun rose in all its glory over a sprinkling of clouds that hung below us making everything totally spectacular. The thing about Fuji is that it raises straight up from the valley below and is not part of a chain so when you get to see the view the pain of the climb and the altitude is well worth it.

Bunking down in a doorwayWe settled in a locked doorway to break open the Fuji food (the chocolate had already been well broken into on the way up!) and enjoy the warm sunshine before heading round the rim to the actual summit.

Altitude problems started to settle down with us. Rachel couldn't face anything and sat slumped clutching a single cookie. Josh and Mihoko had a tiny nibble then and then settled down to sleep. Thom gulped down a healthy amount of food and drink then suffered big time on the way to the summit. Debs had a little snooze in preparation for the summit then woke feeling too faint to stand. We three hardened mountain men (ha ha) were tired but otherwise fine, so continued on around the rim alone to the actual summit that is actually totally hidden by a big old weather station - nice.

It's a weird world up there, barren, moon-like and, today, surrounded on all side by views Finally, at the top of Fujidown into the lush green valleys below.

Debs found hidden strength and caught up with us just before the summit. Josh and Mihoko headed back down before the rest of us. Poor Rachel missed that departure party and had to wait for us without enough strength to take herself down. Ben ceremonially lobbed Danielle's knickers into the main crater (long story - ask him!). Tom collapsed into an exhausted 5min kip which took thrown rocks, shaking and finally some singing from Ben to end.

A crazy time. Rachel was in a bad way. We should have got her down sooner but also had to get to the summit - first time we have had a problem balancing altitude sickness and getting to a summit! Through various carrying and supporting methods, and Rachel's inner strength that kept her going, we were able to charge down the 'sand track' descent route at a decent pace. Once below about 3000m Rachel made an excellent recovery and was able to walk the rest of the way to the 5th Station unaided. A dramatic example of the power of altitude. Fuji's descent route is all I hoped the ascent would not be - sandy gravel from top to bottom. It is a true blessing for descent though, kind on tired knees and easy on a tired mind.

Thom had perked up as soon as we started descending. Josh and Mihoko got down early and got some sleep. Debs had been fine since catching us at the summit. So by the time we said our goodbyes at an unbelievably crowded 5th Station we were all once again healthy and happy (if a little tired!).

Unfortunately we still had a descent of the lower half of the mountain, and a hitch into Tokyo ahead of us. This section of the Fuji experience (12:00pm - 5:30pm Sunday) was perhaps the most weird. The trail on the lower half of Fuji is wide (in most places), easy underfoot and becomes a very gentle descent towards the base of the mountain. This was all just as well as by 2:00pm we were all fighting sleep constantly. Ben came to at one point still on his feet but in the forest at the side of the trail and with no recollection at all of getting there. Debs said she spent a bit of time dreaming (not day dreaming mind) as she walked. We could all be seen to weave like drunks across the path, and if we sat down for a break we all promptly fell asleep. It was like trying to stay awake during a long train journey, but we weren't sat slumped in a carriage, we were walking!

We finally made it back to the road where this whole adventure had started from and after a change in our hitching spot were given a lift back out to the Highway. Loud, regular, firecracker explosions (the bird deterrent employed by the farmers of the surrounding fields) grated on our tired nerves as we sat on the slip road and watched car after car race by.

Eventually one kind soul stopped but he stopped on the far side of the road having seen us as he left the Highway. He ran over and informed us that in his opinion hitching into Tokyo was crazy due to our timing, and it being a Sunday (cars full of families on day trips), and that consequently he was willing to give us a lift to a nearby station. We buckled. Light would fade soon and we were exhausted. So what if trains cost money!

Debs claimed to be rich and wouldn't let us pay for our tickets. We all slumped into our seats, happy we could just sit and didn't have to converse with anyone. By 10:00pm we were sat in Thom's living room. By 11:00pm we were all fast asleep."

Monday 23rd July
Day 162

I didn't know the world existed until noon.

Ben - "We all achieved our longest lie in today. Paul summed up our fatigue induced state as he said that, "He didn't know the world existed until he woke." (We normally wake up 3 or 4 times a night in the tent. We had very little planned, but did get to organize the masses of kit that litter the humble abode of Thom and Siobhan. A video rounded off the perfect sloth of the day."

Tuesday 24th July
Day 163

We're Going to Hikone…Take 3

Ben - "Three weeks had been easily enough time for Deb to change from guest to team member, so waving her off from the station was very strange. She had experienced first hand the life that we lead and enriched it for us. She'll be missed, but she has loads of kids back home in Oz that need to learn P.E.

Literally the rest of the day was spent travelling the cheapest, slowest, most uncomfortable trains to Hikone. We went to pick up our ferry tickets from Cat.

I'm quite looking forward to seeing another stamp in my passport, and the chance to see another life in Korea…I've also heard you can buy cheap climbing kit!

Roll on Korea!"

Wednesday 25th July
Day 164

Faster than a speeding bullet

Ben looks out across the seaTom - "We had to get up at the crack of dawn if we were going to make it to Shimonoseki (the port we would sail from) by slow train (which stopped at every one horse town). We said bye to a sleepy Cat, and ran to the station to catch the first train.

As the day wore on we realised that we wouldn't be able to make it to the port on time on the slow trains. We bought ourselves a ticket on the shinkansen (bullet train), which took an hour to cover a distance that would have taken 4-5 hours to cover on a slow train. We reached the port on time.

Pulling out of Shimonoseki was strange as we could see the bridge between Kyushu and Honshu, where Paul and I had been back in March. After a scorching onboard bath (Koreans like their water HOT!), we collapsed into our room which we shared with 5 other guys."

Thursday 26th July
Day 165

"So ferry across to Pusan…"

Tom - "The boat pulled into Pusan at 9am and for the first time on the trek I was in Paul and Ben's shoes, not being able to understand a word that people were saying.

We soon found a tourist information office, where we were given directions to a cheap hotel (£15 a night for a 3 person room). After a quick sleep we wandered around the streets of Pusan eating food in the restaurants and from the street stalls.

In the evening we went to see "Tomb Raider" at the cinema as both Paul and Ben are fans of the computer game. We all walked out less than impressed with the movie but at least happy that we'd paid a quarter of the price we'd have paid to see it in Japan."

Friday 27th July
Day 166

Full Day Chilling

Paul - "Today didn't start until 11:00am. At this point our hunger wouldn't allow us to stay in bed any longer. Lying in is so nice sometimes.

I guess it could be said that I didn't take full advantage of our Korean experience. In the morning Ben and Tom went off to a nearby beach, Ben desperate to find some rock to climb (he succeeded). Me, I spent the morning, and some of the afternoon, sat in front of a computer utilising the free Internet provided by the Korean Tourist Board, catching up with as many neglected friends as possible.

In the evening we went out for a proper Korean meal finished off by a couple of doughnut things that were as good as they had been last night! We had (and still have) no idea what we ordered that night. We just pointed at what other people were eating!

Each of us did our own thing then, getting some on-your-own time. In general this included some wondering round the downtown stalls, some time pondering another movie, some poetry writing (Ben), some TV watching back in the room. Just enjoying doing whatever."

Saturday 28th July
Day 167


Paul - "Our ferry sailed at 7:00pm. The day was spent trying to sort out our return flights with Korean Air (we're almost there), perusing some outdoor shops, writing more emails, and buying enough food for the next day or so.

We boarded the ferry with 1900 won left (just over £1), so Ben wandered into the restaurant to see if we could purchase some leftovers. The manager (who spoke good English) took us to be penniless and gave us each a full meal of curry and rice, then wouldn't even accept our 1900 won! Sometimes it really does pay to be blatant and ask.

We fell asleep well fed and happy, having a much better than expected holiday in Pusan."

Sunday 29th July
Day 168


Ben - "Cheap trains torment me. This journey sucks! This was the official team anthem, sung sporadically over the 24 hour epic from Shimonseki to Tokyo.

The only assistance we had was two horrendously bad purchases of 60 centimeter pink sausage. Quite literally as pink as "the Panther," and far less tasty, I'll wager.

We had left the port at 9am and arrived the next day in Tokyo at 4:30am where we had to wait 3 hours for a train to Thom's house in Machida.

However we were all quite happy, our bid to stay in Japan had worked, and we are now the proud possessors of another 3 month visa. Until the next time…"

Monday 30th July
Day 169

Penny and ThomTokyo & Penultimate Penny

Ben - "As if Thom's apartment wasn't cramped enough, here comes another one. Penny though is very small, and there's always room for a small one.

Penny's 3 year stay in Japan was almost at an end, so we planned a humble party at an English pub followed by a few drinks to the James Bond soundtrack and ping pong. It was great for me to finally meet the owner of the voice on the phone.

Penny's support in Japan has ranged from writing leaflets in Japanese for us to hand out, to checking our email and reading it to us over the phone. She has offered to continue her support from Scotland where she's about to pursue her Masters Degree. GOOD LUCK PENNY!"

Tuesday 31st July
Day 170

Talking to the JETs

Tom - "It had been good to see Penny, despite the fact she thrashed me at table tennis, and saying bye to her was hard. She's been our translator, set up an account for the charity, helped Aidann with the webpage, fed us and provided a place for us to stay.

After packing what we'd need for the next week we left Thom's and headed for Shinjuku (the skyscraper district of Tokyo) to promote Adopt-A-Minefield at the JET conference.

By the way, 'JET's' are assistant English teachers who work all over Japan in Junior and Senior High Schools. I was a JET in Hokkaido between 1998-1999.

We strolled into the Keio Plaza in our best cloths (hiking boots, North Cape polo shirts and trousers) and set up our stall. During the day we gave out hundreds of leaflets explaining the trek and the charity. Lots of people were interested and put their names down on the mailing list and a few people even made generous pledges.

Our accommodation problem was solved when we bumped into a girl called Angie who we had met whilst we were in Nagano. She said that the three of us could sleep on the floor of her hotel room and gave us her key!

After a refreshing swim in the hotel pool we headed down to an Irish pub, met up with Angie and a party of new JETs. At the end of the night Nina (Angie's room-mate) sung us a couple of songs that she'd written. She's got a beautiful voice and I can think of few better ways of falling asleep."

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