5 Life Lessons from Climbing Mount Fuji

Seven years ago I had the opportunity to work and live in Tokyo. Towards the end of my gig, I went on a trip to visit a few places in Japan that had been on my bucket list. Mt. Fuji happened to be one of them. Little did I know that climbing Mt. Fuji would become one of the most pivotal moments in my life. It was there on top of 12,389 ft of stratovolcano that I learned 5 important life lessons which I would like to share with all of you.

1. Dream big: a lesson on pursuing your passion

When I told my co-workers that I was going to climb Mt. Fuji by myself they thought it was a crazy idea. I was a scrawny young nerd who had ZERO experience hiking/trekking/climbing a large mass of elevated land. Yet that did not faze me. I heard about the beautiful sunrise they call Buddha’s Halo which you can see from the top of Fuji and I had set my mind to see it for myself. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me during that time yet I knew it wouldn’t be an issue. My passion for travel and adventure won over any fears or doubts that other people and even myself had about the trip. In the end, I stood on top gazing at one the most beautiful sunrise I have seen in my entire life. It took my breath away!

This brings us to life lesson #1 – don’t be afraid to dream big! I am amazed at how most people just stop at “it will do”. Every time you feel like you want to settle for mediocre or the status quo give yourself a big kick in the gut! Go for what you really want. Know that you deserve the best! Big dreams mixed with passion = magic.

Each year, around 200,000 climb Japan’s highest peak in hopes of catching the goraiko (Buddha’s halo) as the sun first appears on the horizon. The climbing tradition dates to A.D. 663, when, according to legend, an unknown monk first reached the summit.

2. Pack light: a lesson on non-attachment

Believe it or not, the hardest thing I had to do was to pack for the trip. I planned a stop over at a town called Hakone (to try their hot springs) on the way to Mt. Fuji which meant I had to prepare for a 4 day trip. The trick was to find a way to make my backpack light enough so that I can climb without breaking my back. At the same time, I had to account for the extremely cold weather at the summit which required thick clothing. During that period I was obsessed about having clean clothes for every day and about being able to bring gear or other things that I might need (at one point I even wanted to bring a hair dryer and tons of make up). After much internal debate I got over it. So what if I wear the same shirt twice? I’m not going to die from some flesh eating bacteria. And do I really need to wear make up or have good hair while climbing? NO.

Life Lesson #2 – It’s a hard and heavy life when you get attached to material possessions. One can also get attached to outcome, ideas, thoughts, people and even concepts. This becomes hard because we place a lot of our own meaning and expectations into these things and it eventually has a way of distorting our perception. Non-attachment is a mindset. It is different from detachment because it does not make you emotionally paralyzed but instead encourages us to avoid over thinking, obsessing or worrying.  It is a call to be present in the moment- to let go and let be.

I only had a day pack! I can’t believe I was able to survive without a lot of gear. The walking stick was a smart buy though.

3. Talk to strangers: a lesson on connecting with others

Can I be honest? Climbing Fuji isn’t really hard to do. What was tough was that I was doing it by myself. I had no one to talk to or sing silly hiking songs with. One can only climb a mountain in silence for so long. I couldn’t speak Nihongo so I had a hard time randomly chatting people up. Plus, my nerdy self back then was a lot more shy and reserved. That was until I heard a couple speak Tagalog (Filipino native language) outside the log-cabin rest stop close to the summit. I was ecstatic and I approached them to introduce myself. The rest was history. I had great company the rest of the way up to the peak and the long way down to base camp.

Life Lesson # 3- Be open to everyone you meet. Keep your smile warmed up. And get the word “random” out of your head. We never know what sort of connection or relationship we might have to the person next to us is at any given moment. We can never be sure what the reason is for crossing paths, but we can be sure there is a reason.  And every reason is an opportunity to make the most of these connections. Whether it be a fleeting or lasting one we must seize this opportunity. Life really is too short to have regrets or to fear sharing yourself with others.

What normally happens at Mt. Fuji is that you climb up during the day then stop to sleep a couple of hours at night and wake up around 3am to climb the rest of the way in time to see the sunrise. This couple saved me from passing out from altitude sickness- they gave me a Hershey Bar.

4. You’re never too old or too scared or too whatever: a lesson on overcoming personal barriers

Whenever I tell the story about how I climbed Mt. Fuji by myself people always think it’s something that they can never do. They’re like: “Oh Grace, you are so brave to do it. I’m too scared to try things like that” or “You must have trained for it- I’m too old to do that.” As I mentioned back at point 1, my passion won over the silly voices in my head telling me that I couldn’t do it. If I listened to them and created excuses not to go to Mt. Fuji I would have never had this amazing experience.

Life Lesson # 4Most often we make our own personal barriers. The best way to overcome this is by doing what you fear the most. What’s the worse that could happen? So you fall flat on your face, get a little hurt or even rejected. But you know what, you are still alive and you can move forward!  Stop talking yourself out of wonderful life experiences. What are you waiting for? Take that salsa class you have been thinking of doing or how about pulling the trigger on that delightful malta holidays you have been dreaming about?

Taken at Station 5 where most hikers/climbers-of all ages- kick off their ascent.

5. Just do it: a lesson on taking action

Once I decided to go on this adventure, I had to follow through and make it happen. There was no turning back. You have to commit to your dreams. After Fuji, I was GSD Certified (get sh@t done)! You should try being in the GSD program. You’ll find that you will accomplish a lot of awesome things when you stop planning and start living.

Life Lesson # 5When you resolve and commit to do something, everything that you want to happen just happens. It’s a fact.

Just do it!!!




This is my entry to the 14th edition of Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival themed “The Journey”.  This time , news writer and photographer Kara Santos of travelingup.wordpress.com is the host. You can read the previous blog carnival here.

25 Comments 5 Life Lessons from Climbing Mount Fuji

  1. Lois

    Absolutely well written Grace! This really moved me. You write so beautifully! And I love this part: "Big dreams mixed with passion = magic." Keep the magic flowing!

  2. Mica

    Some great lessons. I also just hiked a volcano in Bali and I had been so out of shape when I got up there I wanted to cry, it was so beautiful. Your pictures are awesome. Lesson #2 is especially true, people become so attached to possessions and they spend a lifetime accumulating them. What for? With all the things my friends own I could travel the world for years. I am not saying it is wrong to own many things, just that is not the most important thing to be happy.
    Mica recently posted..Pollo en Cazuela (Chicken stew) My comfort food abroad

  3. Jim

    I like that lesson on being open to everyone. As I often travel with my wife it is all too easy to be chatting together and miss the opportunity to make contact with those on their own. So we now make a point of meeting anyone we come across.

  4. Leif

    This is wonderful. Very well written and though out. I love the lessons cause they are so true. I had the opportunity to climb fuji san two years ago. Unfortunately the weather was too harsh and our guide forced us to turn back. But I was ready, I just wanted to brave the elements and do it!! Are you in Japan now?

  5. Traveling Ted

    Great post. I could have used reading this post before going to Costa Rica. Despite being an experienced traveler and backpacker, my pack was way too heavy. Love how you correlate your lessons on this hike to great more important life lessons.

  6. Micamyx|Senyorita

    Well-written post! I am not really a mountaineer, but i would love to climb one soon. I think Mt. Pulag will do for me hehe doing such stuff can be correlated with real-life situations especially on how you handle the pressure and all that hard stuff. Shared 😀

  7. travelingup

    This was really an inspiring post! It was a great read, Grace. Thanks for contributing this post to the blog carnival. 🙂

  8. Pingback: POTM’s Best of Travel 2011 #besttravel2011 | Pinay on the Move

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