Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fuji Return

Heisman'ed again.. That's all I can say.

But even with a turnback, it wasn't something this team wasn't aware of. After all, each person on this team had been turned back at least once already, so we all went into it fully aware of what winter Fuji could (and did) throw at us.

After doing battle with some park ranger who did a fantastic job of convincing us that we weren't allowed to go forward (in his mind, essentially saving us from ourselves)- only to learn in hindsight that he really couldn't tell us, just warn us.. we found another route and continued on. Making a nice spot and bedding down, we all fell asleep like kings. But to show just how dramatically this old joker threw us off, I superimposed our route, turnaround points and how far we had to go out of our way once we encountered our setback:

At 7am we kicked it and made solid progress until about 9am, when a storm brewed basically out of nowhere. We were all excited because up until that point we truly all thought that we were going to summit this time. Then clouds moved in, and then a storm started dumping snow along with 75mph winds. We found a shelter at one point to try and hunker down out of the wind, and that worked for a few minutes until we all started getting cold- temps dipped to -20.

It was at this point that one of our team started feeling ill and essentially passed on the summit push. This is always the right thing to do, but unfortunately too many people can fall victim to "Summit Fever" and ignore all of the warning signs. With wind whipping around corners, snow whiting out even the small area we were holed up in, we made a call. I had already been up this part of Fuji in the summer months and knew the trail, having way-pointed it up and down in my GPS. But I also knew where I had placed the wands and knew the trail that I had led the team up, so I offered to take our one teammate down while the remaining 3 attempted to push higher.

The two of us sticking close together as we navigated the wands off of the snow field, we looked back and for only a brief second saw the rest of the team heading higher and quickly disappearing into the blizzard of white. On our way down, I noticed that the winds were strong enough that the marker wands placed on the way up were knocked over, so if that GPS failed...oohh nellie.

Fortunately, it didn't. The remaining 3 teammates moved farther up the mountain and made another thousand feet when this freight train of wind hit so hard that the whole team was literally flattened. At 7,000', this wind was strong enough to make me worry about the others, but for them the wind gusts were severe enough that they understood they had reached their turnaround point. Many of the wands placed to mark the route had been knocked over, so in a whiteout like we had it was a bit of a challenge given none of our original tracks were there- washed over with new snow and wind. So use of the GPS was critical, and through this tool they navigated themselves back down to where we were located and the whole team was together again.

It took about three hours to get back to the car, where we grounded our gear, loaded up and headed straight to McDonalds for a hearty meal. On the way home, Dana was A-driving and stayed awake with me while everyone in the back slept like champs. We finally made it back to Tokyo last night around 10pm and slept for close to 12 hours.

It was only after returning to the warm and safe confines of our downtown hotel room that we began the "what if" conversations. But like last year, this weather was so extreme, and so strong that there really wasn't much debate on the right course of action- and we had taken it. Even if that damned park ranger hadn't stopped us and made us go around, we would even now still be stuck on the Fuji Subaru Line trying to figure out how to get our car out- the road is still snowed in and closed 2 days later. I guess everything happens for a reason.

So, there's always next year.. or even before that if timing works out.

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