The last 10
vertical feet consisted of six huge stone steps. Gritting my teeth, using my
pole with all my feeble strength, I forced myself up one at a time until, ill
from exertion, I entered the stony gates at the crest of Fujiyama. No heaven
awaited there. Unimpeded wind howled across an immense space spotted with
clusters of ant-sized people. There was no focal point, no welcoming ski lodge
with fireplace and bar, nothing but brutal, barren landscape. It wasn't even a
final statement of achievement, for in the distance were other loftier
elevations, rising indifferent to my need for completion. We were at the
figurative top, but the purist could find higher elevations if he wished. To
the left was a crowded path running between two rows of child-sized stone huts.
Beyond this miniature village was the nearest peak, a craggy lip of the
volcanic crater. Across the abyss was a cluster of white radar domes. That was
it. There were no frills on this moonscape.
We entered the
toy village and were jostled in its narrow street. The smell of unappealing
food, the yelling of hawkers, the sound of the wind were all the village
offered. No indoor comfort was available on the entire mountain. Another victim
of the climb was stretched out on his back with blue face and eyes closed. In
two minutes we were through the village.
Minoru pointed to
the rise beyond. It was gentle with no switchbacks. It did not represent rest,
but nothing in sight did. I had the mania, it was within reach, let's climb it.
I nodded in agreement. Yoshiko whimpered feebly, her first sound of complaint
during the whole journey.
The wind attacked
again. I cursed my attire and leaned into the blasts. Huge cables ran across
the ground. Were they holding the mountain together? Were they grounding wires
for lightning rods? Yoshiko picked up a long finger of icicle and handed it to
me for inspection, as if I needed proof. We reached the small summit in a few
minutes and found nothing of note. I turned to go back. Minoru pointed to the
camera dangling from my neck. How stupid! I unfurled the camera while he undid
his. We traded cameras and photographed each other, exchanging a dozen shots,
on the brink of the crater. I took one look of horror into the chasm but with
my shaky knees, in hurricane winds, felt no further need to study the dark
shadow at the bottom.
We went back to
the village. It was not inviting but had the deceptive look of offering
shelter, in contrast with the barrenness elsewhere. We looked for a place to
stop but there was none. Every inch was filled, even the space where the victim
had lain. I wondered if Minoru and Yoshiko might be attracted by the food for
sale, but they showed no interest. A minute later we were back out in the
It was insane to
start down without resting. It was just as insane to stay there and freeze. I
looked restlessly at Minoru and he at me. He lifted his shoulders and pointed
down. Gratefully I agreed.