Monday, February 17, 2014

36By24 #1: A Kindling Path in the Shadow of Fujisan

36By24 is a series featuring photos that, over time, have developed stories of their own. You can find more under the "36By24" tag in the menu bar above.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 28mm f/22, 10"
The hike up Mount Fuji, although popular and completely doable, is not for the faint of heart. This sleeping stratovolcano stands at 12,389 feet, and from the beginning of the average hiker's journey (the 5th Station) Fujisan's summit towers nearly a mile above.

Most hikers start in the middle of the night and race the sunrise to the top. With nothing but the moonlight and a torch to guide you, the shadow of Fujisan swallows all that dare to challenge it. And, after hiking nearly vertical for hours, you can see how it would be easy to let the mountain win. Just to sit down, take a nap, and wait for the rising sun.

Fortunately the only choice we had was to look up. Our eyes adjusted to the darkness very quickly...mostly because we had no flashlights with us. During our breaks, we would watch the distant hikers as they made their ascent. They were more prepared than us. Nearly everyone had headlamps, and they would bob up and down as they made their way up the switchbacks. We could hear the faint conversations of the hikers resting at the stations above us. Our path up the spine of the mountain twinkled under the dim moonlight.

Every time we stopped to take a break, my friend and I would weigh out the benefits of turning around. She was hiking in a pair of Chucks; I was hauling a tripod and gear. We were not prepared. Each time would count the stations above us, glimmering like lighthouses in the sea of black. The line of hikers leading up to the next station steadily moved into the darkness, desperate to beat the sunrise. It was enough motivation to get us to the next one. And then the next one...and the next...and eventually, there was only the summit left to conquer.

That night was long, and even now I can feel the dread of every step up that dark, foreboding beast of a mountain. In our boldness, we were lucky. Our path was illuminated before us. We just needed to summon the strength to walk it.

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