Each year, I think long and hard about how I will celebrate my brother’s birthday on his behalf. I usually try to do something that challenges me physically and mentally and helps deepen my appreciation for the world surrounding me. This year, I chose to climb Mt. Fuji overnight to watch the sunrise over Japan from the summit.
Climbing Mt. Fuji at night is a kind of pilgrimage that Japanese have taken for over a thousand years. The first known person to make it to the top was a Shinto priest, completing the 12,388 ft ascent in 663. Through the years, a mountain cult developed where worshipers climbed the mountain braving weather year-round, sometimes risking their lives to pay respect to the volcano.
Even in the summertime, the summit of Mt. Fuji plummets well below freezing after nightfall. Icicles glisten from rocky crevices and leftover snow from the previous winter lingers in the crater’s hollows.
Traveling with only a small backpack and prepared for the summer monsoons of Southeast Asia, I had little in the way of cold weather climbing gear. With the sweatshirt, jacket, hat and gloves I borrowed, I struggled to the top, knowing I would make it, but resenting the stinging wind that whipped my face.
After many hours of climbing and fighting exhaustion, I made it to the top with a couple of hours to wait before sunrise. I huddled close to new friends, and patiently waited for the moment that I hoped would astound me with beauty.
At around 5am on August 30, I appreciated the glory of life. The sun slowly peeked through the clouds on a day that all of the guides said was unusually clear. I spent a few hours at the summit, relishing in the moment and remembering my brother’s spirit. I know that this was a moment he would have been very proud of, and I am honored to live fully and appreciate life for both of us.