How to hike Mount Fuji in Japan with kids. In 2014 the Steele family trekked up Mount Fuji with their two kids Matthew (9) and Emily (7). Despite being the highest mountain in Japan (Mount Fuji is 3776 metres tall), the children still successfully completed the mountain climb on their own. suitcases&strollers chatted to mum Vanessa about how they achieved this extraordinary feat and and how they planned this interesting and unique family holiday.
What made you decide you wanted to walk up Mount Fuji with the kids?
Jamie [my husband] and I have long enjoyed adventure travel. For our honeymoon we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, followed by a week of rustic camping on a beach on the beautiful island of Zanzibar. The hiking has just evolved into a family “thing”.
When we lived in Melbourne, Australia, we used to head to the Dandenongs for day walks or when we visited the grandparents in Fish Creek near Wilson’s Promontory we usually do a longer walk on the Prom. So when deciding to head over to Japan, it was almost a given we would climb.
However, we did actually ask the children whether it was something they thought they would enjoy to ensure we weren’t just pushing our dreams on them.
What was the kids' initial reaction to the idea of climbing Mount Fuji?
They were very excited. The carrot was that we promised them a day at Tokyo Disneyland if we made it, but they were under no illusions that we [would not be able to complete the hike] without training.
Why did you decide to hike Mount Fuji with kids over two days instead of one?
You can ascend in a day but it requires a very early start and a very long day. Not suitable for children. We opted for a 2 day trek and, as a family, we also agreed we would arrange to join a supervised group with an experienced guide. If it had just been Jamie and me, we would have attempted the trek on our own. But with the children onboard there is no question you put their safety first.
The benefit of having an experienced guide was fundamental because of the unpredictability of the weather on any mountain. We used Fuji Mountain Guides who were amazing. Our guide, Miles, was a significant part of Matthew’s success. Matthew adopted Miles early on in the climb and the two of them spent the majority of the day just walking and talking. For Matthew, the distraction was perfect.
How did you train yourself and the kids for the walk up Mount Fuji?
We did a fair amount of walking on the Prom, Lysterfield Park, we even drove to Kosciusko for a long weekend. The weeks leading up to the holiday we actually had the kids doing rotations of the 1,000 steps in the Dandenongs on the outskirts of Melbourne. We talked a lot about mental strength with the children rather than just physical fitness.
Is there a minimum age restriction for kids who want to climb Mount Fuji?
No, although they did have a few questions about the children’s levels of stamina and endurance when we booked.
How did you plan for altitude sickness in the kids?
From experience we knew the one night we were spending on the mountain would have aid in our adjustment to the altitude. We made sure the kids were well hydrated and tried to slow them down on the ascent.
Was there family friendly accommodation suitable for kids on Mount Fuji?
The sleepover was interesting. It was in a large L shaped room with a double bunk of one long continuous bed both top and bottom. We were fortunate enough to get the pick of the bed given we were first up, so Emily got the wall with me between her and Matthew and Jamie was our shield against any strangers.
What sort of hiking equipment for kids did you use?
Proper walking boots and cold weather gear. We had all of this stuff already, although it seemed a bit ridiculous packing thermal underwear in our luggage for a holiday to Japan at the height of their summer!
We all carried our own gear, although Jamie and I did carry the majority of the water. The kids had their own layers of clothing and some trekking food. We had trained with the backpacks (only 25 litre packs for the kids) so on the day they were comfortable carrying their own gear.
A learning experience for us was that it is important to ensure you have a good quality trekking backpack. Matthew’s was the real deal from Kathmandu and was a really snug fit against his body which improved his balance and helped with the weight bearing. Whereas, Emily’s wasn’t as snug and definitely less supportive.
How did you motivate the kids to keep climbing when it became hard?
Each child certainly had different motivational triggers. Emily is motivated by the experience and pleasing people. If you set her a goal, say 100 steps and then look back at what you have achieved, her head is down and she’s away before you finish your challenge. For Matthew you could say the same thing, but then hold his hand and walk with him providing distraction whilst walking. The ultimate motivation for both was the promise of Disneyland on completion.
What was the most memorable thing about walking Mount Fuji with kids?
I would like to hope that that the achievement is a memory the children will take through life with them. The sunrise over the edge of the world at 4am in the morning is something I will never forget and I hope they will remember too.
What did the kids like the most about climbing Mount Fuji?
I suspect if you asked them, they definitely enjoyed all the attention from fellow hikers and guides alike, especially Emily. They also both loved watching the sun rise over distant Tokyo and walking the turtle at the base. I walked away from the group for no more than 5 minutes to take a phone call and came back to Emily having convinced a shop keeper, who didn’t speak English, to take his turtle out of the tank and place a dog lead on him so she could take him for a walk!
What did you least enjoy about hiking Mount Fuji with kids?
The 80 to 100 kilometre per hour winds overnight when the roof was a tin sheet held down by large boulders. As a mother this was a little nerve wracking. And the outdoor loos in sub-zero temperatures were interesting, to say the least!
What were the things the kids liked least about walking up Mount Fuji?
Matthew wasn’t overly enthused with the sleeping arrangements and struggled to sleep. Although for Emily, that was one of the highlights!
What was the most surprising thing about taking your kids on the trail up Mount Fuji?
The way the children turned into Duracell bunnies and just keep going. We had every expectation that we would have to encourage them on the mountain and distract them but their physical ability was matched by their enthusiasm and nothing (other than their slow aging parents) held them back.
What do you think the kids took away from the experience of hiking Mount Fuji that they wouldn't have gotten elsewhere?
They shared a bed with around 80 strangers from different parts of the world. That is not something you would do every day. We still laugh that Dad had to protect us from the “others” on the outer edge and was spooned by a random male stranger snoring in his ear.
What are your top 3 recommendations for other families considering planning family holidays hiking with kids?
1. Don’t under estimate what the children are capable of.
2. Find their unique motivator and use that as incentive to help them achieve their goals.
3. Make sure you have the right equipment for the right adventure. If you are not comfortable it doesn’t bode well for happy memories.