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Watch the episodes during the week of December 9 and the special half-hour show on December 14 & 15.
Diana Magnay will join team from Google as they chart a route to Fuji's summit
The expedition marks the end of Magnay's assignment in Asia
July 1 was the start of the climbing season on Japan's highest and most iconic mountain
At the start of a three-month reporting stint in Tokyo, I’d thought vaguely to myself how I wouldn’t mind climbing Mount Fuji when my assignment was done – in the way that I’ve always vaguely wondered about running a marathon, but never got round to it.
Fuji, after all, is a mountain close to the hearts of all Japanese, an icon of this beautiful country … and front cover of the Lonely Planet, which I had furnished myself with prior to departing Berlin, my regular reporting base.
Then when my producer, Yoko, told me that she’d found coming down Fuji worse than running a marathon, I thought to myself, “It’ll never happen.”
One day on an early morning flight to Nagasaki, Yoko and I flew over Fuji – the most breathtaking view of the mountain I’ve had, and the photo that’s got the most likes I’ve ever had on Facebook. Then a month ago I was sent to Seoul and told I wouldn’t be returning to Japan – my dream of climbing Fuji was relegated to wistful “it was never meant to be” status.
But no. This Saturday I have to be back home in the UK. It was always a hard “out date” from Asia. And now the chance has arisen. We’ll be accompanying a team from Google as they chart a route to the summit of the 3,776-meter (12,388-feet). My colleague, Anna Coren, was meant to do this last week but the weather was too bad so the trip was postponed.
The Google Street View Trekker team plans to map out a path up to the peak for the first time. Mount Fuji was recently granted UNESCO World Heritage status – though the U.N. panel classified it as a “cultural” rather than “natural” heritage site because it had “inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries.”
The plan was to leave the mountain at 6 p.m. local time on Friday and depart on my flight to Europe the following morning. I banked on my frantic last-minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions – courtesy of my Seoul producer KJ – to help me deal with my fitness so I could better cope with issues such as altitude sickness. But if 300,000 other people manage to climb Fuji each year, then so could we.
Rather than a dose of nature, I readied myself for human traffic jams up towards the peak. It’s a heat-wave in Tokyo, the perfect time to escape. Fuji-San, we’re ready for you!
The weather was perfect when the party set off. We were treated to some fantastic views as we traversed to 3,000 meters. At this point we had around 700 to go by the afternoon, so everyone prepared to climb into the evening.
The only slightly troubling thing was that our companions from Google – our reason for being here – seemed to be having a few “technical problems.” The last thing we heard was that they’d had to “reboot” the camera – which is technically 15 cameras set on top of a green contraption on the back of some poor fellow who has to carry all 18kg up the mountain. Poor Google – they had to turn back last week because of bad weather. But this would not stop us from finishing the climb.
Remarkably our cell phones still worked and I was not feeling the effects of the altitude. We were overtaken by a few Fuji marathon runners who can take the mountain in around 3 hours flat; that’s at the end of July.
It was also nice to have CNN’s long-time friend Hiro Sasso with us. He helped out with our coverage during the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck eastern Japan in 2011. Sasso is a member of the Japan alpine club and the person to speak to about all things Fuji. He’s climbed it ten times – he even showed me the route he skied down in May. Not recommended though. If you fall on that ice, he says you’ll need an ice-axe to stop, otherwise you’ll slide to your death. So only for extreme skiers – his words.
I also discovered that Pot Noodles are a Japanese invention. Can this be true? At any rate if I could remember how they tasted the last (and possibly only) time I ate them, I’d say they’d never tasted so good. But as it is, up here at altitude, that salty and shrimpy mixture was nothing short of perfection. Plus in Japan you’re allowed to slurp them, making the experience all the more fun.
As we neared the summit, everyone seemed 100% fit. However, CNN producer Junko started to feel nervous about what was still ahead. She was part of last week’s aborted venture and said her muscle ache only went away yesterday.
FOLLOW DIANA’S CLIMB IN PICTURES ABOVE.
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