I’m not one of those early risers you often meet at backpacker’s hostels. You know the kind. Keeners. Alarm set for daybreak. Chipper because they turned in early the night before. Their efficient yet loud movements through the dorm elicit grumps and groans from those less-enthusiastic. The keeners pour over detailed itineraries while drinking coffee from high-tech mugs. They stride out the door while I stumble zombie-like into the shared kitchen, fumble with the kettle, and pick sleep out of my eyes. I’m not denying my own keener status, it just takes me a while to get going in the mornings.¬†That’s why, on my first morning at the hostel in Kawaguchiko, I was surprised to be the first one up in the dorm.

Conveniently located near the base of Mount Fuji, Kawaguchiko is a good base-camp to tackle Mr. Fuji himself, or the many day trips in the Fuji Five Lakes area. I contemplated the empty lounge as I ate my toast. In some ways it made sense. It was almost October. The tourist season is over. Mt. Fuji is technically closed. We’re the stragglers; the ones who put it off.. slept in.. missed the bus.. missed the season..

For my first day, I had a long but easy hike planned up Mount Mitsu-Toge. Figured I’d work up to Fuji, and hopefully find some hiking buddies in the meantime. But, about to head out, I met some guys from New York who were going for it.¬†

You’re welcome to come, one said. The first bus up leaves in 20 minutes.
Sure. Let me grab another water bottle.

When I came back, the first guy looked at my daypack and runners doubtfully. I’ll be fine, I told him. He finished lacing his hikers and swung his own expedition-sized pack onto his back. Only then did we get around to introductions.

Piotr and Adam arrived late the night before, straight off their flight from New York. They were jetlagged, running on adrenaline. We stopped at the seven-eleven so they could grab a konbini breakfast of champions to eat on the hour-long ride to the 5th station. I grabbed some onigiri for the road. We caught the bus from Kawaguchiko station. The summit was shrouded in cloud, but the ride up was clear and bright. The trees started showing their fall colours as we climbed in elevation.

We arrived at the 5th station just in time for the rain.