Climbing Mt. Fuji on New Year’s Eve

Catching up with Jeff Jensen before his upcoming seventh New Year’s Day attempt to scale Mt. Fuji.

For six consecutive years on the first day of January, while most people are shaking off the New Year’s Eve celebrations, Jeff Jensen, a 36-year-old Canadian from Alberta and living in Japan, has carried his 20-kilogram pack on a solo attempt to reach the summit of Mt. Fuji.

With more than 18 years of winter alpine climbing experience under his belt, Jeff was excited about his first New Year’s ascent of Fuji-san. His first four attempts were made from the Shizuoka side via the Fujinomiya Route that begins at 2,400 meters. Initially this steep route was a welcome challenge, although he experienced wind so fierce, he could only exhale inside his jacket and was in constant danger of being hit by small lava rocks—and literally being blown off the mountain.

After two summits in four attempts (he was forced to turn back on his first try), he decided to challenge the longer Yoshidaguchi Route in 2003 and 2004 and reached the summit each year.

A welcome sight to his quest has been the Satogoya Hut located between the 5th and 6th stages. It seems to be the only hut open on Fuji at this time and is generally filled with friends of the owner and invited guests celebrating in happi (traditional Japanese coats) toasting hot sake and wishing the few climbers good luck.

Fortunately, Jeff has been able to leave his extra gear, get warm and get any advice from the owner before leaving around midnight for the final push to the top. I recently asked Jeff a few questions about his experiences:RX: What do you think about when climbing solo?

JJ: I try to stay focused on putting one foot in front of the other and the conditions around me. Generally speaking, I don’t think of myself as a “spiritual guy” but I realize now the experience leaves me with an overwhelming sense of being alive during and after the climb.

RX: What difficulties are there climbing Mt. Fuji in winter?

JJ: It is a big-ass mountain and a long-ass climb! It is nearly twice the size of any mountain in my hometown of Banff. The approach is long and tiring, often in fresh snow, and I must pack food for three to four days in a tent, camp stove to melt snow for drinking water and warm clothing.

RX: How do you decide when it’s time to turn around?

JJ: There is a voice inside that reminds me: “I want to live to climb another day.” Not to mention seeing my family waiting for me at home.

RX: How does your family feel about your passion for climbing?

JJ: Well, my wife sends me off with smiles, although she makes sure I take out a special insurance policy for the climb. I also have a tradition of choosing a small lava stone for each of my family members from the summit as a souvenir.

RX: What has been your most memorable experience climbing Fuji?

JJ: That would have to be when I reached the summit in 2001. (The true date of the new millennium) I keep a thermometer in my backpack and it was reading –25 C degrees. The only climbers I met were on their way down and, when I finally reached the summit, I was the only person on the rim of the crater when the sun rose. You can’t buy those types of experiences.