On Sunday August 3, 2014, IWOSC (Independent Writers of Southern California)held a book reading called "IWOSC READS ITS OWN" at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. Dan read the following excerpt from his memoir, All the Difference, about his ascent of Mt. Fuji as a teenager with his brother Chip and their amazing descent.
In the early summer of 1956, Chip and I joined the Yokosuka Naval Base teenage club to climb the highest mountain in Japan, Mount Fuji. On any clear day we could see Fujiyama ascending into the sky with snow-capped cone from my home in Kamakura and my high school at Yokohama. We wore baseball caps, warm clothing, and basketball shoes with sweat sox and brought a flashlight and canteen. The hike would last all night in freezing weather until we reached the summit at 12,388 feet.
Our youth director warned us of altitude sickness, which caused headaches, nausea, and dizziness for some climbers. We used a six feet long, hexagonal Fuji stick for assistance during the climb. Along the climb for a price in yen at each station, you could have a station stamp branded onto your stick as a sign of your achievement. Each of the ten stations along the way had resting huts that allowed climbers to pay for any time to sleep, rest, or eat meals. Five or more of these huts existed at the fifth station. A few of them served complimentary hot green tea from large kettles.
Some people took a bus up to the fifth station, but Chip and I wanted to climb from the bottom to have our Fuji stick prove we had completed the hike from the base. We slept briefly in blankets near a hibachi heated with burning coals at one of the last stations, but awoke before three in the morning on a mission to reach the top first. With sunrise only an hour and a half away, we gathered our gear and moved on rapidly.
Japanese climbers said gambatte to each other meaning, “Hang in there,” to encourage their group during the climb. The trail steepened after the eighth station, making the hike far more difficult as altitude increased. Before sunrise we reached the red Shinto Torii marking the apex of Fujisan. We gathered with other climbers to look into the huge crater with a depth of six hundred feet and circumference of 2.2 miles. Rugged rocks and debris covered the bottom of the depression created by years of erosion from wind, rain, snow, and time, and dotted the dips and crags around the slope. Coldness pierced our faces, and froze us, as the Japanese countryside spread out to the Pacific Ocean. The wind howled and blew torrents at us.
Goraiko, sunrise, slowly began. The sky brightened about a half hour before the sun emerged from a gray cloud bank surrounding Fuji. Gradually an intense, yellowish-orange radiance spread around the rising sun. The sky displayed a yellowish-orange hue slightly above. Further up the orange melted into a pinkish-orange. A brilliant scarlet pushed upwards to a scarlet purple beyond. Immediately overhead a deep dark blue tone gave way to a lighter shade. The puffy clouds resembled ducks, dragons, and sheep with their under bellies spray-painted raspberry, and their bodies scarlet-grey. Their wispy legs trailed down disappearing into the dense blue.
The sun majestically emerged, sending a streak of light throughout the panorama like splashing clear water on a painting. No wonder my grandmother Ruthie found sunrises the most magnificent of nature’s gifts. I often took my wife and children to view the splendor of dawn’s early light because of her influence.
Chip and I walked the perimeter to find the best spot for our descent. Beginning at the seventh station running on the flexible lava, known as scree, reminded me of playing on a trampoline. A few other football players joined us as we scrambled, tumbled, and ran down the mountain in record time. We shouted for joy as we bounced up and down on the give and take of the surface, astounded by its elasticity. I tucked my head into my chest, rolled for twenty feet, and tumbled repeatedly until my body rested on the strange surface. Each piece of lava could hurt if you fell awkwardly on it and made me imagine I was on the moon.
We had traversed the volcanic sand slope in two hours!The climb up Fuji had taken us ten, which explains why exhaustion struck us so often during the punishing ascent. My eyes gazed back up the immense volcano. I hadn’t conquered that steep magnificent volcano, but had just become acquainted with Fujisan.