August 31, 2014

Hanano Miyako Koen- sunflowers, Mt. Fuji and a "swan lake"

We spent the day, with friends, at Hanano Miyako Koen, for the sunflower festival. And, we were finally able to get great pictures of Mt. Fuji as well! Maybe my curse with getting pictures of this mountain is finally over.

 Sometimes the kids are a bigger spectacle than the scenery! 

The whole gang.

Hooray! The photo taking is over! The kids were hot and getting weary with all of our picture taking. Off to explore the rest of the grounds...

You gotta love a dog in a stroller, wearing a jacket! 

Well, maybe a few more pics. This view was just too hard to resist! 

Love this one. 

And not a moment too soon. Not even 10 minutes later, this was our view. You have to work quickly with this mountain! It got even more cloudy as the day progressed, we made it just in time!

The grounds of the park had a few greenhouses with some stunning orchids and other varieties of flowers. 

You could rent one of these darling flower carts to peddle around. The girls were desperate for one.

We made a quick stop for lunch and ice cream, of course! 

Now, for more exploring. There was a wading pool, 

water feature toys, 

even a stream to wade in. 

The stream led to a small waterfall. 

The water actually felt really good! 

We then hiked up to a larger water feature. No wading in this one though. 

The grounds are always so pristine in Japanese parks! 

The kids enjoyed piling onto these good, old fashioned, see-saws. 


I had to laugh a bit that this was the extent of the sunflower field. We have logged many hours driving through the state of Kansas, where there are sunflowers as far as the eye can see for miles, so this seemed a bit minor in comparison. 

Eva is so loving and caring with babies.

Next stop, Lake Yamanaka for some swimming. This is one of five lakes surrounding Mt. Fuji. Apparently, the water is pretty warm due to the volcanic activity underneath. Hmmm, maybe I should've brought my suit.

Dark volcanic sand, but still castle worthy. 

Swimming with a swan boat? Priceless.   

To cap off an otherwise lovely day, I rear ended my friend as she was pulling out of the toll booth. To make matters worse, she was borrowing this car from a friend, while her own car was being fixed. Perfect! (Luckily, I was able to get it fixed the next day. It took only 2 hours and $40. Whew!)

August 10, 2014

Climbing Mt. Fuji, take two- The "view" from the top

According to Japanese legend, "a wise man hikes Mt. Fuji once, a fool hikes it twice." I guess that puts us squarely in the camp of the latter! But needless to say, we felt we must give this another go. As a military family, you never know where you will be next year!

With the hiking season quickly coming to an end, we chose a day in August, made reservations at Camp Fuji, and tried to gear up for our second attempt. As luck would have it, a typhoon was also predicted to hit the same weekend! We weighed our options and decided that, since this would be our last day to hike this season(due to other schedule conflicts), we should go for it. We figured we could beat the storm if we got an early start. Besides, how could the weather possibly be worse than what we already went through?
Sunset, the night before.

I was feeling dread as we pulled up to the fifth station, not really wanting to go through what we went through last time. I have never felt right about praying for good weather before, (it always seemed like asking for sun at Disneyland to me), but I sure prayed today! This is the gift shop at the fifth station.

And a shrine, of course.

The girls wanted to take this form of transportation up! But, unfortunately, they don't go all the way to the top.

We witnessed the most amazing sunrise, and I was getting more excited about the day's potential.

The girls were in great spirits, despite the 3:00 am wake up call. 

The sixth station already.  
As it turned out, the weather was actually ideal. We had a great cloud cover and the slightest hint of a breeze. It was perfect, actually. This is looking up to the summit, we could still see the top, so far, so good. 

We knick-named Ella the "pack mule" because she was carrying the camel back with water. She was very proud of this responsibility.

We made it to the seventh station and the beginning of the mountain huts. And here I got my first stamp (of this trip). This is also a traditional Japanese kitchen, with the fire pit in the middle of the room.

Because, everyone, needs a green tea flavored Kit Kat on Mt. Fuji!

This is where the terrain gets a little more challenging, and you have to use your hands to crawl up in some areas. The girls were just like mountain goats, climbing with ease. Though, I guess when you spend your days, swimming, climbing trees, and trampolining, that's to be expected!

Whew, the top of the seventh station, and still going strong.

And more stamps for my stick.

We stopped to savor the view, rest a bit, and have a snack. The weather was still amazing. 

On top of the world. 

Yes, even on Mt. Fuji, there are lots of nice bathrooms. The cost was Y200 ($2) per use, but SO worth it. The heated seat at the 8th station was heavenly! (Though, unfortunately, most of them were not heated. I'm getting SO spoiled!)

This was the view looking down the trail behind me. Normally, August can be the most crowded time to hike, but not today. Maybe the impending typhoon kept people away. 

More rest time. This is what the terrain looked like for most of the climb. (Also, what we had to climb down last time. Horrible!) 

We reached the 8.5 station, (3250 meters, or 10,662 feet), which was officially higher than we got last time. It was also noticeably colder here, but a personal victory, for sure.

We also watched the clouds come rolling in. Uh-oh.

We loved that the stamp from this hut was a pack mule. Ella's nickname for the trip! 

 I really liked all of these signed flags in this hut.

About this time, Ella started not feeling very well. When I asked her about all the symptoms of altitude sickness, she said, "no, I am just really tired". So, we took her backpack to try and lighten her load, and forged ahead. 
Time to keep going. We were definitely in mist now, and the wind had really started up. At least it wasn't rain/sleet/snow, like last time, we kept saying.

Ella continued to struggle, and after about an hour, she began to stumble a bit. I was really worried about her and had been praying continuously for her healing. I knew she needed oxygen right away, and asked some nearby hikers (English speakers, even!), if they had an oxygen can I could borrow. Miraculously, they had one, told me to keep it, and would not accept payment. These people were such a blessing, and an answer to a heartfelt prayer, just when we needed it most!

This is the oxygen can. The lid becomes a nozzle to breathe in to. I actually bought one before this trip, but it would not fit into my backpack. We figured, we didn't need it the first time, so we left it home. But, there was a big difference between the eight and eight and a half stations! Luckily, the rest of us were not affected by the altitude at all.

The oxygen really helped Ella bounce back, so we continued on. Wow! The ninth station, we were getting closer! This was the torii gate for the ninth station, people slip coins into the cracks of the wood. It was neat to see. 

I knew Ella was feeling better when she asked for her picture to be taken, while putting in a coin. I was happy to oblige! 

The weather was now officially cold, misty and windy. The wind was really picking up now and we prayed for strength to make it to the top. This was an extreme measure of perseverance for all of us! But, every so often, there would be a short break in the weather and we could recompose. Another prayer answered.

The last 200 meters was pretty much straight up. But, we could see the torii gate at the summit, and that gave everyone renewed vigor. Especially Ella! I was so happy to see her feeling better. 

We had not seen the sun the entire day, but as we walked our last few steps to the summit, the sun peeked out for just a few minutes. I knew this was God letting us know that even in the midst of trials, he was still there by our sides. Overcome with many different emotions, I cried. 

Victory at the summit! (We joked about looking like marshmallows in all of our layers.)

Matt carried about 25 pounds of supplies for everyone, up this mountain (elevation 3,776 meters, or 12,388 feet). Love him! 

The thing to do at the summit is eat a bowl of noodles, of course! When in Japan.... 

Eva wanted rice. 

Ella's favorite Japanese dish is kake udon (noodles in broth). This was BIG motivation for her to reach the top.  

After lunch, we briefly walked around the summit. There is actually a little town up there and a shrine. The workers live there during climbing season and supplies are brought up by big bulldozers. Interesting. 

The view from the top, or lack thereof.....this was a huge disappointment. Oh well, you never know what you'll get on this mountain! 

This is the view my friend Merri had, a few weeks ago. Wow!

And, we also could not see into the crater, so this is what it would've looked like. (Coincidentally, Ella, my thrill seeker, was disappointed that there was no bungee jumping into the crater. She said she was looking forward to doing that. Leave it to Ella!)

Luckily, since we made it to the top this time, we were able to take the normal descending route down, rather than climb down all those boulders. This was SO much easier.  

And almost back. We were warming up again, and had definitely beat the brunt of the storm! 

We were dirty, wet, and exhausted, but satisfied. I am so proud of these girls and their determination during hardship. We hiked for eight hours on the ascent, spent one hour at the top, and hiked for three hours on the descent. They were both amazing! (Side note- these ice cream cone statues are absolutely everywhere around Tokyo; restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores- you name it. The Japanese love ice cream.)

And a final family pic in front of the dated sign. 

The battle wounds on my poor flag. I started a new collection of stamps on the other side of my stick for this trip. So now, I have both of my trips documented.

An awesome souvenir. 

This is a close up of my stamp from the summit. 

My two favorite stamps. A mother with her two babies, because that was me. And, the torii gate, because it is so Japanese.

Also, my flag from the summit. They stamp it with the date, as well. 

The finished product.

I experienced almost every emotion one could experience today; joy, fear, pain, worry, exhaustion, the list goes on. But through it all, I know it was a character building moment for the whole family, and a great lesson in teamwork, faith, perseverance and carrying on when life isn't perfect. I can only hope that one day Ella and Eva will realize the enormity of this accomplishment.

Though fools by Japanese legend, with God's help, WE DID IT! And the wonderful thing about past failure is, it makes success all the sweeter!