Category Archives: Hiking


Did you see the Dennis the Menace cartoon yesterday?

It shows the mom doing yoga. The kids say

“I guess when you get too old to play… You have to exercise.”

Really? What is hiking, biking, canoeing or even yoga, but playing?

And to make it more fun, the Asheville YMCA came up with Fitgo.

The  YMCA Fitgo is a combination of Fitness and Bingo. You get a card with a five by five grid of challenges for a month. Some activities are simple, some take thought, and a couple I am just ignoring.

Fitgo card

Simple Goals – No fast food for three days and Drink no soda for three days. I checked that off the moment I got the card because I haven’t had either for decades.

Same with Eat fresh fruit with your breakfast and Stretch for 15 minutes.- I do those every day.

Goals that take some thoughts –  I didn’t want to count activities that I’ve done before I started Fitgo. So I waited until I did my next yoga class to count it as  group training class, no problem since I go to yoga once or twice a week.

Another goal was to Participate in an outdoor activity – yeah, like hiking.

Swannanoa River

As for volunteering for a service organization, I lead hikes for Carolina Mountain Club, Friends of the Smokies and other nonprofits who ask me.  So I counted my involvement in MST-in-a-Day.

Do an activity together with friends or family – another easy one since all my hiking companions are friends – no double counting was involved.

Since this is the YMCA, the goals also included introducing yourself to three Y members I didn’t know and letting a Y staff person know why you love the Y . I love the Y because it opens at 5 am on weekdays. It give me and lots of other people flexibility.

Now the tough ones. Drink water as your only fluid intake for one day. What? Give up tea? I interpreted this literally – not even herbal tea.

Get eight hours or more of sleep for three days – Are they kidding? I’d love to but if I can sleep more than six hours, it’s a red letter day.

No one can hike every day – certainly I don’t have my life planned to hike every day. So that’s where the YMCA comes in – with or without Fitgo.

Are You All Right?

Are you all right?

Sign to Muxia

I seem to hear this too often these days. People ask me if I’m all right when I step off a curb, stop to get a drink of water on the trail, or when I walk up and even down the steps.

Am I getting too sensitive? Are my antennas up too far?

About ten years ago or so, I was on a small plane landing in a small airport. The passengers needed to walk down the stairs because there wasn’t a jetway.

“Are you all right walking down the stairs?” the flight attendant asked. I was flabbergasted.

“Yes, Are you all right? I replied. She grunted and moved to the next passenger.

Is Are you all right? the new verbal tick? You know, like Good to go, You’re fine and Have a nice day.

I finally realize that this was not a one-off comment but a common phrase from mostly women about twenty years younger than me. Occasionally, I hear it from men of the same age group. But I’ve never heard anyone come up to an older man and ask if he was all right unless he was bleeding on the trail.

If I’m going to write about this, I need to be very specific. I googled the phrase to see if this was a frequent problem. The only helpful website was The Wrong Planet, for people with neurological differences.

One typical answer on this website was:
Why would someone ask you this? Is this a standard greeting? I’ve had a few times when people asked me this, like a weird greeting, but I’m not sure why. It’s unexpected (by me) and I usually respond by freezing, which I guess just makes whatever I was doing seem worse.

Many on this site felt that neurotypical people used the phrase instead of Hello.

At Emerald Bay SP

When I hiked with Family Nature Summits in the Lake Tahoe area, last month, the oldest women, other than me, were in their fifties. They were fit and slim, but not regular hikers.

Jon Krakauer, author of  Into Thin Air about the 1996 Mt. Everest climbing disaster, would call them treadmill fit. Great runners on even ground but if the trail has a few rocks, they would call the hike technical.

The clincher was on a long, steep uphill climbing out of Lake Tahoe to the parking area. The trail was hot and dusty. Halfway up, I stopped at a creek to wet my hat and bandanna. The water on my head felt delicious.

From behind, a woman from our group who had not yet talked to me the entire day, stopped and asked,

“Are you all right?”

“Are you all right? That’s the question. You’re the one behind me.”

Remember the bumper sticker usually on the back of VW Beetles?

I may be slow but I’m ahead of you.

I may not be ahead of you or in front of the group but I’m a plodder. Like a postage stamp, I stick with it until I get there.

Chris and Carroll

While I was thinking about writing about this not-so-new phenomenon, I learned that Carroll Koepplinger, the Ageless Hiker, was going back to Europe to do a long-distance hike in France next month.

He’s almost 87 years old.

Have fun Carroll. I know you’ll be all right.

Climbing Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji

Despite its steep slopes, Mt. Fuji can be climbed up quite easily even by beginners, for it has signboards and mountain huts.

This is from an official website on Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan.
I first learned that average hikers can think about climbing Mt. Fuji from a piece by Susan Orlean , author of The Orchid Thief about her climb.

Really? I never thought of her as an outdoor person but her personal essay got me thinking.

From the moment Hannah and I decided to go to Japan, we had Mt. Fuji on our agenda. We were extremely lucky to have Charlie, my son’s colleague at Ohio University, working in Japan and interested in taking his teenage kids up the mountain as well.

I had worked out the details of the climb.

Station 5 is 7,606.5 feet (2,305 meters)
Station 8 is 10,230 feet (3,100 meters)
Mt. Fuji is 12,460.8 feet (3,776 meters)

The Yoshida Trail also known as Kawaguchi -Ko Trail, the most popular trail up the mountain, is only 3.7 miles from the 5th station and 4.3 miles going down. The difficulty is in the steepness and high altitude.

Danny, Hannah, Charlie, Mina and Shaw

We take a train from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji Station 1 and a bus to Station 5. There’s a crowd at Station 5, a large roundabout with buses, groups, leaders waving their flags and restaurants and gift shops galore.

I’m anxious. To put it in perspective, the altitude here at Station 5, 7,606.5 feet, is higher than anything than you can climb east of the Mississippi -Mt. Mitchell at 6,683 feet.

Am I going to get up there? Is Hannah going to make it? If she doesn’t make it, I don’t make it but not the other way around since she can climb with Charlie and his children, Mina and Shaw. We start on a good tourist trail at Station 5.

I had been worried enough about the altitude that I obtained a prescription for Diamox, a pill which is supposed to mitigate the effects of high altitude. I don’t like to take “unknown medication” but I’ve heard so much about Diamox as a standard for altitude problems that I feel I’ll probably be OK. I take it the first day of the climb.

The bus driver announces at least ten times that the restrooms at Station 5 are the last free toilets, so use them.

We start climbing as a group of five in a crowd. I want the kids in front of me. “I don’t have the mental energy to worry about you lot,” I say. Mina and Hannah stay together while Charlie and his son are way ahead.

Dinner at Horai-Kan mountain hut

The trail is rocky and volcanic. Any vegetation on the side of the trail has long disappeared. All you see are bare dirt. At each bend of the trail, one of the girls stops to breathe. So the three of us stop. Drink, eat a little and take deep breaths.

Many Japanese take a break by pulling out a cigarette. [Now that makes sense since we’re all oxygen deprived as is. :):)]

Everyone carries oxygen but me. My pack is already so full with warm clothing, food, water and my first aid kit.

There’s no potable water on the trail. I started with three pints and realize that I will have to get water at our hut. The only water on the mountain is what you can buy for 500 yen per pint. Snicker bars are 500 yens but  think of what it took to get the bars up here.

A smooth, parallel trail snakes up the mountain for caterpillar trucks. That’s how workers, trail maintainers and supplies go up the mountain and take garbage down. Plastic water bottles and other packaged, convenience foods must create a huge environmental impact.

Crowds snake up the mountain. I try to pass a few hikers slower than me and give the faster walkers a wide berth. But most are content to follow the person in front of them. Large groups of hikers start and stop at the same time. The Japanese are used to crowds.

Finally, we reach station 8 and our hut, Horai-Kan,  at 3:30pm. The young man charged with giving us an introduction focuses on the toilet rules. Using a toilet the first time costs 300 yens, then the rest is free for the duration of our stay at the hut.

“Put your toilet paper in the garbage bin, not the toilet.” If you want water, you need to buy it. I wish I had known this before I started so I wouldn’t have packed my toothbrush, toothpaste and soap.

Horai-Kan hut on Mt. Fuji

After paying 10,000 yen a person, he shows us to our sleeping quarters. The double-decker bunk is long. We’re given a sleeping bag and pillow and our personal space is the width of the sleeping bag. If one person turns over, we all turn over.

Since we got to the hut early, our scheduled dinner will be at 5 pm. Dinner is rice curry, a Scotch egg and potato salad with green tea. I keep asking for tea since that’s the only liquid I don’t have to pay for. At dinner, we’re handed a breakfast Bento box consisting of packaged Spanish rice and two white flour buns in an air-tight wrapping.

Most hikers then go to bed at 6pm. They’re exhausted with nothing to do. But I wait until much later, since I’ll be tossing and turning otherwise. But when I crawl into my sleeping bag, I find that the people on either side of me have expanded into my space. I wiggle, push them aside, and reclaim my spot. The next group of hikers now have dinner.

As I look outside from our hut , I see a much bigger dragon formed by hikers slowly climbing. Hikers pass our hut and continue up through most of the night.
The first group of hikers who wish to see the sunrise on top of the mountain get up at 10:30pm. A second group start out at 2am. But we wait until it’s light outside at 4:30am, eat the breakfast that was handed out yesterday along with a small bowl of miso soup and start walking. Everyone has to be out of the hut by 6am.

To my surprise and joy, the trail from here is much smoother than yesterday. It’s still incredibly steep but at least I don’t have to use my hands to get over rocks. We pass and are passed by many hikers. Finally at 7:30am, I reach the torii gate at the entrance of a Shinto shrine. The moving fog lets me take pictures of Japan spread out at my feet.
Charlie is waiting for me with his camera in hand. The kids are already sitting in the rest area, eating a bowl of Ramen noodles.

“It’s lunch time somewhere,” I think.

I walk into the shrine. By now, I know the ritual of clapping, bowing, and holding your hands together in prayer in front of the shrine. But I feel that Shintoism is a religion and leave the ceremony to believers.

Fog has enveloped the crater. After a 300 Yen bathroom stop on top, we take a dedicated trail, going downhill. The trail consists of loose volcanic rocks and red dirt. Some hikers run down, others, afraid of the steepness, slowly pick their way down. We’re still at a high altitude but going down is a lot less challenging than going up.

We arrive at Station 5 at about 11:30 am in a sea of tourists and trekkers and head for the ice cream stand. I certainly don’t feel I’ve “conquered Mt. Fuji”. It will stand as a Japanese icon forever but I feel good about having climbed the mountain.