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Theo Bugtong: Soloing Mt. Fuji in the Dark
August 30, 2013

Systems engineer Theo Bugtong soloed Mt. Fuji in the dark to see the spectacular sunrise above the clouds. [image-51]

Systems engineer Theo Bugtong always achieves his goals–and he sets high goals. Through working with Japanese partners on projects at Goddard, Bugtong was inspired to set a goal to see the sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji, all 12,389 or so feet.

“Mt. Fuji is extremely important in Japanese culture,” said Bugtong. “If I understand their culture more, I may understand the people and their language more.” In August 2009, he soloed Mt. Fuji in the dark.[image-94]

“I did not really think it through,” admits Bugtong. “My plan was to buy my gear there, but I could not find a lot of stuff. I used what I had and it was pretty inadequate.” He carried a backpack, two flashlights, water, candy, sneakers, long pants, a sweatshirt, a towel and a sun hat. His biggest mistake, he says, was wearing layers of light clothing, which did not afford enough protection against the unexpected wind and cold during his night climb.

There are ten stations or levels going up to the peak, each marked by a hut or similar structure and a sign. Most people start climbing at night in order to reach the summit by sunrise. Bugtong started at level 5, where the bus from Tokyo dropped him off, at 7:00 p.m. He knew enough Japanese to be able to say important things like “where does the trail start.” He was surprised, however, by how many people there spoke English.[image-110]

He bought a wooden walking stick topped with a small, red and white flag and bells to help him be seen and heard. “Every time you reach another station, they will brand the stick with a special character and the altitude. The first and lowest one is the sun coming up over the horizon. As you get higher, the designs get more elaborate. The last and highest one is a Japanese character topped by a picture of the summit,” said Bugtong.

The rough-cut trail was marked with signs and ropes. “The trail was not a sidewalk. If you went past the rope in some places, there was a shear drop down. I could easily have fallen off the edge in some steep parts,” said Bugtong.[image-126]

Bugtong was never worried, remaining focused on his goal. “Unless the mountain erupted, I thought I’d be okay. My biggest concern was climbing to the summit in time to see the sunrise and then getting back down in time to catch the bus back to Tokyo,” he said.

Bugtong used a hand-held GPS as a guide and to mark his arrival at each station. He also took videos and photos of himself throughout the climb.[image-142]

He got to level 8 around midnight, but needed to rest. He was at level 8 ½ at sunrise and arrived at the summit around 8:00 am.

“The sunrise was really nice, nicer than I had thought it would be. I was above the cloud level, so I saw the sun come up through the clouds creating all these great colors.  Also, it had warmed up,” said Bugtong.  Once he arrived at the marked summit, he noticed an even higher hill, Kengamine Peak, so he climbed that too.[image-78]

Although the trail down was not as steep, it was switch-backed so it took longer. His only regret is that he missed a lot of nice scenery. “Coming down,” he says, “I was on a forced march.” He missed his bus back to Tokyo, but was able to ride back on another one.

“My adventure reinforced the idea that you have to keep your eye on the goal even when things go wrong. My goal was to see the spectacular sunrise viewable only from the mountain. Achieving the goal is far more important than all the little things that may stand in your way. Expand your experiences and keep challenging yourself to increase what you are capable of accomplishing," Bugtong said.  

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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[image-36]
Theo Bugtong at the summit
Theo Bugtong at the summit of Mt. Fuji.
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Courtesy: Theo Bugtong
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[image-51]
Map of Mt. Fuji and Theo's waypoints annotated.
This is a map showing the path Theo Bugtong used to hike Mt Fuji. The waypoints he used are annotated on the map using his handheld GPS receiver.
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Courtesy: Theo Bugtong
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[image-78]
Building at Station 8.5
This is one of the buildings at Station 8.5. When Theo took the sunrise picture, this building was behind him.
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Courtesy: Theo Bugtong
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[image-94]
Sunrise on Mt. Fuji
Sunrise on Mt. Fuji
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Courtesy: Theo Bugtong
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[image-110]
This is further up the mountain.  The 3 buildings below are Station 8.5.
Farther up the mountain. The three buildings below are Station 8.5.
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Courtesy: Theo Bugtong
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[image-126]
This is the final gate before the summit of Mt. Fuji.
The final gate before the summit of Mt. Fuji.
Image Credit: 
Courtesy: Theo Bugtong
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[image-142]
Page Last Updated: August 30th, 2013
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner