Eric and Robert were still up the mountain, probably on their way down. We were all ready to head back to Kawaguchiko Station and home - hot, exhausted, but feeling rather proud of ourselves.
"Still at the top. Haven't seen Robert." - text message from Eric.
Uh-oh. Eric and Robert were not together. Eric was at the top, okay. Robert was not. That's okay, we'll just wait....
We couldn't get ahold of Robert. At 1pm, we still hadn't gotten in touch with him - Rumiko and I spoke to the local police, and gave them his description and explained the situation. We were worried, but not too worried - we just figured he was on his way down slowly.
At 3pm, it was time for our bus to leave, but we weren't going to leave Robert and Eric up the mountain by themselves. So most of the students left, but Rumiko, Qijin, Alex, and me stayed. We were able to get in touch with Eric again, and asked him to come down the mountain - hopefully meeting up with Robert on the way. When Eric showed up at 6pm, without Robert, we realized we needed to do something. Robert was not on his way down, he doesn't have tons of outdoor experience soon, and it would be getting dark soon. The police station was closed; no one answered the phone, either.
I am (by nature) a worrier. I was quite proud of myself throughout the day for keeping my worrying to a minimum. Worrying doesn't help, and the chances that something was seriously wrong were small. But by now, we were all a little worried -and rightfully so. We decided that before we did anything drastic, we should call Jenny (our coop coordinator) in Canada, and let her know what was going on, and get her opinion on what to do. I was nominated to call (how did that happen?!). I'll be honest - I was getting really worried about Robert; add to that calling Jenny at 2am to tell her that we lost someone on Mount Fuji....my stomach was doing sommersaults, and I was worrying, nervous, and a little scared.
It was 2am on Saturday morning in Canada - I left a voicemail message on Jenny's blackberry and Yuko's (other coordinator) cellphone. Then we got Jenny's home number and I called it - she answered the phone. Her first question was, "Are you alright??" - I assured her I was, but that we had a small problem. She suggested that we make sure he hadn't left the mountain and was back in his dorm, and that I call Takemori-San to see what he would suggest (as he would be more aware of who might be able to help find him). While Alex tried to get ahold of someone at the dorm, I called Takemori-San. He was also concerned, and said he would make some phone calls to see what he could do. He called me back soon after and said that the local police would be looking for Robert.
Two hikers walked by(who looked like they spoke English), coming down from the mountain, so I asked if they had seen Robert. To my surprise - and great relief - they said they might have. I yelled for Alex, and he and Qijin got directions to where they may have seen him, and took off back up the mountain. 3 people to worry about. It was getting dark, and shortly after Alex and Qijin left, it started raining. We got a phone call from Alex saying that they wouldn't let them go further up the mountain without flashlights and raingear. It was about 7:30pm, dark, and raining. But we needed to find Robert, and soon. Rumiko and Eric took flashlights and jackets, and went to meet Alex and Qijin. I stayed at the bottom, 3 cellphones in hand, hoping and praying that everyone would make it back.
I was standing under a small shelter, in the dark and pouring rain. To be honest, I was pretty worried and scared - 5 of my friends were up the mountain, it was dark and pouring rain, there was nothing I could do but wait, and I felt somewhat in charge and responsible for the situation.
Just as Alex and Qijin were getting their stuff from Rumi and Eric, they got a call that someone had found Robert. Alex and Qijin headed up the mountain (again) to meet Robert and his rescuer partway up. 'Breathing a sigh of relief' would be an understatement; but I was still a little nervous, hoping that everyone would make it back safely. Finally, Rumi & Eric emerged from the darkness, and started to figure out how we could get home (definitely missed our bus). At about 9pm, Alex, Qijin, and Robert also emerged from the darkness.
I haven't been so excited to see three people in a long time. Robert was okay - wet, sunburnt, hungry, and tired - but okay. We were all relieved and happy to climb on the last bus back to Kawaguchiko Station. Unfortunately, the night wasn't over yet - but most of the stress was. We realized that we couldn't get home that night - the trains would stop running when we were halfway there. So instead, we spent the night at an inn near the station.
It was extra trouble and stress, because we wouldn't be at work on Monday morning. But we all got in touch with our supervisors to let them know, and I decided that I was going to enjoy the night in the Inn. Might as well, there's nothing else we can do! Japanese hotels & inns have a sort of Yukatta - pajamas, if you will. I convinced Rumi to wear them too, and we ventured to the 7-11 in them. :)
Again - note how funny I look in a Japanese getup
We also met a random friend named Dustin. He was wandering around the train station, looking a little lost, while we were trying to figure out if we could get home. He kept getting closer, so finally I said, "Hi! You look lost!" Turns out he was, and he was happy to meet some English speaking people.
He was also stuck there for the night (planning to climb Fuji with friends, but missed his bus up to the mountain) - so I invited him to tag along with us. He got a room, the three guys got a tatami mat room, and Rumi and I got a room. We went to the 7-11 for some food (nothing else was open), and had a mini celebration party before we finally went to bed (at 1am).
(Random friend Dustin on the left...)
At 5am, bright and early, I woke up and jumped out of bed and - couldn't move. My legs were in so much pain. Scratch that. All of me was in so much pain. The dreaded after-hiking pain. I shuffled my way to the bathroom, fell into the shower, and attempted to wash the dirt, sunscreen, and pain away. The first two went. The latter didn't. We caught the first train at 5:20am, and split up part way. Alex and Robert went North; Rumiko and I and Eric headed south. After a convoluted combination of trains and Shinkansen, I got home at noon. Takemori-San (kindly) told me I could wait until the afternoon to come into work, so I had some lunch and then went into work.
And that is the end of the Fuji saga. A great hike, beautiful sunrise, long desert, volcano full of stress, late nights, fun Inn, much pain, $450 extra, and a half a day at work later...we survived, and we're all safe - which is what counts. But - it was quite the adventure!