YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge 2023: Conquering heights together on Mount Fuji

After 12 weeks of intensive training and preparation in Singapore, the YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge team is finally ready to embark on our expedition to Mount Fuji (富士山 Fuji-san)! Our adventure began on a crisp morning of 24 August, as the YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge team—consisting of our 10 Special Needs Ambassadors, coaches, caregivers, volunteers and YMCA staff team—set foot in the captivating land of Japan, all looking forward to an awe-inspiring journey to conquer the iconic Mount Fuji.

Team YMCA has touched down in Japan!

We received a warm welcome from our Japanese guides at YMCA Tozanso (YMCA 東山荘). With meticulous care, they provided a comprehensive tutorial that equipped us with the knowledge to navigate the climb, while a thorough bag check ensured we were equipped with essentials for the journey.

As the sun kissed the horizon on 25 August, that’s when our adventure truly commenced. Dawn broke at 4am, painting the sky with hues of gold. Anticipation coursed through our veins as we readied ourselves for the ascent. There are four trails that lead to the summit of Mount Fuji, and we opted to take the Subashiri Trail.

Team YMCA resting while admiring the view of Mount Fuji.

The Subashiri Trail's 5th Station marked the start of our ascent. Some of us purchased wooden poles, where we could embed stamp marks into them at each milestone achieved. Our steps led us through lush forests alive with birdsong, and where the trees cast a cooling shade. Regular breaks ensured our well-being, nourishing our bodies and spirits for the long journey ahead.

Team YMCA pushing on during the ascent journey.

The landscape transformed as we ascended, the vegetation growing sparse as we ventured into the timberline. At the 7th Station, Miharashi-kan (見晴館), with an altitude of 3,145m, we found respite and solace. We rested, hearts warmed by a simple bowl of curry rice for dinner. As the sky darkened, we gazed upon the starlit sky, where we spotted a shooting star that reminded us of the wonders of nature.

Team YMCA at the summit of Mount Fuji!

The next day, we arose at around 3am, the summit awaiting us. Amidst short pauses, we meticulously trod towards our goal. Altitude-induced fatigue and symptoms of acute mountain sickness tested our resilience. Unified by encouragement from fellow climbers and our steadfast guides, we overcame the challenges and eventually, we reached the breathtaking summit of Mount Fuji.

Team YMCA hiking the rim of Mount Fuji’s crater.

We then proceeded with Ohachi-meguri (お鉢めぐり), where we hiked the rim of Mount Fuji’s crater, each step a homage to nature's grandeur. With hearts full of accomplishment, we turned to descend. Sandy slopes and slippery paths added complexity to the journey. Determination coursed through us, and we reached the familiar embrace of our mountain hut, rewarded by the indulgence of hamburg steak for dinner.

Team YMCA on the way down to the base of Mount Fuji.

On the last day of our journey, the sun's golden embrace greeted us, heralding our descent. As we bade farewell to Mount Fuji's panoramic vistas, gratitude filled our hearts. The descent to the 5th Station was marked by reflection, as we commemorated our journey's end. YMCA Tozanso welcomed us back, a space to rest and to celebrate the victorious expedition.

We were immensely blessed with glorious weather throughout the journey, from the warmth of the sun, to fluffy clouds and cooling breezes. The guides from YMCA Tozanso were our pillars of support, their expertise ensuring our safety. As we upheld one another, peer encouragement fuelled our determination.

In retrospect, Mount Fuji stands as a metaphor for life's challenges. The journey required perseverance, teamwork and support for one another. Each and every one of us, including our amazing Special Needs Ambassadors, emerged stronger, bonded by shared trials and shared victories. As we departed, memories etched on the mountain's slopes, we carried home not just souvenirs, but stories of resilience and triumph.

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The YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge is an awareness and fundraising event in support of youth with special needs. Funds raised will go to our special needs programmes so youth with special needs can lead an even more independent and dignified life.

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