MOUNT FUJI, Japan (NNS) -- One hundred-sixteen USS Thach Sailors scaled Mount Fuji, Japan's highest peak, July 26 during the ship's port visit to Yokosuka, Japan.
The storied 12,389-foot mountain is the legendary home of a fire god, a Shinto goddess of flowing trees and is also known as the home to a Buddhist god of wisdom. Japanese culture associates the peak to heaven because the mountain is revered for its enormous size.
More than half of Thach's crew made the historic climb.
"I thought that a climb up Mount Fuji by the entire command would be a tremendous experience and show these Sailors what hard work and teamwork can accomplish," said Cmdr. David Haas, Thach's commanding officer.
The Thach climbers purchased traditional Mount Fuji walking sticks, decorated with Japanese flags and bells, and began their trek from the mountain's fifth station, a starting point located 6,560 feet above sea level. Most hikers start climbing the mountain at the fifth station because the paved pathway leading to the station allows for easier access. There are nine total stations on the way up to the top of the mountain where hikers can eat, drink and have their walking sticks branded with a special insignia from the reached station.
Thach crew members couldn't contain their excitement as they began the long climb at 5 a.m. The first 1,640 feet consisted of a lush green trail that led up to the sixth station. After passing the sixth station, the terrain gradually changed as rocks and remnants of molten lava began to take the place of trees and bushes. Crew members had to maneuver with caution through boulder patches. The group moved from checkpoint to checkpoint as one linked chain, warning each other of potential hazards and encouraging each other to continue climbing.
At each station, Sailors compiled etched markings on their wooden walking sticks that signified one's successful arrival to the next station. Each mark on the walking stick provided Thach Sailors the needed motivation to continue climbing to the next station.
By mid-morning, Thach Sailors reached the eighth station at 11,319 feet. Altitude sickness, fatigue and cold temperatures started to become a challenge for the group at that point, but everyone continued to encourage one another to remain determined and arrive on top as a team.
The hike to the ninth station was the hardest uphill battle. Haze from the early afternoon sky surrounded the hikers as the climb seemed as if it would never end. After what seemed like forever, a torii gate appeared on the trail and the group gave out a quiet cheer, mistakenly thinking that a Japanese gate commonly built at the entrance of a Shinto shrine symbolized the top. But crew members soon learned that the cheers were premature. The climb was not over.
After two additional switchback climbs, a second torii gate appeared and the weary hikers finally reached the summit. After six hours of hard climbing the shipmates felt a sense of accomplishment and posed together with the ship's battle flag atop Fuji's summit for a group photo to commemorate the achievement.
"This climb gave us an opportunity to share a common experience and build cohesion as a ship," said Chief Fire Control Technician Edward Cannizzaro.
Thach Sailors descended the mountain feeling a sense of achievement.
"I am really glad I did it,," said Seaman Stephen Mancini. "It was definitely something that you have to do at least once in your lifetime."
"These Sailors join the Navy to see the world," said Haas. "Well, they saw a part of it today and I am so proud of each and everyone one of them."
Thach is operating with the Ronald Reagan Strike Group in the 7th fleet area of responsibility to promote peace and stability throughout the 7th Fleet area of operations.
For more news from USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) - Ronald Reagan Strike Group, visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn76/.