At Stage 5, we bought our walking sticks and paid to use the last Western-style toilet before setting off (about 4 pm). It was clear when we started, but very quickly became foggier, and it was totally dark by about 7 pm. It definitely was a bigger challenge than I thought it would be - although some parts were like a steep trail, other parts you were really climbing up rock that was slick from the fog and mist, sometimes with chains on either side to keep you on the right 'path.' I was the only one without a flashlight or headlamp, so I stayed in between people who did. I'm pretty amazed that most of the climbing is done in pitch black on this thing, and that there aren't more accidents. The fog cleared once we got higher up, and we were able to get good night views down on the clouds and the cities below. There were still thunderstorms off in the distance, and my hair was literally standing on end due to the electricity in the air. We got to see the stars above us and all around us, as M put it, we could have bathed from the Big Dipper.
We reached Stage 8 at about 9 pm, and enjoyed dinner and a beer before heading to our bunks. The mountain hut accommodations were one of a kind. Two layers of bunks, one on the floor and one at about shoulder height. They are essentially big beds with no divisions, so you are just sleeping right with other people, and all sharing the same blankets. Cozy. Not surprisingly, due to my neurotic need for total darkness and silence, I didn't sleep. At 1 am we all crawled out of bed giggling hysterically due to lack of sleep and got ready to hike to the summit. Although we had enjoyed relatively clear paths up to that point, we knew it wouldn't be the case for this leg, as everyone's goal is to reach the top for the sunrise. So, we (and hundreds of other people) started to make our way up.
Delightfully, it started to rain. We trudged on, and reached the summit at 4 am, and by now it was extremely windy and POURING - down pouring more accurately. And due to the weather, the huts at the top were not opening, so there was nowhere to get shelter. We huddled as close to a building as we could get, and tried to plan our next move. It was cold, and my shoes, socks, and gloves were soaked at this point, and my fingers and toes were starting to ache with pain. Everyone was miserable, and we knew that there was no chance of seeing the sunrise, so we started our descent. It felt good to be going down, but nevertheless difficult in the dark with the rain and then hail - especially with nowhere to get shelter, so you just have to keep going. The descending path was crushed lava rock, so it was somewhat easier, but it was also easy to slip in the conditions.
At 8 am we had made it back down to stage 5, soaked, tired, and with hours to kill before our bus came to get us. On the way back to Nagoya, we stopped at a public bath/hot spring. Again, definitely an experience - not sure I'll go again, but I'm glad I can say that I tried it. There is an adage about Mt. Fuji goes something like "he who doesn't climb Mt. Fuji is a fool, and he who climbs it more than once is twice a fool." I get why!