“The person who never climbs Mt. Fuji is a fool, and the person who climbs it twice is a bigger fool.” – Japanese Proverb

My college buddy, Tim, and I are feeling exceedingly foolish as we start our final ascent of Mt. Fuji.

“We should’ve trained for this Tim.”
“You think?”
“I’m wiped. You?”
“The same.”
“You wanna turn back?
“Nah, we’re too close to the summit. Might as well finish what we started.”

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Fuji-san is a darn hard mountain to climb. At over 12,000 feet high, it is definitely not a walk in the park. But what do we know? We’re 25 years old, invincible (in our minds), slogging up a very steep mountain in the middle of the night so we can potentially catch sunrise from the top. It’s cold, it’s windy, the air is thin, and our brisk early pace has withered to an anemic shuffle. Tim’s old high-school, homestay-brother, Yasushi, has bailed out at the last rest hut, but the two of us are doggedly pushing onward to the top. What a pathetic story it would be if we came all the way to Japan and failed to reach the summit of Mt. Fuji, with the end clearly in sight!

At last, we round a corner and reach the lip of the caldera. To my surprise, the volcano is still the tiniest bit active, with whisps of smoke rising from the ashy interior and making tiny braids in the wind. It’s not sunrise, alas; we missed that goal an hour ago, watching the sun come up, instead, from the side of the mountain (still a pretty awesome sight). In front of us stands a small wooden hut – a place to rest from the wind, perhaps? No, even better than that. It’s a snack bar selling bowls of ramen!
Yes, it’s true. There is a ramen shop at the top of Mt. Fuji!

I don’t care if it’s just ramen doused with hot water. This is the best ramen we’ve ever had in our lives! At the tables around us, a variety of people exhaustedly slurp their noodles: foreigners, college students, members of the Japanese Defense Force (who ran past us during our ascent, carrying heavy packs), grinning septuagenarians (who also passed us by!). There’s no competition here, however, at the top of Mt. Fuji. No status. No hierarchies. Just a bunch of happy fools who have climbed a big-ole mountain…and are definitely not thinking about doing it twice!

(What’s your Mt. Fuji – that challenge that almost had you beat, but that you fought through all the way to the end? Overcoming difficult challenges is important; you can draw on these experiences whenever you find yourself again struggling, with the knowledge that you have the kind of grit to get through whatever life throws at you. Just make sure you do a bit of training first. It’ll get you to your bowl of ramen faster!)