I climbed a mountain last month. Hard to find, amidst the clouds, and utterly worth the sweat and grime, Mount Kintoki in the Hakone region of Japan does not require special gear or months of altitude training, but is still a mountain nonetheless.

With two of my friends flanking me in this venture, it took 2 hours of vertical struggle to reach the cloud-engulfed top where a teahouse sat ready to welcome exhausted but smiling climbers.

Iíll be honest, the climb was great, but what happened at the top was even better. The owner of the tea house came out with sweets and water, and as we began to converse, I found that this 70-plus-year old woman climbed that same mountain every morning at sunrise in order to open her tea house to climbers. Before an automated food cart was installed to bring food up the mountain, she carried her dayís wares on her back. Talk about impressive.

Entering the weathered and wooden teahouse, there sat three couples all over the age of 70. They too had climbed the mountain faster than what three healthy 20-something year olds could accomplish and were laughing boisterously as they ate their packed lunches. Straight from their lunch to our mouths, they fed us home baked sweet bread and soy sauce steamed pumpkin. Out came bowls of hot noodles, steak flavored potato chips, and sweets from the different regions of Japan. As I interpreted between my old friends and our now new ones, I couldnít believe what luck we had stumbling upon these climbers who were so eager to share a part of their lives with us. It was one of my best memories from my month in Japan.

Enjoy our September issue and the many unique adventures that you will find within.

Kate Kaneko