Happy Heights: 4 Things Kids Taught Me About Climbing
We emerge from the shade of trees and find a dirt path snaking up the side of a hill. We pick our way through rocks and weeds, the harsh sun beating down our backs. Halfway up, I feel light-headed, and I pause to catch my breath.
Far ahead, I spot the little girls we came with, all dressed in lime green t-shirts and navy blue sweatpants. They are scrambling to reach the top, shrieking and giggling with excitement.
One of them, a small 8-year-old girl named Baby Rose, stops and turns around. Her eyes widen and she exclaims in a high-pitched voice, “Wooooow, ang gaaaandaaaa! (Wow, so beautiful!)” enunciating each word slowly. I chuckle at her wide-eyed amazement and watch as she turns around to hurry off after her companions. We’ve just exited a small forest of marang trees and are still some way off from the peak – what’s there to see? I turn around and I’m immediately struck with wonder.
There, behind us, is a panoramic view of the Anilao shoreline and the sparkling sea. I could think of nothing else to say but “Wow.”
It was on a Happy Heights climb to Mt. Gulugod-Baboy that I met the spritely bunch from Meritxell Orphanage, a home in Marikina for young girls.
Happy Heights is a private outreach that offers free day hikes for underprivileged Filipino children. With the vision of helping kids reach new heights, the initiative brings children from urban areas to a new environment, to let them explore a new way to learn and enjoy themselves. The hikes are arranged in cooperation with the mountain tour company, Trail Adventours, which provides friendly and experienced guides who assist the kids throughout the climb.
People are invited to contribute as sponsors or spend time with the kids on the trail. Meant as a form of therapy for public school kids or special children, the Happy Heights hikes are relatively easy so whether you’re a mountaineer or a newbie like me, you’re sure to enjoy yourself while making a few kids happy. Need more convincing? Read this article: Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Try Hiking
On the day of the hike, the sky was a crisp blue with feathery wisps of white. After a three-hour ride to Anilao, Batangas, we gathered in a small thatch hut at the bottom of the mountain to get to know the members of the group. There were nine girls and sixteen adults. There was a round of names and a brief warm-up session to get our muscles loosened up, and then we were ready to go.
As promised, the hike was relatively easy, but not without a few challenges. The steep cemented road at the start of the trail quickly left us sweaty and panting. After that, the trek consisted of a gradual but steady ascent through craggy slopes and grassy hills.
On the way, we chatted with the girls, asking about their favorite colors, characters, and school subjects. They were shy at first, mumbling their answers timidly with evading eyes. But as we progressed through the trail, they became more energetic and boisterous, tugging on our shirts and remarking excitedly on everything we came across – from dogs to chickens to mango pickers – in a manner that was characteristic of curious children.
As it turned out, I would learn more from the girls from the orphanage than I expected. On the way to the peak I was reminded of a few things I often forget when I’m on the road.
Happy Heights: 4 Things Kids Taught Me About Climbing
Climb with optimism.
Climbing any mountain, whether “relatively easy” or “incredibly difficult,” takes perseverance and will. It also helps to keep a positive attitude throughout the climb. It was actually one of the kids who made me realize that a happy disposition and an optimistic view can make all the difference. When we had reached the top of the cemented road, I turned to 12-year-old girl Nosel who was beside me and, noticing the beads of sweat on her forehead, asked if she was tired and wanted to rest. She answered with a smile, “I’m not tired, ate, just sweating.”
Appreciate the view from where you’re standing.
While getting to the peak is the main goal, it’s important to stop once in a while and turn around to discover the sights that will take your breath away. It was fun watching the kids run about, pointing at animals and plants that we adults would have otherwise ignored or taken for granted. The children reminded me that the most important thing you need in climbing, and traveling in general, is to have a sense of wonder.
Motivate each other.
It’s good to have a support system on the trail – to have people cheer you on, especially during the most challenging parts. Throughout the climb, the girls looked out for each other and shouted words of encouragement to those who needed it. As we neared the peak, there was a chorus of “Kaya mo ‘yan!” and “Konti na lang!” from the group, which helped lift the spirits of even the most tired among us.
Once you get to the peak, celebrate!
Give yourself due credit. You’ve just climbed a mountain – shout it to the world, take a jump shot, or just sit down to take in the view. The lively bunch from Meritxell wasted no time in making the most out of the experience. They cheered and ran around, exploring the rolling hills on the peak of Mt. Gulugod-Baboy. They borrowed my camera and went on a trigger-happy shooting spree, reveling in the wonderful scenes glimpsed through the viewfinder. One of them had even brought a jump rope so they could take turns skipping on the peak. Their energy and enthusiasm were infectious; it was impossible not to join in on the fun.
The climb with the kids had been a fun and eye-opening experience. Author Franz Kafka once remarked, “Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
The Happy Heights hikes serve as a good reminder of that. At its core lies the eagerness to help children reach new heights and expand their horizons. But it also invites adults, like myself, to regain the sense of wonder we so often lose as we grow up and to see things as if for the first time.
Dindin Reyes, 0917-564-8917
Guido Sarreal, 0917-791-1735