“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir
“Why do you let your kids climb mountains?” A friend asked me this while I was preparing to bring my kids to Mount Sirao. It was yet the second time I was set to bring them mountain climbing. The first time we climbed a mountain, we went to Osmeña Peak, the famed highest peak of the entire Cebu province, standing at slightly over 1, 000 meters above sea level. My kids, aged 14 years old and 9 years old then, along with other kids, climbed the mountain with the speed and dexterity inherent in youth. When their threshold for a rustic experience was further challenged by camping overnight at the peak, my kids survived and thrived. I knew I could bring them to another one, without having to contend with a long whining or worse, resorting to a sweet bribery, when my son concluded at the end of the journey that it was a life-changing experience, coupled with an enthusiastic “Where to next?” question.
On the second time, we went trekking on a much longer trail, which traversed from the rivers and falls of Budlaan to the peaks of Mount Sirao, noted to be the highest of Cebu City. It took us more than 4, 000 steps in close to 7 hours to complete the trail. It was not a walk in the park, so to speak.
So why do I let my kids climb mountains? It turns out nature rewards the persistent not only with breathtaking views, but also with excitement, fulfillment and even life skills and lessons. The prospect of these kids realizing and acquiring the skills and lessons offered in every stride and climb makes the ascent to the peak worthwhile.
For the fun of it. Despite the heat, sweat, difficulty, and fatigue, it truly is a fun physical activity. The mountain trails are actually gigantic playgrounds with surprising twists and turns. The Budlaan-Sirao trail in particular holds exhilarating exploits from clambering up and down boulders to sliding down through a muddy hill, frolicking under the crashing falls, walking on a sloping cliff, scaling steep inclines, and traversing through the dark wilderness.
While the kids can do this in a virtual world at a push of a button or view it endlessly on television, doing it for real elicits tremendous fun and excitement and keeps the kids physically active.
For the love and appreciation of the outdoors. The trail from Budlaan to Sirao Peak is a surprising showcase of scenic diversity. It stretches from intricate piles of boulders to a flowing river along a rock-strewn trail, scenic falls and pool nestled in a rocky wall, vast plains of green and mountainous peaks of varying heights.
Pauses were made not only to rest and to catch breaths, but also to take in the splendor of the landscape. We took our lunch by the pretty waterfalls, where we also spent some time wading and dipping in the cold waters. And further up, just before we commenced our assault to the peak, the wide plains dotted with serrated black rocks, offered an idyllic place to rest, to have some fresh coconuts, and to appreciate the three-tiered peaks looming before us.
The views from the mountain peaks never fail to soothe the wounds, aches and pains in climbing it. Mount Sirao is no exception. The hills, plains, city views, and the seas below weaved a breathtaking panorama for us seated on the rocky edge of the peak. And yet, from another angle, the peak presented a wide vista of the setting sun. The pain, and even the occasional regret, nagging during the brutal climb, inexplicably dissipated at the peak.
And it is only in being immersed outdoors will the kids love and appreciate it more, despite the hurdles, which are but only fleeting, temporary, and easily forgotten upon conquering the mountain.
For the passion to explore, dream, and discover. There are numerous settings to slowly infuse Mark Twain’s philosophy and mountain trails are one of them. Far from being monotonous, the Budlaan-Sirao trail is one of the best trails to ignite one’s adventure cravings. It is not a flat and boring trail of barren land, but it is actually a path of varying slopes, inclines, and descents leading to surprisingly divergent natural sceneries. Although still deficient in mountain climbing skills, our adventurous spirits propelled our feet forward and upward.
There are rocks and boulders to scale before the picturesque Kabang Falls comes in sight. While a steep uphill climb from the Kabang Falls is tackled to reach the lush hills and plains of Kan-Irag. It is marked by a contrasting presence of black rocks, a beautiful alignment of trees, and a wonderful view of the peaks. Then the assault to Sirao Peak is made through a vertical hike in the wilderness.
Along the way, our guide introduced the kids to the wild plant which causes sensations similar to electrical shocks when touched or the mimosa plant (locally known as “makahiya”) which, akin to a shy being, folds inward and closes, when stroked. And for the first time, the kids discovered a source basin for spring water, where they refilled their water bottles.
The early exposure to mountain trails has kindled the kids’ sense of adventure and exploration. They now continuously look forward to venture beyond the doorstep and explore the next mountain destination.
For the will to endure and persevere. While it is cliche, but it is an unarguable fact, that life is not easy for anyone.
It is a personal opinion that mountain climbing is one of the best experiences to learn and develop the capacity to endure and persist in tough times. Most often, to one’s astonishment, it can ignite a once unknown potential and power to persevere and to thrive in the most difficult situations.
While the Budlaan-Sirao trail was daunting for our neophyte standards, the kids endured the arduous trek through the different terrains. When we made the choice to ascend the peak and go beyond the point of no return, a potent determination to scale the peak was formed, fueling the need to persist and persevere. I have to say our guide’s cheer and understatement of the remaining distance ahead helped in pushing ourselves to reach the third and final peak.
The trail was also a window to reality for the kids when they were told that kids their ages or even younger had to traverse the grueling path every day to and from school.
Experiences like this serve as a resource, a memory which the kids can choose to tap into when facing life’s challenges, one where they can extract the great power to endure, to persist, to cope.
For the euphoric sense of fulfillment and achievement. Reaching a goal, overcoming a challenge, surmounting a difficulty. These are experiences common in mountain climbing.
Aside from the big boulders and rough terrains, there are three peaks to scale in the Sirao trail, each progressing with a certain degree of difficulty. The first two are hikes through open plains, gentle slopes and steady inclines. The third, however, tested one’s mettle to endure with a climb through a thick wilderness and a steeper ascent.
Upon reaching the peak after the tough climb, one of the kids with us, the youngest of our group, declared with pride and certainty, “I am so proud of myself!”
We learned that the worst was actually not over when we started our descent. Not only did we have to contend with the dimming light as the sun had already begun to set, but the exceptionally muddy terrain caused by a downpour on the mountains earlier that afternoon presented an added challenge. The descent was tough and seemingly endless, but the kids persisted and prevailed.
The grueling trek did not dampen their spirits nor did it dissuade them from climbing more mountains. The successful climb remarkably boosted their morale, they are counting the days until the next one.
Postscript: The trek would not have been possible without our very good-natured and well-informed guide, Ruel Olaso. Unmarked photos are courtesy of Ruel.