Monday, 14 May 2012

Mount Salak: A Test of Life

Photo Credit: Adam Hegyi (Mount Salak, 2006)

"Never go hiking to prove yourself, because there is really nothing to prove and nobody to prove it to. Always go hiking to experience nature, to know it, to learn to live together with it, so that you know how to love and protect it."

That was what my scout and guide builder used to say, and I still remember it until now, because in reality, understanding those words was nowhere near doing it! It is very hard to keep a steady heart during a hike, if the ultimate goal is to 'conquer' the mountain..

I am really blessed to have great a teacher (my scout and guide builder) and a solid team (my patrol 'Lily'). Nature is always beautiful, and when we are exploring it with the right people, everything we see becomes a blessing. At least, that is how I feel.

Mount Salak is not the easiest hiking route. The paths are narrow and uneven. Whenever it rains, the stony paths will quickly become very slippery, while the muddy ones become very sticky. Even the experienced hikers often avoids hiking on Mount Salak during rainy season.

In Junior High School, I never heard of Mount Salak, until the time when my scout and guide builder told us that we were going to hike and camp around the base of the mountain. I found out a little about Mount Salak's reputation (being a hard hiking place), when I saw the look on my parents' face, when I told them that we were going to camp there.

My parents quickly called my uncle, who was quite an experienced hiker, to ask him whether they should let me go. My uncle 'interviewed' me, about the camp area, the hiking route and how long I was staying. I answered his questions based on our itinerary. Then, he told my parents that I was alright to go. I was very happy about that.

I did my preparation together with my patrol. We always prepared everything together as a group to avoid taking too many things. In most of the camps we did back in school days, my patrol always brought the least things, but we always had everything that we (and other members) needed during the camp.

One thing that I remember until now, all members of my patrol liked to have eggs, especially for breakfast. So, we always brought eggs to every camp. We wrapped each egg in a piece of tissue paper, then wrapped it again in a piece of used paper/newspaper. Then we placed half-a-dozen eggs in a hard container. At least we brought three containers for the whole camp duration. We used to make other scout and guide brigade members laugh at us, because we were the only patrol who would go through that much trouble to bring that many eggs. We were very happy about it, though. We could have fried eggs one morning, pancakes another morning, and maybe some noodle soup with egg on one of the nights..

We had our motto, "Camping is to have a great time, not to be suffering." .. Therefore, we tried our best to keep our tent area nice and tidy, as it was our home for the length of the camp, and we always made sure that we had enough food and snacks.

Back to the camp..

From the moment we arrived, it had started raining very hard. We had to walk down a steep path from the road to the camp site. The path was almost impossible to walk up and down, as it was slippery, but we had to get our things down and build our tent.

When the rain was still very hard, we waited under a little hut near the path. As soon as the rain stopped, we quickly moved, although the slippery and muddy path couldn't make us move any faster. When it finally rained again, our tent was already standing strong and we were safe and warm inside it.

The next day, we started our first hike. We were only going around the base of the mountain, which means, we would come back to the camp site. That was the first time I went hiking on a real mountain (although we were not walking to the top), and that was when I found out for the first time that I was afraid of height..

We were supposed to time ourselves in reaching each post to do tasks and collect signatures for the tasks we completed. My patrol kept getting behind because I was struggling with the sight of the cliff on both sides of the path. My friends kept reminding me, "Don't look to the sides! Just look forward, just look at us, concentrate and look at us!" They also kept moving my position, so that I could focus more on their movements, not the cliff. I was second in command in my patrol, which made my position was the last one at the back. However, for that particular hike, my friends kept moving me from the back to the front.

When the path looks clearly visible and straight, sometimes I ask my friends to go on and I would catch up with them in a few minutes. I felt that I needed that time alone to build my confidence.

When we reached an area where the path was all mud and was sloped one-sided, we moved slowly. In some places, we even had to use ropes to hold on to, especially when the path was broken, so that we had to jump to continue on the path, while trying not to fall off the cliff!

We managed to get through. I was shaking badly, but quite happy. Then, we came up to grassy path (just like the photograph above). The stones were slippery, and behind the tall grass was the cliff. I felt really tired with my shaking legs. Since the path was clearly visible, I asked my friends to go on and I was going to take my time for a few minutes. We could hear others singing and shouting, so we knew that the next post was coming up shortly.

When we reached a place where the grass was thick and the path had a broken part, we had to jump again.. Well, I had to jump, and I couldn't call out to my friends, as they were already gone. I tried to be brave, especially because the noises from the next post was loud and clear. I was very close to everyone else.

So, I jumped and landed on a thick grass, on a very narrow part of the path. I tried to hold on to a bush of grass, but they were all pulled out, as I was slipping down the cliff.. I kept trying to find something to hold on to. There was no tree around me, not even a small one. So, my only hope was the grass, and a loud shout!

I was lucky, a boy patrol was right behind me, they threw their bamboo poles, made a cross right above my head and I quickly caught it. A few seconds later, I might have been too far to be able to reach their poles.. They pulled me up and told me to walk with them to the next post. After that, the remaining path was normal. The boy patrol wanted to catch up with their timing, and I wanted to catch my breath, so, I was walking alone again, but in a short time, I could already see the next post and my friends were all there, waiting for our turn to do the tasks assigned to us.

We did the task, then, a female builder asked my friends, "Is your friend here?" They nodded and explained to me that they told the builder about me. I was given a choice, whether to go on with my friends, or walk back to the camp site with a builder. After making sure that the remaining posts did not have tasks with my specialty (morse code and knots), I decided to go back to the camp site. I had already done half of the hiking route, and with my newfound fear of height, I considered that as an achievement! I was a little sad, but I didn't want my friends to worry about me anymore, because we were only teenagers on our first hike. If anything worse happen to me because I was pushing myself, I might not be so lucky next time.

During the walk back, the two builders walking with me kept talking to keep my mind off the cliff on the sides of the path. I still felt the fear when we walk through tough places, but most of the time, I felt more calm and confident. We arrived at the camp site pretty quickly and I started boiling some water.

My patrol was the third to leave the post, when I left them. However, I saw several patrols have come back and my friends still hadn't arrived. I was beginning to worry. I kept asking around if anyone saw my friends, and they said they didn't. Until one girl patrol told me that my patrol was late, because my friends fell off the cliff!

Not long after, I could see my friends walking into the camp site. I greeted them and they were rushing to tell me their stories.. First, one of them fell, then the one catching her wrists fell too. The third one was trying to catch them, but she was actually the smallest in build out of all of us, then, she fell too. The forth one, didn't risk catching the others alone, she called the fifth, who was the biggest of us, and the two of them, pulled the three girls back to the path. They had cuts and bruises on their arms, but I was so happy to see them alright.

The next morning, we did morning walk to the nearby waterfall. At first, I wasn't sure about going. I didn't want to risk a hike again. However, other members told me that the walk was easy and the waterfall was beautiful, it would be a great loss to miss it. So, I decided to go and see the waterfall.

Yes, I'm glad I went.. It was very beautiful.. The waterfall was tall. The pool around the waterfall was big and the water was clear. I was standing at the bottom of the waterfall, and when I looked up to the top of the waterfall, it was like looking through a vertical hole/pipe. It was absolutely amazing. For years after that, I could still see the waterfall in my head as if I was standing there..

The dangerous path, the beautiful waterfall, the amazing scenery, the unforgettable experience.. Everything was found in one place, which I miss deeply until now.. Mount Salak.. My first hike, my first test of nature.. a test of life..

I remember my builder's words again, "Nature always knows our intentions. It will react to preserve itself." Have we respected nature enough? Have we loved and protected it enough?

-14 May 2012-

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