Story and photos by BELLA NABILAH

I was listening to a random song on the radio when some lyrics caught me: “When the world gets too heavy and the shadows cross my mind, like brave mountaineers we never were much bothered by time.”

What a lovely song (by Gordon Lightfoot), I thought.

I have been involved in climbing since my third year in dental school. I am still very far from being a professional climber, but I enjoy the mountains every time “we” meet. Our souls mingle and I have become part of them.

The lessons from mountaineering closely resemble life’s myriad teachings.

Each climber was once a first timer. She climbed without any idea of what awaited her on the peak or along the hike but she came to understand that the first step is to overcome the fear of the unknown, be it the wilderness of the jungle, the darkness of the forest, the vagaries of weather or the fear of falling.

Courage and fear both reside in the heart, they are inseparable. The real issue is which is stronger. The biggest test of courage is the first climb, subsequent ascents nurture courage till it outgrows fear.

Soon, the climber feels that the mountains are cheering for her. Eventually, the realisation comes that courage is not the absence of fear but the strength to keep going.

I remember my experience hiking Bukit Tabur in Taman Melawati (on the north-eastern corner of Kuala Lumpur). In order to stabilise my body on steep edges, I had to grab sharp rocks and balance my legs between crevices.

This is the kind of landscape that climbers have to tackle at Bukit Tabur.

This is the kind of landscape that climbers have to tackle at Bukit Tabur.

My hands were full of scratch marks and the bruises on my legs stayed for two weeks. It is typical to bring home some injuries when hiking.

Other familiar hardships include leech bites, thorny branches, and tripping over buttress roots. The pain of overused muscles and joints can also be intense.

This is the price the mountaineer has to pay for building physical, mental and spiritual strength; and for overcoming the timidity, hesitancy and insecurity that we all silently harbour.

Being a mountaineer makes us aware that it is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves. No one can “conquer” a mountain. It remains there, unbowed and majestic. We hike up there to witness its wealth of nature and beauty and borrow a bit of it.

Every time this shallow world tries to bring us down, we must remind ourselves that we have climbed mountains. We have done what only a few have attempted. Climbing mountains improves confidence because we have conquered our own fears and doubts.

I regard a trek up a mountain as an imitation of life. The peak is the purpose. The rewarding view at the top symbolises the beauty of success. The struggles along the climb require preparation, effort and determination. This is pretty much the same as the achieving of life’s goals. Hikers may fall face down. But the secret of life is to fall seven times and get up eight times.

Goals are essential to life. I remember my experience of hiking up a beautiful mountain in Cameron Highlands. Due to the circumstances, we could not complete the hike and a strange feeling of incompleteness kept bothering me. A few months later, I went back and made it to the top. It taught me that no matter how beautiful the journey, if the goal is not achieved, there is something missing. Yes, mountains can get that personal!

But let not confidence breed hubris. Sometimes a mountain unveils its wild side to test the souls that pass by. A mountain can never be underestimated, it has its own way of dealing with overconfidence. The hours of trudging, the slips and falls can be hard on the ego. Mountains can also make us feel small. So we have to leave our ego and bring back humility.

Somewhere between the base and the summit lies a spiritual discovery. Mountains are the epitome of God’s majesty and graciousness, as we experienced when we witnessed the most beautiful sunset at a peak in Negri Sembilan.

Mountain climbing takes mental challenges to new levels. The long stretches of continuous ascents are exhausting. Patience is slowly developed.

One also has to use hand power when climbing Bukit Tabur.

One also has to use hand power when climbing Bukit Tabur.

After a gruelling climb, the hikers are rewarded with spectacular scenery at the higher reaches of Bukit Tabur.

After a gruelling climb, the hikers are rewarded with spectacular scenery at the higher reaches of Bukit Tabur.

The first half of the climb is often torturous and voices in the head sneak into the heart whispering regrets. But never let the mind fool the heart. The mind may give up easily but we must take heed of the admonition “not to look at the whole mountain but to take it one piece at a time”. Only persistence can take us to the peak.

It is often said that you never hike the same mountain twice. The second time you traverse a mountain trail, the wind has changed, the soil is different and the mountain’s weather may flip in a blink. The only thing that we can do is to prepare ourselves for changes.

Mountains are able to teach the soul to not overlook small things in life. The gruelling hours of climbing make us appreciate every drop of water. The cold wind at the summit makes us thankful for the extra layer of clothing. We learn the importance of gratitude. Those who can find joy in small things find real happiness in their lives.

Upon reaching the summit, we realise that the view from the top is totally different from the bottom. The new panorama changes our perspective of life. We realise that the solutions to our problems lie within us. Problems are just a matter of perspective. Climbing the peak, literally or metaphorically, helps sort out what is important in life.

Summits teach us that no matter how high we climb or how far we reach, we should never forget the way back home.

“I found my heart upon a mountain I did not know I could climb, and I wonder how many other pieces of myself are secreted away in places I judge I cannot go,” says the life coach Laurel Bleadon-Maffei.

I consider myself an amateur but I will continue to climb. I know mountains can be tiring or dangerous but they are magical.

When they are calling, I know I must go.