Huaguoshan rises 626 meters above sea level near Lianyungang on the east coast of China. It was not a large mountain by any means, but as we stood below it gazing up at its pagoda, stupa, and temple dotted sides and peak that sat opaque in the sea haze it seemed high enough. It is, after all, the highest mountain in Jiangsu province and my daughter still has some pretty short legs.
Petra walked toward Huaguoshan confidently, holding hands with both her mother and I as we began ascending the stairs. This is China, and the entire path up to the summit would be covered in steps. Thousands and thousands of them. It is my impression that Petra did not know what she was in for.
After around a half hour she began whining. “I don’t want to walk anymore,” she wailed. The day seemed to be going as I would have expected it to: Petra being carried up the mountain. But after taking a quick break for a snack and carrying her around for a short time while she napped, she returned to walking with a new attitude.
I tried to explain why people climb mountains. Telling her that there would be an amazing view from the time. I wanted to make reaching the summing seem like a game, like something fun. To my surprise, she got into it. Petra began climbing and climbing with enthusiasm. This was something new — usually this kid whines and throws a fit from having to walk a half hour around town. In an instant she seemed to turn a corner in her development, in an instant she got the concept of mountain climbing.
She eventually grew tired. Real tired.
“My leg doesn’t work anymore,” she exclaimed at one point.
She was right. Her left food did look as though it was glued below a set of concrete steps. She reached down with both hands and pulled it unstuck and continued climbing. She kept going.
I was impressed.
Soon enough we were at the summit, and Petra and I climbed over a rock outcrop that lead to the very top. My daughter and I scampered over the boulders, hand in hand.
Petra climbed her first mountain.