It's 7am and quiet on the trails at Saga Hill in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur.
Hikers Low Seong Keem and Lau Ah Kow like to get to the forest paths early as they have made it their responsibility to monitor the condition of the trails.
That morning, they came across a fallen tree which was obstructing the path leading to Saga Hill’s peak.Without much hesitation, Low quickly whips out a machete from his bagpack and starts to chop off the branches.
They also had to saw the tree trunk to be able to remove it.
In time, other hikers would come along and offer to lend a helping hand.
Together, they work to move the tree to the side of the lane to clear the path for fellow hikers.
Though strangers, these individuals are bound together in the gotong-royong spirit.
Lau and Low are members of KL’s Bukit Ampang Hikers Association (BAHA), formed in 2011. It is made up of over 500 hiking enthusiasts from all walks of life. Many of them actively make it their social responsibility to care for Saga Hill’s hiking trails.
Low and other volunteers view Saga Hill as a community park, and believe that everyone has a responsibility to help look after the hill.
“Hikers at Bukit Saga are always willing to volunteer their services, be it in picking up trash or clearing the paths. They understand the importance of safeguarding natural sites and the environment,” says Low, 56, who is BAHA’s chairman.
Thanks to the volunteers’ efforts, the trails leading to the summit, which stands at 410m, is as clean as a whistle. There is no trash in sight, and the paths are swept regularly.
“There is an unspoken rule here. Hikers do not dispose their waste at the hill and they respect the wildlife.
“We greet each other regardless of race or ethnicity. Many hikers share ther snacks with others at resting huts and help one another along the way,” says 63-year-old Lau, who is part of BAHA’s maintenance department.
Regular hiker Misal Adiani, 39, always encourages his son Misal Iman, 10, to carry a plastic bag whenever they go hiking.
“I encourage him to pick up plastic bottles along the hike. It is important to instil in children the importance of keeping the forests clean. Every little step goes a long way in caring for Mother Earth,” says Misal, from Ampang.
The 45-minute hike to the peak of Saga Hill is a breeze, thanks to the placement of wooden steps by Lau and his fellow volunteers.
“Hikers lend a helping hand whenever maintenance work needs to be done along the trail.
“Everyone chips in to do their bit. That’s the beauty of this hiking community,” says Lau, a retiree, who spends between two and three hours on maintenance work along the trail each time.
Trail steps are built using discarded pieces of timber wood, window and bed frames, collected from dump sites in the hill’s neighbourhoods, adds Lau.
“Instead of buying wood, it is always better to upcycle something old. These old pieces of wood are sturdy and durable.
“It is kinder to the environment as trees need not be felled. It took us two months to complete the steps in 2009,” explains Lau, who also uses tree stumps along the trail.
Volunteers – from teenagers to retirees – also help to clear trees and bushes, weed and install ropes along the trail.
“Many of us have been hiking up Saga Hill for over a decade. We climb up the hill regularly and know it like the back of our palm. We know where landslides have occurred and if there are fallen trees blocking the trail,” says Low who hikes up Saga Hill at least four times a week.
Lau chips in: “The youngsters are always happy to help with repair works, like fixing damaged steps and stringing ropes along the trail for added safety. It’s nice to see the younger generation lending a helping hand to care for nature.”
Spirit of togetherness
At the peak of Saga Hill, volunteers have put up facilities such as tables, hammocks, tent shelters and benches for hikers to rest and relax.
There’s a also mini jungle gym, with equipments such as dumb bells (made from steel rods and cement) and monkey bars.
There is also a store to keep tools, ropes and wood for maintenance work.
“Everything has been put into place for the safety and convenience of hikers. It’s for the greater good of the community, really.
“It has taken a lot of sweat to cart these items to the peak. This wouldn’t have been possible without help from our hiking community,” explains Low.
For thirsty hikers, there are large containers filled with spring water, collected by volunteers such as 13-year-old Siah Yan Wu. He is at the hill every weekend with his parents, who operate a stall selling canned drinks and light snacks.
“It’s all about doing my part for the community. Besides collecting water, I pick up trash along the trails and help the uncles with repair work. I don’t mind the work as it keeps me busy,” says the Form One student from SMK Taman Seraya in Ampang.
Over the years, many hikers have forged close friendships with each other.
The peak has become a popular spot for trekkers to chat over drinks or a simple cookout session for brunch or lunch.
Low is happy Saga Hill has enabled Malaysians to come together as an extended family of nature lovers.
“At the summit, there are Chinese, Malay and Indian retirees who enjoy a simple chat over an isotonic drink or piping hot coffee
“In another corner, there are others who enjoy posting selfies and wefies of themselves on social media. It’s nice fun to see a gathering of people of different races all on this small hill.”
Occasionally, this group plans excursions to popular hiking spots around the Klang Valley and organise get-togethers.
The association also organises a Family Day celebration in May and a Merdeka Countdown at the summit every year.
But this Merdeka, they are celebrating National Day in Semenyih, Selangor.
Low hopes more volunteers will do their part to maintain the hills and protect the environment.
“I hope more youth will step forward and care for our forests. It is important to look after our green lung areas to enable all Malaysians to enjoy nature and get fit.”