Saturday, December 3, 2011

Let's go climb a mountain!

Why not?

After all, I'm totally in shape (not), adore the outdoors (not), and hiking is one of my favorite pastimes (never done it in my life).

Seoraksan National Park, Ganghwon Province
Seriously, though, I've wanted to do this for a while, ever since I heard about Seorak Mountain after our second week in Korea. Seoraksan National Park is a b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l area in the North-Eastern part of the country and we were told that October/November was the perfect time of year to visit, not only because of the picturesque scenery but also because the weather is perfect for hiking. I also could use a little bit of exercise, for a change.

I've come to realize that foreigners here in Korea have developed effective ways to communicate events to eachother. Websites such as Waygook, The Yeogiyo and various social groups on Facebook have enabled Jason and I to keep up to date with things to do, places to see, and people to meet. Our coteachers are also always suggesting fun things to do, and are often very surprised to find out that we already know about them.

It's through one of these 'sources' that we've come to learn about a tour company called Adventure Korea. Their English tours include everything from trips to the DMZ up near North Korea, to the Southern island of Jeju, to temple stays, and of course, hiking. Jason and I booked the 2-day early November weekend trip. The good thing about this trip is that there were two options: the 4 hour round trip hike up to Ulsan Rock, or the two hour mini-hike that included a Gondola ride up to a waterfall. What to choose, what to choose?

Our new spiffy hiking shoes!
In preparation for my first hiking experience, I visited our trusty local EMart to purchase myself  some  waterproof hiking shoes with sturdy rubber grips. Jason paid slightly more for a North Face pair. I also bought gloves, a hat, self-warming heating pads for hands or feet (which I could use right now in the teachers' room as I am typing this - it is absolutely freezing in here!), and a winter coat, none of which I would end up resorting to.

We left Bundang around 6:30am on the Saturday morning in order to meet our Adventure Korea contact person in Seoul, and started our 3 1/2 hour bus ride to Seoraksan. The progressive absence of conventional seated toilets, and the fact that I kept being awakened by my ears popping informed me that we were increasing our altitude while driving further and further away from the city.

Jason and I at the entrance of the park.
When we got there it was raining, but the owner of the make-your-own-bibimbap restaurant was happy because he sold a lot of ponchos that day. I have never been so thankful for a $1 piece of plastic in my life.

After reaching our destination (the national park), we were split into two groups according to our option choice. I decided to be a big girl and climb the mountain. I ended up dragging my @$$ the entire way behind the guide, Jason, military personnel, and a few girls who were clearly in much better shape than I was. Apparently they stopped for breaks, but since I had to make up some ground during the rest times, I realized I never actually got one!
About half way up the mountain. The tradition is to try and
push the rock off the cliff. Famous photo op.

The top third of the mountain required for us to climb up some extremely steep stairs that were awfully scary. Let's just say it took me 15 minutes just chilling at the base of the rock trying to pep-talk myself to keep moving. I am terribly afraid of heights, and it didn't help that everything was so slippery due to the rain. The setup seemed a little sketchy - if I happened to lose my balance or footing...

Jason and some fellow hikers at the very top of the mountain.
It was best not to anticipate any disastrous scenarios, I decided. I summoned my courage and, with a little help from Anastasia, another fearful hiker, and a random guy who took it upon himself to drag the both of us up the rock, I started up the stairs. I must have looked like a moron clenching to the makeshift railings for dear life, but I must admit it was quite the rush making it to the top 45 minutes later and having Jason look down at me saying 'What? You actually made it up?' He was sure I had stayed at the bottom of the stairs and would wait for the rest of the group. I guess I figured I would never return to that place, and I was there then, so I may as well go the whole way.
This is actually very high, but you can't tell because of the fog.

Honestly I think what saved me was the thick fog. It made it very difficult to see anything beyond 3 feet in front of us, which meant that although I kept climbing higher and higher, I still felt grounded since I couldn't see down our out. 

Unfortunately, due to my extreme slow-ness, there are no pictures of me making it to the top.
But Jason snapped a few shots with other hikers who were climbing at his faster pace.

The walk down was much easier and a good opportunity to meet new friends, which we had supper with at a local Korean restaurant in the small village of Osaek where our accommodation was located. Supper turned into Soju and Makgoli (Korean traditional drinks), and Soju/Makgoli turned into Flip Cups (hey, were are Canadian), and Flip Cups turned into, in true Korean style... Noraebang!

New Adventure Korea friends and us playing Canada vs. US Flip Cup extravaganza. We had quite the audience watching!

'Juice box' soju. Not for the kiddies.

We probably mentioned this already, but Noraebangs are 'Karaoke Rooms' where you can go sing your little heart out with some friends after a night of drinking. We brought along some soju and beers, which we grabbed from the convenience store next door (how convenient!)

Around 1am (we had been up since 6am) we were pooched and Noraebang turned into sleep. Before bed we laid out our drenched clothes on the cozy ongol heated floor of the hotel room in hopes that it would be dry the next day.

Success! Everything was dry! But that still didn't convince us to go for Round 2 of adventurous climbing that morning (it was pouring rain at this point) and instead I slept some more while Jason listened to a live radio broadcast of the hockey game on his smart phone, despite some reception issues in the mountains.

Around 2pm we made our way back to Seoul, exchanged numbers with new friends, proceeded back to Bundang on the subway, ate a ton of pizza, and crashed.

Hiking that mountain was the most difficult physical challenge I've ever undertaken. It made me sad that Jason thought I was sarcastic when I mentioned this to him. He makes these kinds of things look so darn easy. Perhaps I should seek other hiking opportunities, just to prove that I can. Or maybe I'll stick to scrapbooking.

Here are a few more pics of our adventure!
Peaceful statue of Buddha at the foot of the mountain

Seoraksan aftermath: GIANT mosquito bite on my leg (and all over my body for that matter... I'm so allergic)

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