Monday, October 17, 2005

Korean Hiking Experience

I*ve hiked a few mountains in a few countries over the past 24 years. When you mention hiking to most Canadians there are certainly some universal associations we make with the activity. Words that come to mind include rugged, natural, solitude and healthy. Switzerland modified and embellished on our Canadian hiking style, adding cows with oversized bells, gondola accents and beer gardens to the mix. Korea*s adaptation preserved the gondolas, instituted a BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) policy and substituted one tour busload of Koreans for every Swiss cow.

Rosie, a fellow Korean English teacher, her brother and I joint the **Crazy Mountain** hiking club on their tour bus at 0600, Sunday morning. That day I beat my earliest Korean wakeup by four and a half hours. The tour bus was sold out and I was the only Caucasian on it. By the way people were dressed you would have assumed we were headed for the base camp of Everest. I saw more Gore~Tex on that bus than I saw back home in West Coast Canada where Gore~Tex is a way of life.

Not only was everyone dressed to the hilt, they had full size backpacks on, carabineers attached on every free loop and more walking poles than Octopus would use, should an octopus ever acquire the capacity breath out of water, grasp poles and hike. And it should go without saying that everyone had brought their cell phone, Chicklet size mp3 player and digital camera... I*m pretty sure Korean scientists are working hard to find a way to integrate this last three items right into the skin. The only gear I shared in common with my new hiking comrades was the MP3 player (iPod ~ no Chicklet) and camera.

The journey by bus took around two hours, we made three stops along the way for bathroom breaks, food and coffee. I hadn*t eaten anything in the morning; besides the Gim~Bop I bought from 7~11 along the way, and an apple given to me on the bus. I made sure to fill up on some U~Dong soup, Gim~Bop and onion~ring chips at the first stop.

When we finally arrived at our mountain I was a little disappointed to be hiking on cement. Had I known this was going to be the case I would have worn sandals, not army boots.

However, before I knew it we were off the hard pack and climbing an alarmingly steep hillside. The fist hour consisted of nothing but switchbacks, stairs and occasionally resorting to all fours. I was astounded by how fit all of these middle aged Korean*s passing me were.

Finally, we reached the summit and after a little pushing and showing I was able to find a good spot to stand and relish the view. This was to be the first of four summits! Within minutes we were headed down only to go up again to the next summit.

The lead hiker/guide in the club was this amazingly fit Korean man, probably in his late twenties or early thirties, dressed in all black top of the line hiking gear including biking gloves. He looked like Crazy Mountain Club Special Forces, somebody they would send on a solo rescue mission during torrential downpour and against all odds. Whenever we hit a summit he would stand there, a brown plastic bottle of Hite Beer in one hand and a Korean cigarette in the other. I even spotted women who were old enough to be my grandma pulling beer bottles from their bags.

When lunch rolled around it was like trying to find a parking spot at the mall on the 24th of December. All the good spots were taken so we eventually just bush whacked into the forest and found a spot. Rosie unpacked a five~course meal for the three of us, which included hot soup, coffee and tea. While she text messaged friends I looked around at what everyone was eating and began to understand why they brought such large backpacks.

We proceeded to climb two more peaks and then the major decent started. By this time I had gone from talking, whistling, taking pictures and looking around to listening to my iPod, staring at my feet and contemplating how forgiving a flat stretch would be on my knees and thighs.

Once at the bottom many hikers stopped to soak their feet in the stream. Feet now revived we all went and spent some time at the close by temple and then headed for our bus… which they had decided to relocate over four kilometres away.

Along the way there were all sorts of groups of Korean*s laughing, picnicking and playing on the park grounds. One group in particular stood out from the rest. They were speaking louder, laughing harder and acting friendlier. A large keg of Korean wine, wine which I became acquainted with on the third peak, sat half empty on their picnic table.

One or two of them shouted a drunken hello as I passed and as quickly as I replied I was engulfed by the drunken mob. They pulled me to their table and handed me a large bowl of white, fermented Korean wine. Eager to show them I liked drinking too, I chugged the wine and ate the funky tasting, pickled, fermented, green leaf they offered me as a chaser. Alas, I would have happily stayed but I had a bus to catch and Rosie and her brother were waiting.

Overall this was one of my best days in Korea, right up there with the Yoga farting incident. (I haven*t gotten out of town much since my arrival) The weather, scenery and people were all magnificent. I earned my rest that night. More than anything, I*m looking forward to applying **Korean Hiking Style** to all future outdoor endeavours.

1 comment:

Kurios1978 said...

LOL at the rice wine keg...

I went on a wee hill last Sunday too, but all I had was gimbap, which was also good, don't get me wrong!

For something more fancy next time, I might bring me some thoughtful Korean girls. Maybe I'll get a full-course meal too! :P