Monday, October 10, 2011

That time I went hiking...

My friend Skye and I climbed a mountain last Monday. Cheongnyangsan – san means mountain in Korean. So Mt. Cheongnyang, we conquered.  It was thrilling, at times chilly, most of the time rather temperate, and all-round strange, but wonderful. Allow me to paint the picture for you…

Korean Hiking Essential #1:
Brand-new hiking boots.
"The chunkier, the better."
We arrived around noon. I was nestled in a thick scarf and a fleece jacket, though I discovered shortly after my sprint to catch the bus that these items would be but extra baggage to haul along on my journey. Despite the subtle Autumn bite, I thought I was melting. An hour of bends and turns and we met the end of the bus route. From there, it was a hike in itself, just to get to the base of the trail. We stomped along the gravel until we finally reached our starting-point and, thus, began our trek already rather winded.

One…two…twelve Koreans passed us by with an annyeonghaseyo (hello), sporting every bright color of the rainbow. Koreans are all about their gear. I can only imagine that having a hobby here can act to drain one’s wallet, because it seems that many Koreans must have all the essentials before they can even begin. It appears this way when it comes to hiking, at least. I truly can’t explain the specimen that is the Korean hiker any better than this:
Korean Hiking Essential #2:
Hiking sticks. Ski poles can
work as a substitute.
"High atop the craggy mountains it stands; the fresh air toying with the fabulously curly wisps of black magic that poufs out of a practical neon orange visor that blocks the hazy sun from its eyes. Both hands clench a sharpened stick that is said to help thrust its body up the steep trails but is basically a ski pole in the right place at the wrong time. But the clothes are what make this specimen really shine. Starting at the feet we see state of the art hiking boots. The chunkier the better. Tight black pants which may have a pink stripe up the side if they are feeling saucy. The windbreaker will most certainly match the pants pulling the outfit together in some inexplicable harmony. But what makes this creature so mysterious and yet completely the opposite of elusive is this mask that leaves only the windows to the soul bare. What a magnificent beast the Korean hiker is." 
Our goal had been a peaceful hike; an escape from the sights and sounds of our city, so we could be one with nature, at least for a little while. We quickly learned that we would have to abandon our goal.

We hadn’t even climbed a third of the way up the meandering plight of endless staircases (yes, stairs), yet had already been greeted by at least 50 hikers. They’re a hospitable bunch, those Korean hikers. I’m not complaining, because they were kind. But most of the time, the conversations had were but a spewing mess of Korean that immediately flew over our heads; words unbeknownst to us, to which we could only reply with a “nay,” because that’s just what you say when you have no clue what’s being said to you. At one point, we even received a “Hallelujah! Amen,” followed by a peace sign from an extremely happy woman in passing.
Didn’t really understand that one, either.

Korean Hiking Essential #3: 
Colorful visor. All the better if it matches
your neon-colored jacket and backpack.
Not too far from the peak, we were overcome by a group of neons with hiking sticks, laughing and chattering away. There were maybe ten of them in all. They passed us while we were taking a breather. They weren’t too far ahead, so we plotted to pass them by and surge ahead to escape the vile noise pollution that was forcing away the bird songs and humming insects. But just as we’d near them, they’d force themselves to move just a hair more quickly so that we couldn’t go by. This happened on several more occasions until we finally succeeded them. But then it became a race against the enemy.

We couldn’t let them reach us. It was a game. If we stopped to rest and they started gaining on us, one of us would proclaim, “They’re coming!” and we’d force ourselves to continue on. I’m pretty sure one of the Neon’s male climbers was playing, too, because he was right on our heels. He seemed set on forgoing rest to beat us – he left his friends in the dust, as well as his pink-outfitted wife, to remain at our heels. It sounds weird, but I really think he didn’t want to be passed up and beat by a couple of female foreigners. Chauvinistic males in Korea aren’t exactly an anomaly.

Korean Hiking Essential #4:
A bad-a backpack... colorful (of course),
new, and double-points if it's from
the North Face or like brand.
Three hundred separate staircases later (kidding, but that’s not far off…), we reached the summit. And beat Mr. Man by only a few steps…yess. We laid out a picnic of egg sandwiches, cheese and crackers, potato chips, grapes, potato salad, and popsicles and feasted. A few feathery-eared squirrels ran past us, so we made sure to pick up all the trash – plastic, in particular – that had been left behind by prior picnickers…shame, shame.

There was a beautiful, bright green sky bridge at the top, joining two separate peaks, so we went across and came down on the other side past a pretty temple and strings of lanterns. We ran the decline, because it was quicker and more fun that way. We just went flying past the backwards-walking hikers with wobbly, sore legs. We reached the bottom in record time, and it was then that our hitchhiking efforts commenced – we weren’t about to walk all that way back to the bus stop. The first two cars we stuck our thumbs out to were unsure of what to do. They crept past us, stopped for a brief moment, would lay on the gas a little, touch the breaks just a bit, and then drive on. A few didn’t even slow down. We were about to give up when a car that had passed us ahead suddenly stopped. We jogged to meet them and were received by an adorable young couple, clearly excited to tweet (or whatever they use here…CyWorld, I guess) about that one time they picked up two foreign hikers on the side of the road and drove them to the bus stop. It’s crazy, you know! They were sweet though, and actually drove us to a bus stop closer to Andong, in a tiny one-road town.

Korean Hiking Essential #5:
Neck scarf, a la 1960s for women. A stretchy
band of material around the neck for men.
It was a 30-minute wait until the bus would arrive, so we whipped out picnic #2, Skye climbed a tree, I snapped pictures of Skye while she sat in said tree, we burst open the buds of a BusyLizzy plant we found behind a brick building, and played “King of the Mountain” on a small mound of Earth nearby. It was a good time and our bus finally arrived, swept us home, and before I knew it, I was in my bed resting my aching calves and wrapped in a blanket with my current novel series-obsession, the Hunger Games. (I'm currently losing sleep over it.)


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  2. Thank you for taking us along for your hike! What a wonderful experience!!



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