Camping On Mt. Bukhansan
Things move fast in Korea. I’ve gone from being pathetically under-occupied to being overscheduled in under a week. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s left me with little time to keep up with the blog.
My silence, due generally to the density of my days recently, has only been compounded by the fact that I’m determined to not turn this into a climbing blog. BUT IT’S BEEN SO FUN, I CAN’T HELP IT. I promise I’ll get to other topics—including, but not limited to: waffles, Mr. Pizza, being bald in Korea, strange flavor combinations, my palatial gym complex, and secret smugness—but I need to get the most recent climbing trip out of my system before I can move on.
So, last weekend… you guys… so much fun. As I mentioned in my last post, after the first climbing class, all future classes were to be held outdoors in the mountains north of Seoul, so last Sunday was my first opportunity to get my hands on some real Korean rock. But, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. First, we had to get there.
In my last post, I also mentioned a certain amount of anxiety about joining this program. What if the people are lame? What if I’m the only student? What if the climbing is crap? Well, what I didn’t say in that post was that there was another, more base cause for my anxiety: class starts at 7:30AM and is an hour and forty-five minute metro-to-a-bus journey away. Those of you who know me personally know that I’m no morning person, so you’ll understand why I was a little worried about committing to five weeks of Sunday sunrises.
To avoid that as best I could, I took (and will take again) a second option offered by the school: hike up to the climbing site the night before and camp in a cave. I’m not an outdoorsy guy. Or rather, I haven’t been an outdoorsy guy for the last fifteen years or so. It’s in my genes (passed from father to son, for generations), but I just haven’t made use of my birthright. Not, at least, until last Saturday.
At about 8:30 Saturday night, the owner of the climbing school, his three assistant instructors, and I started our hike up Bukhansan. The hike was hard. Not lie-down-and-die hard, but much more than my anemic bookishness is used to. When Korans build trails, they don’t dick around with this “switchback” bullshit. You want to get over that mountain? Ok; go up until the mountain stops. And, up we went. Being relatively inexperienced at backpacking, I—with my tiny, 38L pack—was wobbly and winded, while the seasoned climbers—with their massive 80L packs—scaled the trail like mountain goats. I didn’t complain, but my animal brain definitely had to take over; only very simple thoughts made it through all the wheezing: Go. Walk. Up. Right foot. Left foot.
Oh, and did I mention it had snowed? The first 3/4ths were clear enough, but once we crested a particularly protective ridge, we went from hiking to all-terrain ice-skating. And seeing as my hiking boots are still in our shipping container, I did all this in mesh running shoes. My insufficient footwear had me very grateful for the incline because once we made it to the snowline, I could have climbed that thing in a speedo for all the heat I was putting off.
When we reached the campsite and set up in our cozy little cave, the real fun began. Another fact many of you will know about me is that I don’t drink. Not really. I can go months without even thinking about booze, then break my dry spell with a beer, complain of the throbbing headache and go to bed. In other words, I am not very hardcore. Well, Korea is doing its best to change that, and the tip of the spear in that regard seems to be this climbing class. That night, we passed a soup pot of soju around the camp stove until that ran out (three bottles later) then moved on to beer. All while grilling beef and mushrooms and kimchi. It was so good, even though, as I got more and more drunk, the meat got more and more charred. I don’t remember the end of the evening very clearly, but I have been informed that I talked in my sleep several times throughout the night. Right on! Keepin’ it classy, DME.
Needless to say, the hangover inflected the first half of the next day with an unwelcome body awareness. My animal brain had a hard time competing with my human brain, which just kept repeating: Oh God, my head. Oh God, my head. Oh God, my head. But I made it through.
Because of the snow we couldn’t actually climb at the site we had hiked to, so we ended up hiking back down again the next morning, but that in no way diminished the fun that was had on the mountain. And! After I make the climb a few more times, I’ll need to get my pants altered to accommodate my glorious hiker’s calves! I’m going to save a more detailed description of the climbing until next time, because if this post gets any longer, it will collapse under the weight of its own excessive narcissism. Stay tuned!
Also, since most of you are HCB’s friends, at some point I’ll tell some stories that involve him. He’s bein’ all professorial, so he hasn’t had time to join me on these adventures, but I’ll get him to write a guest post. He had a big lecture last week that has consumed his mental energy for ages, but he dominated, so maybe now he’ll have more time for you all. Anyway. Longest post ever. 1000 words exactly!