Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wolchulsan: Bad Ass Mountain

Fall Colors
The word Wolchulsan translates to "the mountain that the moon rises from". With Gwangju only being an hour away from the moon's launching pad, it was a good idea to visit it for a weekend. We knew we were going to hike up and back down the mountain, but I don't think any of us knew that what ideas the mountain had for us. We woke up Saturday morning and departed from our motel (or possible love motel?) with the enthusiasm that expatriate backpackers typically have.

The first thing that the mountain did was create a dense fog with about 40 feet of visibility. We arrived at the trail head and took group photos before the six hour "hike" that awaited us. "Let's do this thing!" some one yelled and we were on our way up the trail head. The fog lingered and no one really knew what this thing looked like further than 40 feet up the trail head. "Look at the color of the leaves, they're glorious!" some one mused. "What a day for a hike!" some one boasted. "Hey I think I can see the sun, now we should be able to get a view," I said with a smile. Then a few hundred feet up the trail we emerged from
the fog.

Getting Ready at the Trail Head
Caroline is concerned as she looks through the fog.

"Wow...the mountain is really big," some one said with surprise. "Is that the top? And is that where we're going?" I asked as I pointed to something next to a cloud. A little shocked, we continued on the trail and it suddenly took a sharp turn in the vertical sense. We were soon climbing up large rocks and Caroline was soon panting and falling behind. "You probably shouldn't have put so much in your pack," I advised her with my best Captain Hindsight impression. "I'm going to rip your face off of your face," she replied.

This continued for about an hour until we reached Korea's most heart stopping bridge, properly named Cloud Bridge. It's an orange suspension bridge that hangs between two lofty ridges. We crawl-walked across the bridge and tried not to look down
to the 400 foot gap of air with a rocky bottom. "I'm not really scared of the height as much as I am the fall that would end in death", Caroline stated during the crossing. On the other side of the bridge we continued on our ascent but by narrow steel stairways. The path up started to bottle neck and I was suddenly starting to feel the effects of claustrophobia. This may have been because I was suddenly surrounded by Koreans with nowhere to go but up the stairs or off the side of the mountain.

Cloud Bridge

Ah, there's the mountain.

Let's take a moment to discuss Korean hiking culture. My usual hiking experience has consisted of wearing somewhat acceptable footwear, carrying a pack with some liquid and snacks, and taking in the scenery with nowhere to go but where I am at that moment. I like to call it a leisurely activity and I have always thought this to be everyone's point of view. No sir, not in Korea. The Koreans have turned hiking in to a full on sport. They must all shop at the same store or from the same catalog because they're definitely wearing the same uniform. It consists of black form-fitting pants and your choice of a neon yellow, neon red, neon green, or neon pink long sleeve shirt. The uniform also requires you to use two hiking sticks that look similar to something I would use when I'm skiing down a mountain in Winter Park, Colorado. The pace that they hike is more of the pace one takes during a half marathon. The English word for hiking must translate to "running around a mountain in matching outfits." The Koreans have some weird cultural differences but this one is definitely in the top three. I think it would be like if a poor Chinese farmer stumbled upon the Tour de France. "They do WHAT with bikes?" the poor Chinese farmer would think.

Ski Poles

During the hike up, at least a hundred of these Korean Lance Armstrongs passed us by. Young or old, it didn't matter. Most were polite and even said "hello". Occasionally one person would laugh and shake his head as he flew up the mountain. "Is there like some f**king pot of gold at the top of this mountain?" I though to myself. We were soon done with most of the hike to the peak and realized we were at a very high elevation. That's when we found the best place for a picnic ever. I'm being seriously here.

We had come prepared with crunchy peanut butter, jelly, Nutella, bread, an assortment of delicious fruits, and tasty chips. Our lunch took place on an over hanging cliff where you could see miles in to the distance, thousands of fall colored trees, and the Wolchulsan peak. Just perfect. After the rejuvenation of the food we made the last push to the peak which involved several more steep inclines, steel stairways, and crowds of neon colored Koreans. The peak of Wolchulsan in one of the most beautiful sights in Korea. At the top I caught my breath and realized why I had just spent three hours almost climbing straight up a mountain. I think it was definitely worth it. Luckily the next three hours were mostly at a downward angle where we sometimes encountered steep inclines and one large penis shaped rock. (Hey, they are the ones that made a sign to point it out, I'm just passing it along.) Overall, Wolchulsan was a great experience. 

Last Push to the Peak

View from the Peak

Chris and Caroline enjoying lunch
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