Thursday, March 12, 2009

Episode 8: In Which DFM Hikes Suraksan And Breaks His Tooth

The big plan for today was to hike up a mountain.  I had ran up to the top of the hill in Namsan Park, but that was child's play compared to the real mountains surrounding Seoul.

I checked out a website about hiking in Seoul and the first mountain that came up was Surak-san (I think the suffix -san means mountain in Korean).  I probably should have researched its location a little more, but I decided to just head for the subway station entitled "Suraksan" on the map.

I wasn't sure how to get to the trail from the station though, but while traveling to Suraksan station I read in my Lonely Planet guide about a route up the mountain.  This route called for a quick transfer to a different line than the one I was currently on and heading to a different station.

My station was the last stop for my train and so it made it easy to find.  When I exited I found myself in the middle of a small market.  This market reminded me of Namdaemun market, but was nowhere even close to being as large.  The problem with exiting in a market was that I had absolutely no idea where I was or where to go.  Also, this market really stank, and that's saying a lot coming from a guy who can't smell.

I wondered around for a while and of course got myself stuck in wrong streets in dead ends, but eventually I found my way to this sign which looked positive.  I couldn't understand any of the directions on the sign, and I wasn't entirely sure which mountain was which or where I even was on the map, but at least I knew I was at the bottom of a mountain and that's all I needed to know.

Before I even made my way onto the trail I ran into an outdoor badminton court, an archery range, and of course a workout park (four in fact).  This one had some different equipment in it.  On the left is a spinning log that allows you to attempt your "Log Driver's Waltz," and the device in the middle is for working your obliques by standing on a platform hinged at the top and swinging your legs together from side to side while holding onto the handles.  The third object is just a big wheel you can spin around, but I'm not sure what good it would do you since it's very easy to spin.

I wasn't sure how to get up the mountain, but I took a road and it led me to this - some sort of Buddhist shrine I gather.  Unfortunately that was all that was there, and there was no road or trail leading any further up the mountain.  I had to turn back.

I went all the way back down to a fork in the road near the beginning of the trek and took the other road.  I decided to make up for lost time by sprinting up the trail.  It was hard work, but it soon brought me to another Buddhist Shrine type place, this one being guarded by a stone lion and a dog who kept barking at me and then running away when I came near.  I later found out that you are supposed to make a donation to the shrine... oops.

I looked up and still had no idea where I was going, but I figured that this mountain top was as good a mountain as any, and so I set a course for the peak.

The trail started to become treacherous, and then it became even more treacherous.  Still I headed on undaunted.

Eventually I came to a small clearing with a man in a business suit standing and gazing out at one of the most magnificent views I've ever seen.  I couldn't believe he was in a business suit with his leather shoes up here.  It just goes to show you how fit Koreans are that they would consider this hike easy enough to not warrant changing.  Actually, this man was in stark contrast to the first hikers I saw coming back off the mountain when I was just starting out.  There were two women who were wearing enough gear to scale the Matterhorn, and here this guy was in his work clothes, I chuckled as I made the comparison in my head.  I stopped to enjoy the view with him and he explained to me that I was indeed on Surak mountain and the mountain I just took a picture of was Bulamsan.  After I commented on how Seoul was so big you couldn't even see the other side (and not just because of my poor picture here), I bid him adieu and carried off to reach the summit.

The trail started to get really wild now.  If you look closely at the top of the picture you'll see that certain parts have a rope hanging from them to help you get up because they're too steep and/or there is not sufficient footing.  That's always a good sign.  I actually made it up this part without the rope, but it could have come in handy where I tried to go next.

I ran under the metal telephone cable tower and so I knew I was getting quite high up now.  I also knew that I was getting into a little more than simple hiking when I saw a sign signaling a gathering point for those in need of emergency rescue.  As if it were an omen, around the next corner I saw this rock face.  It's tough to tell from the picture but the grade on this rock face is probably about 70 degrees.  Actually the trail hadn't stopped, it went off to the side, but I decided to attempt to go up this rock anyways.  I used a combination of rock climbing and tree climbing to get myself half-way up, but eventually I ran out of tree and the only thing preventing me from falling and breaking my legs was the 1-inch diameter dead tree branch I was white-knuckling.

I eventually got my backpack unstuck from the tree branches and made my way back down.  The trail was easier, but I still managed to slip on some of the steep traverses and almost slid down the mountain on a couple of occasions.  The rock was covered in dead leaves/grass/pine needles, and every so often I'd wipe out and start sliding down the mountain.  Each time though I managed to hang on by my fingertips (literally) to a small irregularity in the otherwise smooth rock surface, and this saved me from a nasty ride.

After some close calls and some hard scrambling towards the end, I came to this clearing and these weird shapes in the dirt that the wind had formed.  I looked for the rest of the trail, but like the bear all I could see was the other side of the mountain and so I realized that I had made it.

All that remained was a 20 foot climb up the vertical face of this boulder structure.... Or the slightly less difficult scramble up the back side.  I went for plan B, but it was still a struggle.  Someone had chipped handholds into the boulder making it easier for which, at this point, I was very thankful.

Surprisingly, the view from the top of the mountain was not as good as where I had looked out before with the man in the suit.  Perhaps that was because I was actually quite scared up on the top of the boulder and so I couldn't enjoy it, or because I had now moved further away from the city?  Either way, one false move and I was a goner.  I did get this nice shot of a mountain on the other side though.

Pretty soon it would get too dark to see and it was now getting quite windy so I wanted to get down as quickly as possible.  Once I got past the really tricky pitches at the top, I opened up into a run.  It was quite fun and I got a good head of steam going.  With the winding sections you saw in the pictures before it almost felt like a bobsled run... except with roots, stumps, and tree trunks to knock you out or trip you up if you made a wrong step.  I almost ran into the power line structure, but luckily someone had already thought about this and had taped on some foam padding.

I managed to make a wrong turn somewhere and came out at yet another workout park.  I ate a dinner of rice and tuna I had prepared earlier and checked out the park.  This one had some different apparatus like angled monkey bars, wood stumps of varying heights to jump around on, a rope walking challenge (kind of like a spider's web made of rope you have to walk across), and this rolling log of death.  This is by far the hardest obstacle I've come across at a workout park yet.  The log has a groove on each end and it will roll from side to side in the depression cut out for it on the smaller, perpendicular log.  I tried three times to walk across it, but each time I could only make it a couple of steps before the log bucked me off like a mechanical bull.  If I had more time and light I would have taken off my backpack and really given it a go, but I had to keep moving.

It turned out I needn't have worried because I was right at the bottom of the mountain anyways.  I dragged my weary legs back into town (a fair hike on its own) and tried to find the station again.

This is one of the perks of getting on at the first/last station... empty seats.  This is a rare sight on a Seoul subway car indeed.

When I got off the train at Itaewon station I tried to find that truck with the jjinppang (giant steamed bun with sweet bean paste I ate last week and loved).  I couldn't find him though, so I settled for a dozen mandarin oranges (tangerines) for less than $3.00.

When I got home I set about doing my laundry and took a shower.  I was going to attempt to get to bed early, but long story short I broke a tooth trying to rip open some packaging, and I spent an hour or so trying to set up the appropriate files through my travel insurance to have the tooth repaired.  I found a reputable dentist in Seoul who speaks English and will attempt to make an appointment tomorrow as soon as possible.

Tomorrow will be a rest day since I'm out of money for the week.  I of course will go climbing.

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