The plan today was to cram as many supplies as possible into my back pack and head off for a day of hiking and climbing. I decided to scrap my initial plan to hike every mountain in Seoul, since many of the "mountains" are little more than hills and I didn't want to waste my time traveling across the city to run up a hill. Instead, I have focused my plan on training for my summer mountain running season with some steep hiking up only the highest mountains. The highest of them all is Baegundae peak at 836 meters high and so that's where I decided to go today.
I probably should have read at which stop to get off for the Baegundae hike, but I decided to wing it. When I got off at my subway station nobody even knew where Baegundae peak was (never mind that it is in the Bukhansan National Park and you can see it from the street when you come out). I finally found someone who recognized it but said there was no way to get to the park from where I was because it was too far. They don't know DFM.
After about a half hour of walking and navigating by "feel" I came to the park. A friendly park ranger sent me in the right direction and I was on my way. I asked a number of people along the way if I was still on the right path, but I kept getting the same response: "mulda." I checked it out and that spelling means "bite." I must have spelled it wrong because I'm pretty sure they were trying to say it was a long way.
I came across many friendly hikers, but these two were special. This is Mr. and Mrs. Cha and they spoke quite a bit of English. They have two daughters who are now grown up and married, and have both traveled around the world going to various Universities. One of them had been to Montreal, Seattle, and is now living in San Francisco (I think I got the order right), and the other is living and studying in London. Every few years they all get together at one of the cities and have a reunion. Mrs. Cha also said that she had been to Vancouver, Toronto and was in Calgary during the '88 Winter Olympics, which would mean that she went to both Olympics that year since the Summer Olympics were in Seoul. When I took their picture, Mr. Cha kept saying "thank you" to me. Either taking a picture of a Korean is a sign of respect, or Koreans just haven't figured out how favours work and exactly whom is doing whom a favour when they let me take their picture. I had a great time talking to Mr. and Mrs. Cha, but I had to get going so I said good-bye and raced on up the mountain (Mr. Cha called me "young and strong").
Eventually I came to a large wall with a gate in it. Apparently this whole area was part of an 18th century fortress built in 1711, and part of the wall is still in tact.
The gates are attached to walls, and the walls connect many of the peaks. Not only did they provide a good history lesson, but they also helped me find my way back afterwards.
I'm pretty sure that tall peak is Baegundae. I am now on the other side of the mountain though, which means that not only can I see the other side of the mountain, but also that somewhere along the way I made a very wrong turn. I decided here to turn back around and head back because it was getting late and I still wanted to go climbing.
On the way back, even though I had a wall to follow, I still managed to make a wrong turn and had no idea where I was going. The footing got really treacherous and on more than one occasion I thought I was going for a bad tumble down a steep slope.
Eventually I staggered back down to the bottom absolutely exhausted. Luckily there was a bus back to my subway station waiting for me.
After eating some tuna and rice I was ready to go again and so I set off to find the Climbing Academy climbing gym.
Climbing Academy is owned by Chung Seung Kwan. I was told that Mr. Chung is a North Face sponsored Alpinist. I did some research and it turns out that just last year he led a climb up K2 -the world's most dangerous mountain - and in 1988 was the leader of an expedition that summited Everest. In 1998 he won a silver medal in the X-Games for Ice climbing in both the difficulty and speed divisions. He is also a very nice guy and shook my hand and let me climb for free this day.
In the picture above you can see that everyone is stretching. I swear that Korean rock climbers spend more time stretching and doing crunches than actually climbing. Every gym I've been to always has at least one person who stretches and/or works on his/her abs the entire time I am there.
At the top-right of the picture you can see a white guy in a white T-shirt. His name is Billy and he is a former Marine from Illinois. Billy is a genius. He speaks four languages and finished a degree in Linguistics in one year while holding down two full-time jobs (yes, one year). He's only been in Korea for five months but he seems to have almost mastered the language. I was in awe. Billy told me that after going through so much needless suffering as a Marine in training finishing school in a year was nothing. Billy also showed me how to get to O2 World climbing gym, which is the largest gym in Seoul and probably next on my list of gyms at which to climb.
Well, that's the short version of a long day, but I need to get ready to meet Perry for what he calls "a funny speech."