Monday, March 7, 2011

Hiking Daedunsan

Date: 3/5/2011

Last Thursday, my friend Sarah and I got an email from the a friend and owner of Adventure Korea, Saekjin, inviting us to come on a hike.  Sarah and I were both really touched because he didn't charge us, and I think it is just another progression of being friends with him.  We have both told Saekjin that if he ever needs help on his trips, just let us know.  And in addition, it also means we get to hang out with whoever the Korean guide is on the trip--who have turned out to be really cool people and we really enjoy spending time with them.  So, when he invited us on this trip, it made us smile for a whole slew of reasons!

Daedunsan (Mnt Daedun, in English) (pronunciation: Day-dune san) is located between Jeollabuk-do and Chungcheongnam-do and is one of the top 3 or 4 mountains to climb in South Korea.  It is famous for it's suspension bridges, which I heard some describe as "Indiana Jones worthy."  After hiking Daedunsan, I totally agree!

Sarah and I got up early on Saturday morning and took a bus to Daejeon.  Adventure Korea was picking us up there (so we didn't have to go to Seoul to catch the bus)--which is one thing I love about Adventure Korea.  So, we get to Daejeon, get in a taxi, and call Saekjin--who tells the driver where to take us for the pick up.  We meet up with 2 other people and in about 30 minutes, the Adventure Korea bus pulls up.  Another 30 minutes later we pull up to the Mountain Viewing Point at the bottom of the mountain and Saekjin tells us which rout we're taking.  I don't quiet believe him because, from where we were standing, it didn't look like that could ever be considered a "path."

We get back on the bus and go have lunch at the base of the mountain.  Yum...bibimbap!

On the way to the mountain lift, we pass some wood carvings, which are just creepy.  Later, I asked my co-teacher what these things were and got a Konglish History Lesson.  From what I could make out is that these are from a long time ago (like when the line between Korean and Chinese was still a little blurry).  These guys are purposefully scary because they "keep the village"--which I think means protect the village from vigilantes.  On the hike, Sarah and I couldn't figure out why someone who make such distorted figurines, surely they wouldn't make them that way on purpose.  We were wrong.  They are scary for a reason.

Yes, I'm happy to have a knife through my head!
We pass safely through the wood carvings and head to the lift that will take us 3/4 of the way up the mountain.  We were very glad to not have to do the hiking up (and after hiking down, I don't know if I could have done both!)

We also were able to see some amazing sights from the lift:
It was a little foggy, so we couldn't see as far as the eye could see, but I actually really like the fog.  It makes it look mysterious and beautiful.

At the drop off point of the lift, is a mini observatory.  They were selling a Korean delacacy: bun dae gi (or spelled bbun dae gi) (pronunciation: bone-day-gee).  What are bundaegi, you ask?  Let me show you:
Bundaegi are silkworm larva that have been roasted.  Apparently they are loved by Koreans young and old.  But I can't get past the smell.  It is slightly like old laundry and wet dog.  No offense, Korea.  I ate weird things in Thailand, but none of them smell "off."  These guys just gross me out.

You also see other interesting things about Korean hiking at the observatory.  For instance, hiking in Korea is not really hiking up the side of a mountain as much as it is taking stairs up the side of a mountain.  Not joking!

By the end of the stairs climbing, you are very, very tired and winded.  And then you just feel bad because some older Korean couple is flitting up the stairs next to you, easy as pie.


As English teachers we couldn't help to notice something on  our way up the stairs:
About 10 minutes after the observatory, we come across our first of two suspension bridges.  And, let me tell you, it was the easier of the two.
A view from the bridge, if you could make yourself unclench your hands from the railings: 

There was a funny sign right before both bridges that said, "No trifling on bridges."  I don't really understand why Koreans would feel that "trifling" is a good word to use.  Yes it makes sense, but wouldn't you want to use a word that is more generic?  But we had good fun yelling at each other: "NO TRIFLING!"

Next we came across some "natural" steps.  Instead of the wire mesh steps (which you can see through and just creep me out), they had hauled up some rocks and made stairs out of nature.  These were ... both frustrating and fun to walk up.  Frustrating because they aren't even.  One step is 2 inches the next is over a foot.
The faces say everything!
It was also funny that the path wasn't straight up.  We had to climb up a bunch of stairs, just to face some steps that went down.  Naturally, this caused some grunts of "Of's Korea!" And that lead to some...cough cough...trifling!

Before Bridge Two (which probably should be written as BRIDGE TWO!) I was procrastinating.  I took one look at the bridge and my stomach dropped.  So I was trying to put on my gloves and fidget and, while reaching for one of my gloves in my coat pocket, I ended up dropping the one in my hand.  (can you tell I was just a little bit nervous?)

I let out a "Oh, dang!"  And pointed to that pink spot down about 15 feet below the railing.  "My glove.  Crap."  I figured I would be fine with one glove.  And then the next minute, the Korean tour guide and friend ByungMin started to trifle.  He jumped over the railing, slowly made his way down the slope and went and fetched my glove!
ByungMin, my hero!

Afterwards, I went and gave him a hug as thank you....very awkward.  I'm not sure he knew what to do. Sarah told me that Saekjin (his boss) had told him to go get the glove and because of Korean Heirarchy, ByungMin jumped to go fetch my glove.  I don't really know.  I was a little preoccupied with the BRIDGE in front of me.  

This *cough cough* mother *cough cough* was at at least a 65 degree angle.  It was only wide enough for one person. 

I don't know which was worse--the fact that it ever so slightly swayed or that you couldn't look ANYWHERE without being confronted with the hieght.  
I spent at least  7/8ths of the climb up BRIDGE TWO with my eyes closed.  I tried looking up, but I just got vertigo.  Strangely, I could look down and focus on my knees.  But every once and a while my focus would shift to below my knees and I was confronted with the mesh steps and the view below them.  I want to know which sick person thought it would be a good idea to make the steps see through.  I literally had to force myself to keep walking (I would stop every time the BRIDGE swayed) because I knew if I stopped, I would either A) vomit or B) freeze and you wouldn't be able to make me move.  

I wouldn't have pegged myself as one who was afraid of heights--I walked up a mountain last month in Thailand and that wasn't a problem at all.  But this was different.  Being perched on the bridge, off the actual slope of the mountain was just terrifying.  

The hard part was done though.  It was a short hike (aka: stair steps) up the rest of the mountain to the summit.  It is still winter here so some part of the hike was like trying to skate up ice.  A little difficult.  But the park rangers had kindly put in some ropes.  And we learned to love trees--they became our best friends.  We kept giving them hugs.  *wink*
We finally made it to the summit and it was beautiful. 
There was a giant tower/sculpture thing at the top.  

Say Kimchi!!
Saranghae! (LOVE!)
Now that the rush of adrenaline was slowly leaving, it was time for a little funny.  Dong-chim, Saekjin!
But the hike to the summit wasn't the only branch of the trails that we did.  Coming down took easily 3 times as long as the short hike to the summit.  I would actually like to go back and check out some of the other trails just to see more of Daedunsan. 
And we didn't walk down steps, either.  It was a nice detour through the side of the mountain.  It was very beautiful, if not a little muddy. But it made it fun!
There wasn't a shortage of views...
The trail was alternatingly muddy and icy.  So it became almost a game to called "DO NOT FALL OFF THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN!"  The element of danger just made it that much more fun.  Maybe I'm a little off in the head, but I throughly enjoyed it!
Breathtaking, right?
Saejin trifled a little bit. We went to take a rest on a patch of boulders and he decided to go play look-out.  
Muddy and Icy do not mix very well.  We all were tree-huggers on this hike.  I sincerely believe they saved my life on a couple of occasions.  They at least keep my pants from getting a giant mud stain on my butt more than once.  I think Patricia agrees with me:

Sarah is just getting up from a fall...
The we came upon a great part of the hike for Daedunsan.  I think it was just a giant rock fall that the park turned into the "Down" part of the hiking.  But it was crazy.  For over an hour we hiked down a rock fall, utilizing all sorts of methods to go from rock to rock: sitting down, butt bumping, jumping, step-creep-step, Holy-Cow-Both-Rocks-under-my-feet-are-wobbling, twist-spin-twist-i'm-down, and inch-inch-inch-oh!-ok!-all-good!

There was a Korean couple behind us, and as we start down the path, they say hello.  Which Sarah and I both respond with a great big Hello!  By this time we've been hiking for about 2 hours and had had nothing but kind greetings by the fellow Korean hikers.  They were encouraging and polite.  Often giving us a hand over rough spots, giving warnings, and asking where we were from.  But the couple at this rock slide were just phenominal.  They looked at our bare hands and said, "Oh, it much easier to do with gloves.  You have gloves?" I took my out and said yes.  Sarah shook her head.  So, what did this couple do?  The guy quickly TAKES OFF his gloves and says, "Here...take mine!" No JOKE!  
This is why I love Korea.  We didn't even KNOW these people.  They just ooze kindness.  We were talking about if someone had done that at home--no way!  Only, maybe, if you were dating the guy.  But this stranger shares his gloves without a compunction!  So when I hear foreigners say that Koreans are cold or uncaring, I wonder exactly what is wrong with the foreigner.  Because it is not the Korean who has a problem. 

Anyway, back to getting down the mountain:
This went on like this for over an hour and fifteen minutes.  It was crazy--but lots of FUN!
These were our "steps." So it often took a minute to assess how to get from A to the next B.  And some careful steps--at least for the foreigners.  
It was really fascinating to watch ByungMin leap down the rocks.  I was totally impressed by his grace.  He was like some kind of mountain goat, just sprinting down the rocks.  Saekjin was leading a group of the AK people in the front and every once and a while he would yell back to ByungMin.  Off ByungMin would go, leaping down the mountain at sheer dizzying speeds, just gracefully going from rock to rock like it was no big deal.  Sarah pondered if this was some sort of military training all the men went through because we were passed by a couple times from Graceful Gazelle Korean Men. 

Plus, on top of the skill they had for decending the mountian, ByungMin and Saekjin seemed to have so much more energy than we did.  ByungMin was going DOWN and UP this mountain and didn't seem to be out of breathe.  We were going down and huffing and puffing.  AND both Saekjin and ByungMin are smokers.  That just pissed me off.  They shouldn't be more fit than me because of that sole reason.  But they were like goats--just hop hop hop up and down like it was no big.  *grumble grumble grumble!*

At the bottom of the steps, we run into Mr. Awesome Korean Glove Man again and I'm able to get a quick photo!
Plus he's cute!
The final leg of the hike was more traditional hiking paths.  They were pretty, but we were tired.  And we couldn't see the group ahead of us so we felt a little lost.  (I was leading, for some reason, so I was really hoping we weren't lost!)  I fell down on this part of the hike--and almost rolled off the mountain.  I landed with an oof! and discovered myself looking over a ledge about 10 feet to the next rock face.  That would have hurt.  But I was fine.

And, finally, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel:
That white speck at the bottom of the trail is the bus!  BUS!!!!
We get on the bus and with a quick stop to the rest area, start our journey back to Daejeon to make our way back to Gunsan.  We had a full day planned and our friend, Scott, was having his engagement party that evening.  We got sooo lucky and when we got to the bus station, the next bus to Gunsan was leaving in 10 minutes.  It was perfect.  

I throughly enjoyed my hike at Daedunsan.  I enjoy hiking in general, and it was beautiful.  Luckily, there is a bus from Gunsan that goes to Daedunsan.  So, parents--Mom and Dad, yes I am talking to you!--when you make your way over to this side of the world--I'm taking you to Daedunsan.  

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