This past weekend my fellow ETA’s and I were gifted with a trip to the coastal town of Donghae — kind of a last hurrah before the two weeks of Camp Fulbright madness that started Monday. The first day of the trip, Friday, was alright; we spent some time on the beach, heard a lecture from a Buddhist monk, and visited a temple in the mountains.
Saturday was a triumph in existentialism.
A lot of us wanted to take advantage of our free day and hike the mountain where the temple is located. But, as will happen in a group of 81 where everyone assumes someone else knows what they’re doing, no one knew when to go, how to get there, or even where to meet up. It was by sheer luck that my friends and I found ourselves in the right place at the right time, assisted by one of the orientation coordinators and a decidedly patient bus driver.
(NOTE: Like the airhead I am I forgot to bring my camera on the interesting part of the hike. The photos contained herein are the work of the brilliant Tyler Van Arsdale, a professional photographer whose amazing website you can find here. I highly recommend checking it out, because this post does not do his work justice!)
At first, the goal was to hike two paths, declared on the internet as taking 25 and 45 minutes to complete. We decided to take the longer one first, and had only been on it about five minutes when we came to our first waterfall.
It was around this time that my fellow hikers saw the first hints of the person I was to become for the duration of the hike. Tyler quickly scaled the rocks beside the fall, inciting the rest of us to do the same. At this point, we were all infected with the same energy. We were ready to conquer the mountain. And then I decided to climb a boulder just for the heck of it.
My friends realized very fast that May + mountain = insanity.
I was ready to climb everything. Conveniently placed boulder? On it. Random rock jutting out of the path? One of my stepping stones across a non-existent river. Except walking wasn’t as much fun as hopping and leaping.
We were maybe a mile out when Tyler exclaimed, “Who wants to rock climb? Because it’s about time!” Perhaps indicative of just how stupid a move this might be, we became the only two nutballs in our group of six to actually do it. The path followed a rocky, quick-flowing stream, and within moments we’d found a suitable looking place to run amok.
With the spirit of adventure filling our lungs, we rock-hopped across the water while the others sat down for a break. I barely hung around for a minute before racing up the side of the second waterfall of our journey.
When Tyler came up and joined me, he suggested we cross even higher up the waterfall. Which we did. Though there was no path, the landscape itself was both challenging enough and navigable enough that we were moved to keep going. We leapt boulders and scaled granite slabs with little more than moss and sapling branches for grip. Twice I slipped and soaked my feet and the hem of my pants. Once, clinging to a shrub on the side of a cliff, I almost fell a good ten feet onto a jumble of rock.
Oddly enough I didn’t consider this a dangerous trip until we were safely back in the village.
After several levels of waterfall climbing, Tyler and I came upon our buddy, Cameron. I don’t know how he’d done it so quickly, but in the time it had taken us to get that far he’d gone around the long way and actually come out above us. “I came down those stairs,” he said, pointing.
Yes, that is as steep as it looks. In fact, it was practically a ladder.
Which obviously made us want to climb it.
We got within 1 mile of the mountain summit before deciding to call it a day. Unfortunately, there are few pictures of our path back down — which was less of a path and more of a “oh, there’s a rope here… are we supposed to follow it?” In many cases, “following it” actually turned into “hanging on for dear life.” Consider the following picture, which was NOT taken at an angle. Notice how there are two choices for stepping: the left-hand boulder slanting into the abyss at a 60+ degree angle, or the six-inch wide “stairway” full of sharp rocks. I think we unanimously took the sharp rocks.
In the end, though, we all made it safely back to the village at the mountain’s base and found the rest of our group mates.
And then we, you know, chatted for a while with the most awesome Aussie-educated Korean guide woman, nearly died at the hands of a crazy Korean cab driver who didn’t know what speed limits and red lights were, got shanghaied into eating at this highly recommended but eerily empty seafood restaurant, and accidentally ordered and ate live octopus. Just another mellow ending to a fun-packed day. 😉
Er… all things considered, Sunday isn’t really worth mentioning now. 😄