Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Don't fall off the mountain

(The bottom two photos are part of the "trail" up the mountain.)

My first class wasn't until 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, so I decided to go back out to Mt. Palgongsan, 15 miles north of the city, and hike by myself. I had just read a quote by some old dead white Romantic poet who said that if you walked with somebody, you weren't really walking, you were chatting. Sounds good to me. I believe I think I'm considering mulling over hiking Palgongsang or Apsan every week; I always feel alive when I do.

(For what it's worth, I bought a scale today from a street vendor for about six bucks, and it claims I've lost 12 pounds in the six weeks I've been here. Despite all my walking, that seems ludicrous, as my four food groups are carbs, carbs, carbs, and really really sugary carbs. But Ray tried my scale and his reading matches the one on his, so I guess walking really is a miracle remedy for pudge. I don't look any skinnier, though, as far as I can see. But as the saying goes, I'm in shape; round is a shape.)

The friendly lady at the visitor info phone number had told me that not only the #1 bus with the pink sign (with which I'm familiar), but also the red #1 (which goes within a block of my apartment), goes north to Palgongsan, albeit to a different temple area. So I hopped the red #1, which promptly set off to the far south. This is a big, big city and I'm not sure how far south we went before I gave up and hopped off, but the people all had Australian accents. (Hey, I can get lost going through Palatka, Florida, and people there speak English.) (Sorta.)

So I got a bus and then the subway back north to downtown and got on the pink #1. It got pretty crowded on the bus, but nothing like when I went before, probably because this wasn't a holiday weekend. The old coots will go any day of the year, so the bus was still pretty crowded, but I was able to get a seat.

The weather, as it has mostly been lately, was fall gorgeous, and the air outside the city was as clear as it's likely to get. On the lower part of the climb, your ob't svt., armed with his trusty aluminum walking stick and wearing his lovely new hiking boots, sailed past a lot of people; all those years in Ithaca are still paying dividends. The walking stick really does make a difference in negotiating the steeper bits; nearly everyone on the mountain had one. Higher up, amid the rocks. most of the people whom I'd passed returned the favor.

Palgongsan is easily the hardest uphill climb I've ever done, if you don't count marriage. Long ago I did the three-waterfall climb in Yosemite, and that probably had a bigger vertical rise, but Yosemite doesn't have boulders and loose rocks all over the trail or a section with a rope to help you along. For that matter, Yosemite has a trail; about halfway up Palgongsan the trail is mostly a rumor.

In a warmup for what was to happen after I came off the mountain, I bashed the top of my head pretty good on one of the aforementioned boulders. On a particulary steep, rocky stretch, I had to look down to negotiate a tricky, twisty area of rocks and didn't notice the huge rock bowing out just above. However, it noticed me. My head hurt like hell, but I checked, but I wasn't bleeding. I don't think it caused any dain bramage, but I've noticed that I can no longer type the letters and .

The weather, as I've said, was beautiful, mid-seventies and sunny, and I was the only person on the mountain appropriately attired: t-shirt and shorts. Everyone else was wearing long pants and windbreakers or sweaters. It might be because 75 degrees for me is 24 for Koreans; who knows? Also, every single woman on the mountain was wearing some shade of pink or purple, for some reason.

At the restaurant that was the terminus for this "trail", I began to appreciate the warmer gear; it's kinda windy up there. I settled down to a lunch of bibimbap and a bottle of well-earned beer and marveled at the view, which included much of Daegu. The city sprawled out under its own soup of smog: you could literally see a blanket of haze, held in by the mountains, sitting on the city like a blanket. The air was much cleaner over the first range of hills around the town.

The restaurant is also the upper end of the gondola ride, which in a moment of madness I considered taking back down. Then I recalled that I get nervous standing on a chair and decided to pass. So I headed out and around and down. (My odds of surviving the descent on the same route I ascended would be about the same as my chances of being voted Miss America.)

I struck off up and down and up and mostly down a different trail. At a couple of points, squirrels let me know in their best rodent Korean that they didn't want me in their neighborhood. Korean gray squirrels look like American gray squirrels with just a touch of Romulan. Their fur is a dark charcoal gray, their bellies snow white, and their ears long, pointy, and tufted. They look as if they're wearing two little party hats with tassels. (Sadly, I didn't take the squirrel picture above.)

I had gone 95% of the way down toward Dongwhasa Temple, the place I mentioned in my last Palgongsan post, close enough to photograph some of the temple complex's roofs from just above them, when I came to plastic tape across the road and hundreds of yards of fresh cement, covered in plastic. There had been no sign in any language on the descent to say the temple was off limits. So I had to climb back up for three-quarters of a mile, cross the dry river bed, and head back down again toward my original route.

I saw something really touching on my way back: a fortyish woman was backing down a steep, rocky stretch, holding the hands of a twentyish man, presumably her son; he was blind. They were going at a decent clip, too. I almost got a little tear in my eye, then I laughed out loud: as they neared me, I called out "AnnyeongaSEYo!" (hello) in my best Korean. The blind guy's face lit up and he said, "Hi! How are you?" in English. Apparently my accent isn't fooling ANYbody.

I finally made my way back down. I had a very strenuous workout, and a wonderful, interesting time, until...

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