Thought I’d throw up some photos taken during our trip to Seoraksan with Adventure Korea. Jen already gave it a full write-up so I’ll just keep the details specific to Ulsanbawi Rock.
The hike wasn’t strenuous as much as it was long and slow. Koreans love hiking and when the weather’s good, the mountains are packed.
The crowds made everything take longer. We finally got to the top of the tree line and were confronted with Ulsanbawi and a line long enough to rival the Star Wars ride at Disney World.
When I first saw the line of people waiting to reach the top, I decided I wasn’t going. After some arguing and being called “pussy” by a female traveling companion, I gave in and trudged up to the steps.
We stood nearly still for the better part of an hour. As we went higher up the stairs, the winds whipped up into the funnel-shaped crevasse. I stood helplessly, feeling like and idiot for not wearing a jacket, holding onto the rails and wishing people would hurry it up.
We finally made it to the top, a bald outcrop of rock completely open to the wind. There wasn’t much of a guard rail to prevent gravity-induced accidents so the crowd at the top looked like penguins on an iceberg, shoving everyone to the edge to test the waters. I really thought some unlucky penguin would get pushed or blown off.
Maybe it’s desperate economic circumstances, maybe it’s cultural, maybe it’s in the blood. If there’s one thing I admire about Koreans, it’s this: They’re hustlers. If someone has something to sell, he’ll carve out a space somewhere and try to cut you a deal. Not even hundreds of steps up a vertical incline can stop some people.
Sure enough, two or three guys were at the top with a radio, a bullhorn and a small stand full of medals, pins and trinkets. They also had hot tea.
I’m still baffled. How’d they get that hot water up the mountain? How’d they keep it hot all day long? Do they really make enough money to make it a worthwhile venture?
After a few minutes at the top, I decided I’d had enough of the wind and began the long descent to the bottom. This part was what made the trip so difficult. After all the time spent slowly walking in a crowd, then standing still on the stairs, my legs were worn out.
Going back down all those stairs took most of what they had left. I hiked down slowly and carefully, fearing my ankles didn’t have the strength to grip the rocks and loose sand. When I finally reached the bottom and got on the Adventure Korea bus, I was really glad to find out there was a jimjibang (Korean-style sauna) next to our hotel.