No Spikes, No Hike
At 10:40am, the AK bus arrives and we greet Seokjin enthusiastically. We’re also happy to see that Patricia and ByungMin are staffing this trip and we soon fall into an easy conversation with Patricia whom we haven’t seen since the DMZ trip. Less than an hour later, we arrive at the rest stop where we take a group photo and Seokjin shows us the path that we’ll be following along the ridge of Daedun Mountain. He also tells us that there’s still snow on the mountain so we’ll need to buy spikes before we take the cable car part of the way up the mountain.
Spikes in hand, we set off for the cable car that will take us most of the way uphill. The view from the top is amazing and the Konglish signs provide much amusement for the crowd of native speakers. I love the signposts that treat the mountain like a crossroads, the fact that hiking in Korea seems to always involve climbing up steps for the first part and the road signs that tell us not to ‘trifle” on the bridge and that certain paths are one way: Down.
The first lot of stairs are fine although Catfish has a few issues with vertigo thanks to the stairs being made of an iron frame and mesh wire – she’s definitely not comfortable with being able to see the sharp drop beneath her although I can’t help but drink in the beauty of the wonders around me. At one point, Catfish drops a glove and, naturally, it falls underneath the stairs and out of reach. With an exclamation of disappointment that Seokjin, our fearless AK leader, hears, ByungMin (an AK staff member) is quickly dispatched to climb over the railing and under the stairs to retrieve the glove: Catfish’s hero.
We then proceed to the next part of the assault course: Natural rock stairs. These are not just any stairs. Oh no! These stairs represent my own personal exercise hell. At one point, I seriously consider giving up and heading back down the mountain with the other girls who’ve already gone that route – I’m just not fit enough to make it up the natural stair-master that only the devil could have created. Somehow, with lots of encouraging words from Patricia (another AK staff member) and Catfish, I puff, pant and push myself to the top of the stairs. For a brief moment, I revel in the knowledge that I’ve made it to the top – until Seokjin points out the final stretch to the actual peak of the mountain.
Competing for the First Fall Award
This is where we have to put on our spikes. The snow on the ground is patchy but since we’re ‘inexperienced’ hikers, unlike our fearless leader, we need the spikes – no spikes, no hike. With my first step up the final stretch, I’m grateful for the spikes on my shoes. I manage to pull myself up the rope, up the final set of stairs and halfway up the rope again when I hit not only a snowy patch but a rocky one too which makes the spikes useless – they don’t grip the rock. It’s inevitable, I suppose, that one moment I’m looking up at Catfish just ahead of me on the peak, thinking that I’m almost there and the next, I’m sliding face first down the side of the peak. I sense my arms flailing as my hands reach out for anything with grip and I catch a glimpse of Patricia’s frightened expression and her outstretched hand that can’t reach me. It takes me a moment to realise that my hand has found a rope – just as my eyes see that my feet are currently hanging over the edge of a rather steep drop down the side of the mountain. No one can beat me on this trip: I’ve already claimed the prize for First to Fall and Most Dramatic Fall.
After a 15 minute rest to take in the view from the top and get a few classic photos, we’re soon slipping and sliding our way back down to begin our ridge walking. Here, we seem to split into two smaller groups: Our fearless leader, Seokjin, leads the way (while ByungMin runs between him and Patricia) and Patricia brings up the rear. We hang out at the back – not because we can’t keep up but because we enjoy the company.
Along the way, we encounter various slippery and narrow paths – usually next to the steepest drops. At one such intersection, five cute Korean guys, in full Korean hiking gear, step aside to let the foreign girls pass. They gallantly hold out their arms for us to hold onto as we attempt to navigate the icy and treacherous path. Pride interferes once more and I attempt to sidestep them without taking the offered arm. My sidestep turns into a full on slide down the path ahead but, mercifully, not down the mountain itself. I decide to exercise even more caution in future and take the proffered arms.
The rest of the ridge walking passes rather uneventfully and we’re soon beginning our descent. Since the descent is rocky, Catfish and I take our time looking for steady rocks while ByungMin, who served in the marines for his military service, flies down the mountain and over the rocks like some Korean mountain goat. A random Korean man stops and asks me if I have gloves for hiking. When I shake my head, he quickly removes the gloves from his hands and offers them to me. Back home, this would simply not happen and it’s just one of many instances of utter kindness from Koreans that constantly amazes and impresses me. It’s over an hour, and he’s somewhere well ahead of me, before I finally see him again to return the gloves.
Back on flat ground, the AK bus delivers us to the pick up site in Daejeon and we walk to the bus terminal where a bus to Gunsan is preparing to leave. We’re delighted that we’ll make it back to Gunsan by 19:00 and in time for NZ2 and his fiance’s engagement party at Promessa.