Climbing Cheonhwangsan

I’ve been sadly remiss in the past few weeks with posting a blog, so here’s an update on some things that have been happening in Ulsan the last little bit:

About 3 weeks ago now, myself and Will decided we wanted to climb another mountain; this time, we were taken on a special hiking by one of Will’s older Korean friends, Mr. Jung. Needless to say, Mr. Jung, like most Koreans who hike, is 60+ years old and in way better shape than I am. In fact, he told us as we began our climb that he had last climbed this particular mountain only 2 weeks before. It seems that in South Korea, once you pick an activity that you’re going to do, you undertake it with gusto and extreme dedication.

Our enigmatic guide who also loves the phrases "yolo", "hit the road" and "swag"

Our enigmatic guide who also loves the phrases “yolo”, “hit the road” and “swag”

The tone for the entire hike was made evident quite early on, when Mr. Jung stopped about halfway up the initial stairs for a rest. When Will inquired as to why we were resting already, Mr. Jung did a smart turnabout, and very firmly declared that he “had to poop.” Well, Will and I just about peed our own selves laughing as Mr. Jung strode into the bush; not quite ready to trust what we had heard, Will discreetly checked to confirm the accuracy of Mr. Jung’s statement and had the great pleasure of correctly explaining the English words for bodily functions.

After that little “they don’t have this in the school textbooks” moment, we continued on our way…but not before Will, wating to know a Korean phrase, asked Mr. Jung how to say “let’s go” in Korean. With a big smile, Mr. Jung swung his bag onto his back and cried, “hit the road!” With that laugh, we were off again.

It didn’t take us long to crest the first peak, and the first leg of our hike was rewarded by a very friendly group of Koreans who had settled near the top to partake in the tradition of sipping (or “one-shotting”) Magkeolli – Korean rice wine – before heading back down. Being the kind folk that they are, the group promptly offered some Magkeolli to myself and Will, which we, in the spirit of Korean drinking tradition, downed in one shot before hoisting up our bags, and bidding adieu to our temporary friends.

As we climbed, we were lucky enough to find out that Mr. Jung was full of interesting facts about the mountain, some of which he shared with us on the hike up. My favourite tidbit of information was hearing about how university students used to climb to the top of Cheongwangsan for their orientation activities…Mr. Jung’s small laugh as he said this suggested that the long climb was well worth being out of view of both disapproving elders and any other watchful eyes. Those of us who have been through a university orientation will surely appreciate the dedication of students making a 3 hour trek to partake in a long tradition of “well-mannered frivolity”.

The little lean-to where once a small village nestled. Now a great resting stop for rice-wine and noms.

The little lean-to where once a small village nestled. Now a great resting stop for rice-wine and noms.

Perhaps even more amazing than this though, was learning that a small community of cattle farmers also used to live on the mountain. Nowadays, there is only open field, amazing vistas and a small rest house where hikers can sit down and order some Makgeolli, ramyen and fish pops from the owners of the lean-to; currently the only permanent residents of the mountain top. Mr. Jung told us that the fresh streams on the mountain side used to provide an abundant supply of clams and fish to the small village, and that snuggled into the valley was a small schoolhouse…not even way up here, away from the bustle of everyday life, were kids denied an education. The budding teacher in me most likely romanticized this detail to no end, picturing a sunny classroom where likely it was freezing, kids didn’t want to learn, and [parents needed them to help with the cattle. Nonetheless, I like to imagine that there were at least a handful of students who were content to go to school on a blustery mountain top with no electrical heating. If you’re going to dream, dream big.

After stopping at the lean-to ourselves for fish pops, which Will and I gamely ate a few bites of with the best poker faces on the planet, and kimbap, we made the last leg of the journey to the top. As it seems to be the case with many folk here, Mr. Jung was quite content to take a deep breath, do a once-over of the view, and hop right back down the mountain. Luckily enough, Will settled himself firmly on a rock and bought my shutter bug addiction a few extra minutes of beautiful views and pictures that don’t begin to do them justice.
Reaching the Peak

As is the case with most Korean people you meet, Mr. Jung’s hospitality prompted him to get my number befire we parted ways for the day. Needless to say, being the hiking enthusiast that he is, the three of us have another hiking trip planned for this Sunday. Hopefully, even better views and stories await.

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