Monday, May 5, 2014

Just Bummin' It...

So Chris just left and Casey was in his final week, spending it camping out in Goejae Island down by Busan. He shot me an email on Wednesday to come climb with him on the weekend before he left. With nothing else to do, and wanting to spend time with a cool dude while climbing, I planned my trip... or didn't... that's not relevant at all to this story.

On Friday morning I woke up and packed:
-Harness and Shoes
-Belay and extra gear stuff
-Hammock and sleeping bag
-Toilet paper

Everything was prepared and ready and incredibly stupidly heavy for such a small load.

After work I grabbed my bag and headed straight for the bus terminal. It's a major holiday this weekend (Children's day and Buddha's Birthday) and I needed to head out in the late hours of night in order to make it all the way to the popular tourist destination of Busan on time. With a farewell to my hamsters, "Goodbye Reggie, Goodbye you lazy piece of s*%t Hamtaro," I was out the door and ready for a long night ahead of me.

The bus from Mokpo to Gwangju left around 9. I jumped on devoid of snacks and put in my headphones to pass the time. I drifted in and out of sleep on the hour-long ride while Edward Sharpe's acidic song's left lucid dreams of endless deserts and hot winds seared into my eyes. It's a strange feeling to have not seen a desert so long and yet have every aspect of it return so quickly and with such strength. The smell of sun-baked sage and clay wafting into my brain as I walked through the chaparral landscape of home. I was awakened by the bus light coming on to tell me of our arrival into Gwangju. I jumped off the warm bus into the cold night and grabbed my bags to sprint for the ticket counter. I was able to make it (eventually) to the front of an incredibly long line. I would have a one hour lay-over here and make the 4 hour drive to Busan starting at 11. With nothing else to do, I pulled out my book and headed to KFC (the only place in Gwangju's terminal area open past 10) and sat down to read.

Sat next to a young man from Michigan during my ride to Busan. I didn't like him. He smelled and treated the Koreans around us like an asshole.... My dislike of white people in Gwangju has increased at this point.

Arriving at the Busan Central Bus Terminal around 2:30am, I realized that I had made a rather stupid mistake... apparently, the Busan Central Bus Terminal is not centrally located in Busan. It's in the middle of nowhere. The bus station I needed to go to was Busan Sasang Station... and the buses and subways weren't running until 6am... I had time to kill and no motel or jimjilbang in sight. I tried to fall asleep in the terminal sitting up and slouched over my bag in a bench seat, but I was promptly removed from the facility by a polite security guard with a cap gun tucked into a holster on his belt. I would have fought against him for my rights to sleep where I damn well pleased, but my eardrums have already suffered too much abuse in the playground war of 1999. Heading outside, I saw a sign for a "sports park" down the road about a KM away. I headed in that direction and found that true to first glimpse, this part of Busan had NOTHING in the immediate vicinity except traditional korean houses and lots of factories. During the walk, a nice homeless couple offered me their bed while they were leaving to go get recycling, but I said that I was fine and continued on my search of the sports park. Arriving to the sports park I was hit with another stupid labeling of Korean places. The sports park wasn't a park, it was an indoor cycling circuit. No open fields. No grassy lawns. No places to lie down. Searching the parking lot, I found a nice area under some streetlamps that had two great trees and big bushes on either side to hide me from view. I set up my hammock and jumped inside my sleeping bag for a few hours of rest. Unfortunately the storm picked up and I wasn't able to sleep more than a few minutes at a time due to huge gusts of wind blowing my hammock around like a parachute.

not a bad camp site...

Around 6:30 I packed up and headed back to the bus terminal to catch the subway to meet Casey in town. I was pretty alone on the subway and enjoyed some peace and quiet until I hit Seomyeon station and got out. Starbucks was the only thing open for breakfast, so with time to kill until Casey showed up, I ordered a bagel and coffee and sat down to read some more 1Q84.

Casey showed up at 9, just in time to see a drunk guy who had passed out in front of the store next to starbucks get picked up by the police. We said hello like men, with firm hand shakes and lots of giggling. Grabbing some more doughnuts to go from the Dunkin' Donuts across the street, we headed out for the subway route to the crag. The subway car was packed with Koreans out for the long weekend. Many young Korean couples were out in their matching outfits (poor dudes) and many old Koreans were out in insanely expensive "hiking clothes" to hit the trails. After going the wrong way on accident during a subway line change, Casey and I found our way to our city bus stop. We visited the local HomePlus store and got some coconuts too. After that, it was just a short trip crammed into a bus of sausage-smelling old Koreans for a few minutes up a crazy-winding road to the trail. The trail was by far the most beautiful trail I've seen in Korea so far. Huge, towering pines and soft-edged fir trees shaded a trail with no underbrush. Just an endless brown and black trail of soft pine needles and leaves. It was only a few minutes until we hit the crag while singing "Girls" by the Beastie Boys. Hood life.

The crag was beautiful. A perfect face of cracked and flaking granite. All routes from 5.10-5.12, and even a few nice boulders nearby. We sat down and began sorting our gear and punched in our coconuts to get some energy. The juice was still cold and gave a good start to the day. We both put up a 5.10a that had a nice face that lead to a great little crack at the top. Overall, a good climb with many different styles of face climbing involved. Next up was a 5.10c that Casey lead and I couldn't finish while following. Following this climb, a nice old dude from the local climbers club let Casey top-rope a 5.11b called "Hey Jude" while shouting out directions to him from below. It was a pretty cool climb to watch. Following this, we took a break to watch some Koreans climb.
This old guy was crushing 5.12's all day.

There was a big group of college kids out learning.

Some college dude climbing "Yeti 5.10b" on toprope.
After a little while of watching, we moved onto the next crag. I lead a 5.10a and Casey followed. Then he went up a 5.11a. At this point in the day, the crag was incredibly loud and busy. We decided to chill for a while before leaving, and while we were hanging around, a couple of foreigners showed up. A Chilean dude who had done nothing but alpine climbing before got along great with Casey and they headed off to talk about some of the routes. The other foreigner was a Korean-American girl, we got along great talking about music and crack climbing. After a few minutes we went off to climb some offwidth boulder cracks. She was a really good climber who was recovering from an ankle injury, which was apparent as she would foot-jam and could only hold it for a few seconds before it started to shake and waiver. We took turns leading this nice slightly-overhanging hand crack route before Casey and the Chilean came back and we all parted ways. 

Back in town we decided to head to the department store Shinsegae. The store in Busan is the biggest department store in the world, so we figured that I would be able to find some shoes in my size. We boarded the subway and immediately found that we had, again, gotten on in the wrong direction. Coming out of the underground we were confronted with the possibility of buying new tickets since ours had already been checked as "in". An old lady came to our aid with a map and told us to just jump over the turnstiles while there were no police and get on the opposite subway. She laughed pretty hard as we both struggled to jump the turnstiles with full packs on. I slipped and crushed my calf in the turnstile, not fun. After another 20 minutes or so of subway, we made it to Shinsegae. Unfortunately I couldn't find anything, but we did get to see some great falls at the local ice-rink and I got a sweet picture of the store's Guinness Book of World Records award.

Oh, I'm sorry, this is just a picture of a SHARK ZAMBONI!!!!!!!

Leaving the department store we decided to head to the college district of Busan to hang out and find a place to sleep. We boarded the crowded subway car, with me making jokes of a "threepeat" only to instantly realize that we were just dumb enough to actually get on the wrong subway again. Once again, relying on the kindness of Korean strangers, a nice man showed on the map that we were already near the end of the subway line and that if we just waited, the subway would reverse soon and head in the right direction. With that info, we sat down with our beers and waited. Eventually the cars all emptied and we were left alone.
Oh yeah, just an empty subway 

Stoked on life.

After the last stop, the subway car rolled on with just the two of us... Then it stopped... in a dark tunnel... and most of the lights turned off... "This is how I die" jumped into my head, but then the doors opened and a team of old Korean women jumped in armed with mops and brooms to clean the cars. Next thing we notice is the conductor sprinting down the cars towards us, we thought for sure we were going to get kicked off in the middle of the tunnel and made to go street level from there. But the conductor just laughed at us and told us to sit back down and the train would move soon. Before long the cars lit back up and we started heading in the right direction. By stop three, the cars were filling up a little bit. A middle aged man wagged his finger in my face and pointed behind me. There was a sign saying "reserved for elderly, pregnant, and handicapped." There was only one person in our car who was over the age of thirty besides this middle aged man and he was sitting next to me. One old man occupying one seat of the 9 reserved seats. I got up because the middle aged man was glaring at me, Casey just laughed and sat there. The middle aged man was rather angry at this. But in a few stops, an old lady got on board and Casey jumped up immediately and gave her his seat, the middle aged guy looked rather smug... until the old lady told Casey to sit next to her. She wouldn't take no for an answer and even gave Casey a cookie. The middle aged man looked about ready to lose his mind and scream at Casey, but our stop was next and we bailed quickly.

 In the college district, we quickly set to find a Jimjilbang. Casey hadn't showered in days and I was covered in chalk dust and dirt from climbing the offwidth. We did find one, which was run by an angry lady who called us "stupid foreigners" in Korean. After showering, we got kicked out for trying to leave. You're not allowed in-and-out priviledges in Jimjilbangs. You have to shower and then go to sleep, once you leave you're gone. Casey tried to grab his shoes from the footlocker while the lady was yelling at him and then Casey realized that the electronic key he used wouldn't come out and that was the same key that was holding all of his possessions for his next year in Australia in the large locker upstairs. The lady was pissed and just told us to leave after she unlocked his key. We grabbed our bags and headed outside. Now we had nowhere to stay, so I convinced Casey to try and find a good urban camping site and we headed out in search.

We stumbled upon a local college and in the middle of its athletic park there was a little hill covered in trees that was perfect for our uses. We memorized its location and headed out into the Busan night-life. We didn't get far as neither of us are big partyers and we both had large packs on. We just walked around and laughed at the nightlife, including a guy in a sad-puppy costume who made us laugh way too hard at his portrayal of a sad puppy.
Sad Puppy

Eventually we got bored and headed back to the college, we went to this little campus store area and sat down. I walked into a popeyes chicken place, but was immediately told they closed five minutes ago. So like the dirtbags we were, we just sat outside sharing the bigboy of Hite beer that we had while snacking on a bagel and peanut butter that Casey had crammed in his pack. When the beer ran out, we went into the CU to get another. Not only did the CU not have any beer, but when we walked outside, another CU worker had ran and taken our chairs since they were closing. We were left with no chairs and no beer. We figured this meant the end of our night, but once we got back to the hilltop we were met with Korean college kids who gave us beers and didn't mind sharing the hill with us. We set up our hammocks, drank our beers, and crashed out for one of the better sleeps I've had in a while.

The morning came warm and sunny, no clouds in the sky and a light breeze. We hung out in the hammocks for a while and then decided to get some breakfast. Heading into town, we found a McDonalds and grabbed some McMuffins and coffee. It was a breakfast worthy of champions. After a couple hours of chilling in McDonalds, it was time for me to head home. This could have been the saddest moment of my Korean living (besides saying goodbye to Lynzy when she left). I really had fun with Casey and I was sad to see him go. I think we both wished that we could have known each other longer in Korea, but as it turns out we didn't and that's just how it is. I think I'll try to keep in touch with him to see how his Australian trip is going and I hope that back in the states we get to climb together again.

My trip home was rather uneventful, except my bus from Busan to Gwangju was called a "VIP Busline" and had this psychedelic ceiling with red and green lighting that made everything look like what a 3D movie looks like without the glasses on. Oh, and at the rest stop, the Korean lady sitting next to me bought me this little snack cake that had redbean paste inside and sunflower seeds stuck to the outside, it was delicious! Then just to make my trip feel complete, I listened to some more Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes on the bus from Gwangju to Mokpo.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Climbing, Hiking, Hitching, and Saunas.

So it's been a while since I last wrote on here, but I have a few cool stories to share. Lately I've been hanging out with some cool people from another town over. Last week we got together and climbed a sweet multi-pitch route called Yeongshilbang (Dragon Face) in the Wolchulsan National Park. It was a lot of sketchy slab routes with lots of sand and water to make them incredibly slippery. I jumar'd up the first two pitches to save time for the group (Robert and Casey are much better climbers than me) and then after that we started moving pretty steadily as a group up the last 3 pitches. Pitch 3 had a fun slab traverse to a pretty neat bivy spot on the cliff-side.
At the temple during the approach hike
Lunch break at the bivy site. Robert brought some Chinese liquor that tasted like rubbing alcohol.
Pitch 4 had a fun face climb to a lay-back traverse that Casey took a nice swing on while leading. Poor dude fell while trying to place a cam while heel-hooking a hueco. After a few choice words and pulling flapping skin off his ankles and wrists, he was back at it and finally found the right cam for the crack and led up the vertical layback to the belay. Robert and I followed without incident; cleaning the route was very easy compared to the lead Casey put up. 
Belay station number 4
Pitch 5 was a breeze and incredibly fun. Some incredible exposure on the blank slab start with a huge drop beneath. The slab was slick with water and moss, so foot placement was crucial and fun. About halfway up the route entered a ravine about 3-4 feet wide and about 12 feet deep. Some great stemming and then a nice hand crack got me out and onto the final slab to the top. This was an incredibly fun last 30 feet or so of climbing. The slab was wavy and pocked with little crystals popping out in random places. It was practically a run to the top while jumping from pock mark to pock mark.
About 10 feet from the top.

The view of the sky bridge as the sun sank behind Wolchulsan.
Just finished.

Casey at the top after leading his first full day of Trad routes on Yeongshilbang
Robert was snapping pictures at random and got some cool ones.
The offering bowl at the new temple construction site.

The day ended with steamed kimchi, tofu, pork and cold beers at the bottom of Wolchulsan. We all piled onto Robert's tiny Moped to ride the 2 miles from Wolchulsan to the Yeongam bus terminal. I ended up missing my bus and was lucky enough to catch Casey on his way home. I crashed at his place and we watched "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" over plates of microwaved spaghetti. The next morning I woke up and walked back to the bus station, getting lost in Yeongam and turning a 15 minute walk into an hour adventure. I had to climb a buddhist monuments hill on the city outskirts to spot the bus station and get a sense of direction.
 Wolchulsan in the distance while walking in Yeongam
Rather upset that I'm so lost.
But luckily I made it back to the bus and to Mokpo without further incident. The next week, Casey came to Mokpo for some sport climbing on Kokkiri Bawi, my local crag. The day was perfect and the cherry blossoms started to bloom.

Yesterday, Casey and I decided to take a trip out to Jirisan National Park and try to camp along the ridge. I woke up to pretty heavy rain, but decided that if it was too wet to camp, we could always stay in the ridge shelters at the top. The rain stopped when we hit Gurye. We taxied up to Hwaeomsa Temple and got our waters filled in the monk's housing complex. 
 The stone table in the middle is the water fountain, where spring water shoots out from a stone turtles mouth.
 The temple was packed with visitors and we didn't know why.

After grabbing our water, we got onto the brutal 8km trail to the Nogodansan pass. The trail beat us up, and was rather uneventful. We did, however, stop to put up some first ascents of various boulders. Casey and I both put up what we called a possible V2 lieback flake/finger crack and dubbed the route "A Liter Of Cola" after what is possibly the most memorable line in Super Troopers. I don't know why I forgot to get a picture of the boulder, but it was quite ugly, so don't worry about it. 

Near the ridgeline and pass, the winds picked up drastically and the rain started again harder. By the time we reached the shelter we were both pretty soaked through. The shelter was (for some unknown reason) not accepting any people even though it was open. Pretty strange considering the ridge trail was packed with visitors. We both then realized that camping on the ridgeline in the rain and setting up our tent in already soaked vegetation with puddles would not be a fun night. So for the second time in a row on Jirisan, I had to bail off of it. Casey and I made it to the ridgeline packing lot in a few hours and were met by cool Koreans and a beautiful sight above the low cloud line.

It was only 3pm at this point, so we decided to grab a couple beers and start the painful 13km down the mountain to Gurye along the mountain highway. We had only gotten a few hundred meters when a very polite middle-aged couple pulled up to us. The husband spoke decent English which when mixed with my choppy Korean allowed us to convey that we were headed to Gurye bus station and they were headed to Gury. The man said the road was "dangerous" and more rain was coming and he offered us a ride to the bus station. (Now this is a point I must make for all the American readers: hitchhiking in Korea is a very safe and EXTREMELY common practice. At all national parks, you will see random people walking down the road and getting picked up, there is no horrible "murdering hitchhiker" scenario in Korean culture and everyone is incredibly polite and courteous about the system. I would not recommend doing this in America or almost any other country.) About ten minutes later, they dropped us off at the bus terminal and we caught a bus to Gwangju.
The cherry trees were in full bloom in Gurye.
Back in Gwangju, we grabbed some pizza and fries at the First Alleyway Restaurant (a Gwangju ExPat restaurant) and headed down the road to a jimjilbang. Now if you've never heard of this, it's because it would never fly or even work in America. It's a public bath house/ sauna/ hostel/ gym. For 9,000W, or about $8.75, you get a pair of pajamas, a locker, and free use of the facilities for the night. 

So there's no pictures for this next part, because stuff gets a bit "unwestern" at this point: a jimjilbang bathhouse and sauna is a no-clothes-room. After dumping our packs in our lockers, we stripped down naked and walked into the bath house. It was perfect. Started it off with a hot shower and a Wet Sauna at 70c (158 F) followed by a warm shower and a hot tub. The hot tub was pretty funny. Koreans rarely see white people in jimjilbangs, so everyone wanted to talk to us. It was a pretty great time. Next came the water massage pool and another shower, followed by a Dry Sauna at 70c. Then it was a rinse followed by a horrific (but much needed) dunk into the cold pool 15c (60f). Afterwards, we got dried off and put on our awesome blue P.J.'s (a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt) and headed downstairs. We put on our boots and walked across the street for some cold water and beer at the convenience store and sat there for an hour talking to other people in blue P.J.'s. It was a pretty lively scene. 

At bed time, we walked into the common floor (since the bathhouse and saunas are segregated by gender, this is where everyone sleeps/eats/talks) and grabbed a couple sleeping pads and pillows and found a sleeping hole. Yes, literally a hole in the wall which you climb into and sleep. My cozy sleep was soon interrupted by 3 very drunk Korean men decided to pass out on the floor in the common area. One began to mutter in his sleep and spasm, hitting other people around him, and another one snored all night the loudest that I have ever heard. This lead to many angry people in the jimjilbang asking them to be more quiet, but they were very drunk, and drunk men don't take advice too well. The muttering continued, the snoring continued, and the damn room got warmer and warmer until I was sweating in my damn p.j.'s. Casey left his hole on the bottom level to a cooler one on the upper. The snoring and muttering got worse until many Koreans started waking the men up to get them to stop snoring and muttering. This all culminated in a polite "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" from a level above me and a "WHUMP" as a pillow was thrown down and pegged the snore-offender square in the stomach much to the delight of the younger jimjilbang residents. I can only assume this was Casey as he giggled like a child the next morning when I asked about it (and it was in a perfect american accent). Luckily, the men left the place at about 5 A.M. and someone opened up a window, so everyone was able to grab a few hours sleep. 

In the morning, we hit the gym for a short workout to stretch our muscles from the previous day's hike and then hit the sauna for a shower before getting back into our street clothes and leaving. In Gwangju, we wandered around the Meleeoray Downtown area and headed to a Dunkin Donuts for some breakfast. After much heated debate about Bill Murray, Audrey Hepburn, and the presence of black-and-white in modern films verus silent films, we decided to head out. The girls working were nice enough to draw us a map on a placemat that would get us to the nearest bank and taxi pick-up so we could head to the bus terminal.

Once in the terminal, we went into the shopping area so Casey could get some new socks and I could grab another pair of underwear. In Uniqlo, we met a Korean girl who is studying in Gwangju University and had recently taken a trip to New York. We had a nice chat about the differences in cities in Korea and the U.S. (her English was exceptional, including her accent) and she helped us get small discounts on our purchases. Next we went to see the movie "Noah." That is all I will say about that because that movie sucked.

After the movie we went to PhoBay and got some great Vietnamese food. Then it was off to our buses to take us back to our hometowns. I don't know if my breath stank or not, but when the lady sat down next to me on the bus she immediately handed me a piece of gum. I decided it would be rude to not eat it, so I enjoyed my peppermint gum and started into my copy of Walden.