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.