This weekend, Paula, a hip lady from Seoul who found my friend Robert (previously known as R, anonymity be damned.) on a korean climbing website, came over to Sokcho from Seoul and we did some SERIOUS climbing. We spent a good part of saturday doing multiple runs up the local artificial wall near the stadium, and I got to the top for the first time. It was the longest day I've spent climbing (until today) and I was pretty exhausted by the end. Afterwards, we went to a Korean teacher friend's house for a farewell dinner in honour of two long-time Sokcho residents who are moving on to a University job further south after a couple of months back home in B.C. and traveling around. We then moved on to a Karaoke bar (relatively rare in Korea, the private Norae Bang being more the bees knees here) to celebrate another teacher's birthday. Robert and I sang/growled Chop Suey by System of a Down and I headed home early-ish to get some sleep before today's big trek.
TODAY I CLIMBED ON REAL ROCK FOR THE FIRST TIME AND IT WAS FUCKIN' AWESOME!! I set my alarm for p.m. last night before bed and woke up to a phone call from Paula, who was waiting at our rendezvous point ten minutes from my place. Immediately after I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and before I could scratch myself twice, Robert showed up at my door, scooter helmet in hand and ready to go. So i threw some water in a bag and we headed off to the bus terminal. After some transportation issues, we got on our way on the bus from Sokcho into the mountains to Jangsudae, a sort of hiking/camping area. The hour and a half ride was beautiful, we had the bus almost to ourselves and had some good conversation while I breakfasted on kim bap (sort of like Korean sushi but with kimchi, radish, and veggies or egg or ham or tuna instead of raw fish). Paula's a neat lady, from montreal, korean by descent, and has lived in Seoul for five years writing for the tourism board. After we were dropped off on Jangsudae, we walked about twenty minutes to Ahgulbawi. (Ahgul means lip, bawi means rock) The wall is on the edge of a parking lot, surrounded by mountains and forest and a river and it's beautiful. There were fifteen routes up the crag (yeah, that's climbing lingo, booya.) and they were pretty wet except for one. The grade (i.e. difficulty) was a little high for Robert to comfortably lead-climb (lead climbing is the first trip up the rock wall, clipping in the rope as you go, to set up a top-rope, and is the most perilous part of the day) so Paula gave it a go. About twenty feet up, there was a particularly ugly part that we couldn't figure out how to get over, so we took a little detour and just before Paula had to head back to catch her bus to Seoul, she was able to get to the top and set up a rope on the top anchor. This was pretty miraculous, as I can't lead-climb or belay on lead climbing yet, and so if we didn't set up a top-rope, Robert and I would've likely been done climbing for the day. Once the top rope was set up, Robert and I set about climbing, and it was super exhilarating. Climbing on real rock is a lot more creative than on a climbing wall, you have to be a lot more flexible with different techniques and there's a fairly heavy element of problem-solving as you figure out how to use the natural holds. It's a lot easier to know where to put your limbs when the holds are pieces of coloured plastic sticking out of the wall. After some frustrating attempts to get past the twenty foot patch of angry, I was able to find a decent balance point and hold and I got up it!! I feel a little trite talking about how damn proud I was and the feeling of accomplishment at figuring it out, but goddamn I was proud and accomplished! After that point, the climb got reaaalllly interesting, with lots of moves I had never done, but I made it to the top and crowed like a certain green-tights-clad childhood hero of mine. Looking from 60 feet up out at the mountains, my limbs throbbing and slick with sweat, I had a what-the-shit moment of "Woah! I'm totally rock-climbing in South Korea!" It was great.
Throughout the day, we met a couple of Koreans. One came up, reeking of Soju, and started telling Robert how we should get past the difficult part, in Korean, and was annoying as hell. It seems that a lot of the climbers we meet are all self-professed experts and this really rubs me (and Robert) the wrong way, cuz we're there for the enjoyment of the climb and spending time outside, not to have a bunch of people "show us" (as in tell us) how we should do it and put extra pressure on a situation that can already be frustrating. We also met a dude who saw me looking around for water, and he took us to where the river comes out of the mountain and assured us the water was clean, "No town nearby. Very clean." We thanked him profusely and spent the rest of the day climbing up the wall, the hard part didn't get easier and Robert was getting pissed and exhausted in his attempts to get past it. But at the end of the day, both exhausted, he took one last run up the thing and made it, me hollering obscene and profane congratulations from below. We then walked back to where the bus comes and found that we'd have to wait an hour and a bit. So, we walked across the street to this rustic looking restaurant, where we had kalbi (ribs) and beer outside overlooking a gorgeous forest and another river. Exhausted and satisfied, we took the bus back to Sokcho and hopped on Robert's scooter for the ride to our apartments. Good day.
Next: SCOOTER TIME!