Hallasan

Hiked South Korea’s tallest mountain (1,950km/6,938ft). In the rain. In my Chackos and without a raincoat. I maintain that on a drier day, say merely drizzling, or a shorter hike, say six hours round trip, I would have been fine. But conditions being what they were, I have 11 blisters –I just counted– and a mad ache in my calves.

The rainy season is starting and I have precious few weekends left. I had worried that I would end up having lived on this volcanic island for 11 months without ever summiting the volcano. So I just went. Hiking in Korea isn’t really about nature; it’s very much about the human endeavor. So I spent a good bit of the early hike annoyed that I couldn’t hear any birds because of a cart putzing up a rail to take bottled water to the rest area near the top and breathing in its diesel fumes.

I might have to amend what I said before, though, about Koreans not smiling first. On this wet mountain there was a lot of overt friendliness, a lot of concern about my lack of rain gear and the exposure of my toes –“slippers!”– they’d exclaim.

The man I walked the last 2km down with, an “officer” at the Board of Education in Incheon whom I’d also talked with briefly at the rest stop, offered to buy me a beer at the bottom and pointed to a sign that apparently says “No hiking in slippers.” I said, “These are not slippers, they are sport sandals,” but in the end I have to admit everyone was right. As much as splashing in mud puddles did satisfy my inner five year old, some ankle support would have been nice, especially those last 2.3 km.

There came a certain point, as the ache radiated up to my lower back from my hamstrings, that all I could think about was how much it would hurt tomorrow, that is, today, and another point, around hour 5 of 7, when I was so completely over nature and my own locomotion but was still so far from the parking lot.
“Mission Accomplished.”

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“The Crater Lake You Would See”

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And: “Damn! It’s Cold and Windy Up Here.”

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A stranger accosted me around this point saying “come here, come here” and insisted that I sit with him and his friends and eat one of their boxed lunches of which they, for some reason, had a extra. He also gave me a large brick of rice cake.

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