Saturday, 20 November 2010


Changes in life sometimes come in shock and haste and can create some mess in one's brain. Each time I want to purify myself, restructure my internal logic and gain some energy, I hike.

The more challenging hike is, the better. Last year I lived at the bottom of Mount Gwanak which embraces with her northern slope Seoul National University Campus. Her view was tempting me every single day, but when I actually tried I had to quit. First because of lack of proper hiking shoes. Secondly because of not overcome fear of space after I spent 45' hanging over 500m steep in a blizzard in Tatra Mountains some 3 years ago. I still remember the moment I had to back off and how terrified I was. I owe it to a very close French friend of mine who carried me down. As simple as that.

This time I live away from SNU but Gwanak like a queen of Gyeonggi Do still reaches her arms towards me each time I see her from the bus. This time I haven't been waiting for anything, I just went. As I created the event on such a haste, noone joined me and maybe even for better?

Something told me to get off at Nakseongdae to pass by the dorm and campus of SNU. Visiting place I used to live before...
 the kid's playground on which I swinged away my "moodie" times...

the building in the family dorm I used to live in. So many memories accumulated over time. Irritation, boredom, disgust, fear, hope. Overally good time if I compare it to living in any kind of dorm for singles.

I walked all of my usual path down passing the language institute and the crown of the stadium where I saw the subject of my work at SNU, a magpie, pica sericea, asian type of what we know in Europe as a magpie. The bird which used to be a symbol of Korea and still hangs on the walls of all sorts Korean embassies globally. However is no longer a symbol because people started complaining for something about this bird, what, that I did not understand when SangIm, my professor's wife, was explaining me the issues.

Strongly tempted to drop by the institute resisted and went to the SNU gate to start a hike. It was about 10:30 when I stopped being lazy and made it in my dynamic pace just going foreward gradually higher and higher. Based on my instinct decided to get to the main range and turn left which should drag me to the place I had to surrender beforehand. And there it was... Gwanak range in late autumn sun appeared in front of my eyes and I had a rest for a while.

I was hiking at my own tempo stopping once a while to take a photo. What struck me was that all these legendar crowds vanished somewhere again and in the middle of 25mln city area there was just me and silence. The smog in Seoul makes anything practically invisible from the peak so the feeling of being away from civilization was enormous.

At some point I had to gradually overcome my fears because the trail became difficult in various places. I passed by some ajoshi in his mid-50's asking me:
- Odiso ishyossoyo? Where are you from?
- I come from Poland.
- Are you hiking that alone? Where are your friends? - such typical collective question, genuine and soft.
- Well... so it happened. Alone. - replied I taking hair away from my face.
- You are pretty woman. You should have a boyfriend. - ajoshi made my day with a smile.
- What can I do, I don't.
- Be careful, here is dangerous. Man should be for a woman. - and so he helped me to jump over some steepy break in the trail with some 150m of straight down space under my feet.

The sun was slowly caressing southern slopes of the mount. People were going up and down, having lunch, laughing together, exchanging thoughts. Joking about some plenty of issues which I could not understand fully but what I got was sun, light, and joy in their voices. So often they greeted me with their joy: we love you cause you love hiking. I was patiently getting through rocks which seemed to be neverending up and down up and down until the moment when I saw it. I saw the peak. It was approximately 3 pm when I reached the bunch of electric cables near KBS tower on the top of Gwanak. At one point some Koreans stopped me asking in fluent english:
- Hello, you almost made it. Wanna eat? - I was reluctant for a while but would never abuse hospitality. I was fed by a very resourceful wife of my host who prepared seaweed, rice, kimchi, and dried fish. How did it taste at this time!
- Aju mashissoyo, Hanguk aju juoaheyo - spoken I in my broken Korean.
My hosts started asking what is my name and where am I from and other questions. I asked them where they are from too. Apperently it was a Korean professors couple on holidays from USA. Their hospitality was something which brought back my faith in human species as such.
- My name is Aga.
- Aga... - burst with laugh - oh how funny. It is actually a small baby in Korean. Indeed you have a young face.
- I'm not that young anymore. Then I said my age.
- Impossible! - so nice reaction of them made my day with genuine smile.
- But you should not hike alone! It's not healthy! - yeah, tell me about it. What to do when there is no other option?

Yeah... supported with fresh strength I kept on going until the trail for Gwacheon detached. It was time to go down despite the fact that I skipped reaching the observatory point which was still several hundred of meters away. On this side of the mount though every trail was easy and comfortable paved with steps so indeed crowds of hikers headed for the Gwanak Observatory point. I gradually went down...

As I was walking down and people were passing I saw a girl without shoes or say with shoes in her hands. That is not someone who would make it before getting dark. On haste I decided to pack her shoes to my backpack and get her down somehow. I would have carried her down on my back, but Yujin as was her name, was too scared of that. I experienced real gratitude which I must admit tastes nice. Nevertheless I would never leave her behind as my long term hiking experience says that mountains are not a terrain for any kind of competition between people. In a result of this I gained a a new friend and finished the day full of good emotions.

Practical information:
Gwanak is a mount in South of Seoul built of old granites. It's relevant difference in altitude towards the bottom makes her a reasonable goal for an average hiker with good shoes and with no fear of altitude and space. Height: 629m a.s.l. In Korean mountains it's good to have your lunch and drinks with you and also pick up the trush.

Time: if you want to make it leisure and take photos etc from SNU Main Gate through the pass until the summit and down to Sadang or Gwachon - 7hrs.

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