Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lost in the Cloud (동해, pt. 3)

Katelyn sets off a firework on the beach at night.

Friday evening at Donghae was spent setting off fireworks on the beach. We lit them to celebrate the birthdays of Katelyn and Sara. I also had tons of fun with Sara's blue ukulele ("Blukulele"), playing All Of The Pop Songs and singing loudly with everyone while fairly large waves crashed onto the shore.

Other people went to karaoke bars (노래방, noraebang) to drink and sing some more. Everyone keeps telling me it's tons of fun -- and when I did 卡拉-OK in Taiwan I got a taste of it -- but I still have not been to a noraebang in Korea! I'm putting it on my to-do list for Orientation (four weeks left?!)

Saturday was adventure day! A group of twenty ETAs decided to tackle the monster that is Public Bus Transportation In A Foreign Country and find our way back to 무릉 계곡 (Mureung Valley) for a legit hike. Luckily we had one of our Korean RAs, Rachel, accompanying us. Were it not for her, we would have been completely lost as we took one bus to a run-down looking terminal, waited as the drivers changed, then rode it somewhere into downtown Donghae, waited for half and hour for the next bus, and then stood, cramped and uncomfortable, for the better part of an hour until it finally reached the park entrance. And when we arrived... wow. There were tour buses and cars filling the parking lot to overflowing. We've heard it said that hiking (등산, teungsan) is a major Korean pastime, but none of us was prepared to see the mountain as busy with weekenders as the beach, or even busier!
Public transportation adventurists wondering how long it'll take to get to Mureung Valley, from left to right: the other Andrew, Kaley, Katelyn, Jason, Tracey, and Christina.
Even after we'd arrived, we were still somewhat lost. We weren't sure how much park entrance fare cost, for example, and we had absolutely no idea what the trails were going to be like. We couldn't find anything that told us how long a certain trail would take to hike (from the well-meaning but pretty unhelpful guides, we were told fifty to ninety minutes, and from a loud Korean man who was apparently leading a hiking tour, we were told five hours to the summit. What?), and we weren't sure how we'd split up the group of twenty.

Fortunately, we put on our American caps and simply blazed through -- kind of throwing caution to the wind, I guess, because the more we tried to organize and prepare for whatever would be in store for us, the more frustrated we got with our confused inaction. It was noon when the party really started. The big group naturally split up into four different groups who went in (almost) completely different directions. We found a cool waterfall (폭포, pogpo), another cool waterfall, a cool twin waterfall, and then another cool waterfall. (Those were all of the sight-seeing points in the "beginner" trail areas.)
This is 쌍 폭포 (ssang pogpo), the Twin Waterfalls. It was probably the most beautiful thing I saw on the hike.
My group consisted of a powerhouse quartet of Asian girls, Kristen (also a powerhouse), and myself (not really a powerhouse). After finishing the beginner trails, we were all kind of disappointed at how easy and quick it was (and also, to an extent, at how crowded it was on the trails, what with all the large tours of middle-aged people in really expensive hiking gear). So we decided to take one of the more difficult trails, one that within five minutes was completely devoid of the well-worn paths, slow inclines, and even trail markers and signs that were plentiful before. The red trail made a few switchbacks and then seemed to shoot straight up into the forest. Awesome.
Ammy, Katelyn, and Kristen hanging on for dear life on a portion of the trail that required rope handholds.
I forgot to mention what the weather was like that day, which is important because it was completely overcast, and a cloud enveloped the entire mountain. As we hiked up and up on the red trail, sometimes taking old metal staircases that were erected on the steeper parts or across chasms, the sounds of the forest grew quieter and quieter and the mist grew thicker and thicker. We finally realized that we were hiking straight into the giant cloud. Soon, we couldn't see anything more than thirty yards ahead of us. It was exciting, and we felt quite adventurous. Also, the lack of signs or trail markers of any sort had us also in the dark about the progress we were making.
The team on one of the super-steep, rickety metal staircases.
On the way up, we passed by very few people: one middle-aged couple of which the woman clucked her tongue at us and said something along the lines of, "This trail is so hard! You're so young (and thereby crazy)!"; one middle-aged man who also thought we were reckless for clambering up mossy boulders in t-shirts, shorts, and sneakers (I'll admit that the shoes I was wearing, which literally had holes in them, were pretty inadequate); another man who actually motioned for us to turn around and go back, because the trail was about to get really tough. Well... it never really did! It was just a lot of rocks, some places with ropes strung up as handholds, and mud. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and it wasn't difficult, only slow going.
The team at a signpost that gave us short-lived hope! I misread the sign and thought that we had already made it to the very top, when in reality, whatever it was that the sign indicated we had reached was not even on our map.
Fast-forward nearly two hours and find us fairly hungry (having skipped lunch!) and tired, as well as unsure of our location. So, we decided to take it easier. We stopped at a signpost that I initially thought told us that we had made it to the summit (so we took a photo!), and only went a bit further after that. Our final destination ended up being the 2-3 marker -- a little over three kilometers from the end of the beginner trails -- which was only about one-third of the way up the mountain. What a letdown! But near this signpost, there was a small pool and a large, flat, comfortable-looking slab of boulder in the middle of the river, so we rested there, stretched it out, tried to build a rock bridge, and just chillaxed for a while before heading back down.

The way back was much shorter. We arrived at the very bottom of the trail, the park entrance, at around 4pm, making it a grand total of four hours of wandering up and down a mountain. Curiously, two of the other groups finished their hikes at around the same time (the fourth finished much earlier and ate lunch). We found out that one group was ahead of us on the red trail and made it a bit farther, while the other went off in an unknown direction; having had no trail maps, they never knew exactly where they were, and still do not know!). Then we all took buses and taxis (taxis are really cheap! -- about $7.50 for four people for a twenty-minute ride) back to the hotel. All in all, a fun morning/afternoon! My shoes are definitely closer to being destroyed than intact as a result, but I'm happy that I got my first taste of the Korean hiking craze in Donghae.
Our team, pointing out on the trail map how far we made it (read: not very far at all!). Still proud of us! Left to right: Tracey, Stephanie, Katelyn, Ammy, Kristen, and me.

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