7 May 2003 - In a restaurant/rest stop halfway between Seoraksan and Ulsanbawi
What goes up...

I'm trying to dry out here and to outwait the rain, but I don't think there'll be much chance of that. I'll leave when my clothes dry up a little.

Today must rank as a disappointing day. It's probably the worst on this trip so far, if you consider unfulfilled potentials. I also had the scare of my life. Literally, I think I was this close to breaking an arm, if not my neck.

I'm not quite sure where to begin. For a start, the hiking trail that I wanted to take was closed. My second choice was closed as well. The third choice I made when I lost my first two, I found that to be closed as well when I was part of the way up it.

The cable car is undergoing renovations until July, so one of the best views in the park is out for me.

I decided to hike up to Ulsanbawi rock, which is meant to be a straight-forward climb that anyone can do. Well, that may be true for about nine-tenths of it, but then, for the last half kilometer or so (when you look at it from a map) it starts getting steep, and steps go up at an 45 degree angle. For the last 200m, it gets very steep. The steps are practically tilted ladders at some points. And it was raining. And the steps for the last section are metal. And, yes, they get slippery.

I am not very fit at the moment, but I'm young and healthy, but that last part was a killer for me. I had to stop every twenty steps or so. This is easily the hardest thing I've had to do on this trip so far. Harder than crossing the road in Bangkok, harder than battling heat exhaustion in Cambodia, harder than getting rid of a pesky cyclo driver in Vietnam. Well, maybe not the last one.

And what did I see when I got to the top? Fog. That beautiful view of mountains and valleys that was meant to greet me was covered in a white cotton blanket. I was lucky to see even fifty meters. I did write something about the view when I was up there though, as I'd intended.

What really got me was that on the way down, I met all these 50-something year old pensioners happily climbing away as if it was a two-storey house or something. While carrying umbrellas and wearing leather shoes. And I was pretty close to fainting on the way up. They were also mountain-goat like on the way down, bounding from rock to rock.

Anyway, on the way down, that's when it happened. Scary moments are sometimes really only scary after the fact. When they happen, it's too fast to register, it's only on reflection you realise what a lucky escape you've had.

I was taking a step down a slippery steel step when my foot slipped. It was quite a steep staircase (sixty degrees?), and because I was holding onto the railings I slid, on my hands, lubricated by the rain, down all fifteen steps. By some miracle I landed on my feet, kept my balance and escaped with minor grazes on my thumbs. But I was pretty jittery after that, my hands were trembling, I had to hold on to keep standing up. It was pretty scary.

I was lucky. If that had happened on one of the longer stretches, I might have slid down a hundred feet, and that would have been bad. Or my momentum could have carried me over and past the railing at the end (the stairs made a ninety degree turn at the bottom). If that had happened, I would have fallen fifty feet. I was very lucky.

Further down the mountain, I also slipped on a rock and fell onto my side, but I managed to not bang my head against any of the rocks, and got a mouthful of dirt for my efforts. Small matter after what I'd been through.

I am trying to look at the silver lining in all this. Considering the problems I had with this 'simple' climb, it's probably a good thing that the other hiking trails weren't open. I guess the park rangers know how dangerous it can be when it rains. Otherwise, I could have been writing this from a cold, wet, mountain shelter in the middle of the night with my arm in a make-shift sling.


posted on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - permalink
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