Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sleeping under the stars at Soraksan

As you can clearly see from the picture above, Soraksan was just as beautiful as it has been in the previous two seasons and this time I got to enjoy it with Barbara, who came all the way from Kansas to visit for a month! We left Friday night right after class and caught a bus to Yangyang in order to enter Soraksan via Osaek from the south side, which was a new route for me. The bus dropped us off at a small stop after dark with no chance of making it to Osaek for the night (unless we wanted to pay for a cab). We walked around until we found a minbak to sleep for the night.

The next morning we took what would end up being our last shower before 60 hours of shower-free mountain-climbing, stream-drinking and outdoor-living. We walked through Osaek and tasted the mineral water in the stream and went to a very small Buddhist temple before heading on our way to South Korea's third highest peak, Daechangbong. We walked at a leisurely pace and took several breaks to enjoy the scenery and catch our breath. It was an exhausting, but very beautiful hike.

We continued past Daechangbong and near sunset ended up at a mountain hut in the middle of the mountains with a several hour hike either way to get back to civilization. We collapsed at a picnic table shared with other Koreans, and Barb and I finally relaxed now that our long day of hiking was over and we had made it to our destination for the night. Too early for relaxing though, as I learned a minute later when went to pay for two spaces on the wood floor in the hut and found out they were all booked up. I've previously stayed in two other huts on Soraksan and didn't even consider we would encounter a problem with availability. To put it quite simply, we were screwed and the man in charge wouldn't succumb to our pleading and offer us even a blanket or a spot on the bathroom floor.

It wouldn't have been so bad if we would have had sleeping bags, a tent, or jackets, but needless to say, we didn't. We tried not to think about it as we ate our dinner, which was a mistake. We should have been scouting out a place to sleep for the night. When the darkness had completely enveloped us it stirred Barbara up and she went storming off to the man in charge who spoke no English. I just waited, expecting her to come back even more pissed off. To my surprise, five minutes later she walked up with a smile and 2 musty smelling, slightly damp blankets that would offer us protection for the night. Now that we had blankets to ward off the cold I was actually excited about the prospect of sleeping under the stars deep in the mountains! Barbara didn't share my enthusiasm but that didn't stop her from hysterically laughing with me at our situation on a few occasions before bed.

When it was time for bed (which was very early after a full day of hiking) we found a nice slab of concrete on the side of the cabin that offered us a short ledge of protection on one side. We put all of our clothes on, wrapped sarongs around us, put one of the blankets down as a pad and one as a blanket and curled up together for warmth. We slept like that all night, turning together whenever the concrete digging into our shoulders and hips began to bother one of us. I woke up at one point and saw the sky filled with stars. Nothing quite beats the ceiling provided when sleeping outside...