Tag Archives: Gumjeong Mountain

Me and the Mountain

18 Apr

There’s a 3rd grade homeroom teacher at my school who considers himself to be my older Korean brother. I like to call him  Mr. Boastful. You might remember him. He’s the one who got me shit faced on soju one night following a staff dinner. He’s the type of person you always enjoy being around but who in some ways, scares the shit out of you because you never know what type of hijinks he’s gonna pull. Following my recent staff noraebang experience, he tried to physically hold me hostage until I agreed to let him come downtown with me to meet a friend for beers. I pulled a spin move to shake free before running to catch a cab. He’s really a nice guy, just a tad pushy.

Now Mr. Boastful is quite the outdoors man and a couple weekends back he invites to go rock climbing with his climbing team on Guemjeong mountain in Busan. Earlier in the year I had expressed some interest in going climbing while he was showing me cell phone pictures of a recent expedition.

I should mention that of the two times in my life when I’ve gone rock climbing, neither of them was on a mountain (let alone real rock) and neither was high enough to brag about. I contemplate coming up  up with an excuse for why I can’t go (afraid of heights, bad knees, expected Saturday morning hangover), but instead agree to go.  He takes my shoe size and tells me that he will prepare every thing I’ll need for the climb–harness, shoes, helmet, climbing pack, etc. At this point I realize he’s more excited about the climb than I am.

He picks me up Saturday morning and we head off for the mountain. With us are two members of his climbing team (a couple college aged girls fully decked out in climbing gear).  The hike to the climb site is short and when we arrive at the site one of the girls gives me a crash course on how to prepare and put on a climbing harness. She barely speaks a word of English so she carefully performs each task on her harness in front of me and I attempt to do the same on mine. I  pay close attention because I’m already nervous and the last thing I want is be in the middle of the climb and have something go wrong because I didn’t attach or tie something properly. My angst is heightened when one of the other team members tells me “Don’t worry. With good harness you don’t never die on mountain!”

Up until that point, the notion if dying hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was completely naive to the possibility that I may not make it back from the mountain alive. I give her a thumbs up accompanied my a nervous smile and proceed with readying my gear. The words “you don’t never die” would become my motto for the rest of the day.

Before starting the climb I reach into my pack and grab the pair of climbing shoes that have been prepared for me. I can instantly tell they will be too small (even for climbing shoes, which are generally smaller than a normal pair of shoes) but I try to squeeze my feet into them anyway just to say I did. After several attempts I decide to simply do the climb in my Reebok running shoes.

Everyone is tied off and we start the climb with one of the girls going first followed by Mr. Boastful then myself. I watch them make their way up the first stage taking mental notes on their route and technique all while thinking “there’s no fucking way in hell that I can do this.” When it’s my turn to start I try to do the same route but quickly find myself  slipping and struggling to find a good hold. Luckily Mr. Boastful takes pity on me and, seeing me about to throw in the towel, begins to hoist me up until I can find a proper hold to continue under my own strength. Despite what you might think, this in no way impedes on my feeling of accomplishment after I complete the first part of the climb.

Just before we start the second stage, I notice two other men have joined us on the climb ( other members of Boastful’s team). One is in full climbing gear and looks like he knows what he’s doing, and the other is a legitimate ajossi with no gear whatsoever; just a small backpack and a pair of lime green Nikes.  This second gentleman ended up doing the entire climb as a free climb. No ropes, no harness, no helmet, all balls. During one stage of the climb I start before him and arrive at the top to find him relaxing on a rock smoking a cigarette. A feat that has earned him the title of Mr. Bad-Ass. I can be positive, but i’m pretty sure he lit his cigarette with his bare hands.

In general Mr. boastful is helpful during the climb; coaching me up rough sections, showing me how to position my body, telling me I “don’t never die” to make me feel at ease.  However there are certain parts of the climb, usually when I’m struggling the most, when he tells me to stop where I’m at and look up for a photo. Here I am clinging for dear life to the face of this fucking mountain, sweating like a slave in my too-small-for-dreadlocks helmet, and I look up to see the man who’s supposed to holding the rope keeping me from falling to my death, grinning and pointing a camera down at me. Several times this happens. Several times I almost panic but keep my cool and muster up a smile. Damn Koreans and their paparazzi tendencies.

We make it to the peak where we plan to have lunch before repelling down, but before I can break out my kimbap and nacho cheese chips, I’m told that I need to hop a gap about five feet wide to get to the flab slab of rock where we will eat. Below the gap is drop that is easily 100-120 ft. down. I look over at Mr. Boastful and Mr. Bad-Ass who are already on the other side waiting and laughing and begin to think they’re actually anticipating that I won’t clear the gap. Again, Mr. Boastful takes out a camera to document the feat.

I clear it just fine, but the same cannot be said for the girl behind me who spends an entire 45 minutes trying to work up the courage to take the leap. When she finally does make it over, she completely breaks down in tears and can barely eat her lunch. And I thought I was the rookie?

When its time to repel down, Mr. Boastful goes first and I follow after leaning how to attach the rope to my harness. He gives me one last “you don’t never die” and snaps another photo before my feet are planted firmly on the ground.

On the ride home I am asked several times if I had a good time and if I would ever do it again. I say yes and Mr. Boastful says that it makes his heart “vely happy.”

“But,” he adds. “Next time you bring soju!” I nod my head and look out the window while mouthing the words “fuck no.”

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

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