physical education 102: hiking Bukhansan mountain

Lately we’ve been getting quite excited about closing this chapter of our lives in Korea and heading on to the next. We have  a lot of great travels coming up: Thailand, India, Nepal, England, France, Belgium, Poland. The section of travel we’ve been most concerned about is Nepal. For the three weeks we’ll be in that country we plan to climb 5,364 meters (17,598 feet) to Everest Base Camp. Three years ago it was just a pipe dream I’d had while reading Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and later hiking on Fox Glacier in New Zealand. But after meeting several people who’d personally done the climb we found out that not only is it physically plausible for us, it’s also financially feasible.

Basically the most expensive part of the trek is the roundtrip flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, the starting point of the hike. That ticket costs about $250 per person. Accommodation and food are pretty cheap along the way, together costing about $20 per person each day. We’ll also have to buy the TIMS pass to legally hike in the region, which is $20. Since we’re not part of a group, we don’t have the extra costs for porters and guides. What’s also great is that we won’t need to prepare any clothing or trekking gear before arriving in Kathmandu. Since this trek is one of the two main tourist draws to the area, shops are well-stocked with every conceivable item we’ll need in both name brands as well as knock off brands. The items are available for purchase or rental. Our friend Brian told us that he rented a sleeping bag, boots and a parka for about 50 cents a day per item.

Lastly, because we’ll be up so high it’s very hard to get medical evacuation should either of us get seriously hurt. Helicopter evacuations on Everest cost upwards of $5,000! So we’re also purchasing adventure insurance from World Nomads. For three weeks it costs $230 for the two of us.

So all in all Everest should cost us between $1,500 to $2,000. Not bad!

But the cost isn’t what’s been worrying us: money’s the easiest part. We’ve been concerned for a while about if we’ll be able to physically complete it. After all, the other day I had to lead a team of students up three flights of stairs to their next class and I was breathing heavy by the time I reached the last floor! Jessie’s been doing yoga for months now, but that’s more of a stretching and calming exercise than the cardio workout the hike will be. We’re also concerned for her because she has small nasal passages and often finds it hard to get enough breath while doing strenuous exercise.

So to get us into shape we’ve been hiking in the mountains around Seoul. Luckily, our school is situated literally at the base of Bukhansan, a mountain with great hiking trails leading up to its many peaks. On weekends we’ve been heading out in the late afternoon when the sun’s warmth has passed its apex. After two hours of almost constant uphill steps we find ourselves passing under Daedongmun, a restored gate that marks one of 14 entrances to an old fortress complex. Three hundred years ago King Sukjong decided to build a wall spanning 6 miles over the mountain ridges in order to keep out Manchurian and Japanese invaders. The wall still exists and we’re able to hike along it once we reach the top. On clear days it gives us wonderful views of downtown Seoul as well as the eastern districts of the city.

After our first summit Jessie and I were elated! As we walked back down the steps we discussed how well we did and how it hadn’t been that hard. We felt pretty darn good about ourselves, seeing that we’d made the hike with only our Crocs on! Even the next few days we expected to have stiff legs but we found that we didn’t feel any more pain than normal. So that’s helped to build our confidence.

We’ve also gained more assurance by reading blogs and watching a video about the trek. There’s a great day-by-day guide to the hike on Kathmanduo’s blog. Even if you’re never going to go to base camp it’s still an interesting read with lots of pictures! Last week we watched a video made by ADRA, a human aid association that specializes in community development and disaster relief programs, about one of their teams’ treks. Seeing the people do the hike and hearing their stories further proved to me that we can do this! You can stream this video on Vimeo using this link.

So overall I’d say that morale is high right now. Once we get our Diamox (acclimatization pills) and an inhaler for Jessie, I think we’ll be all set. If you’re curious to see how it all turns out, stay tuned. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories and pictures to share with you come November!

Bukhansan hiking


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