After changing into our monk clothing, we made our way downstairs for our hike. Geared in my many layers to protect myself from the bone chilling cold and hiking boots, I felt confident this would be the highlight of our stay at the temple despite the record setting frigid temperature. How very wrong this prediction turned out to be.
A white toy tiger was held up to my ear as we waited by the office for our guide. “Listen to this” said a random laughing monk. The white tiger key chain growled a truculent growl. I laughed. Who was this silly monk I thought?
“Let me introduce myself.” He started. “I am….(I can’t remember his name, but he was the head Monk of the temple) “And this is my boyfriend.” He said laughingly pointing to another smaller Vietnamese monk. The smaller monk laughed and said, “Are you sure I’m not your girlfriend.” He said continuing the joke.
We introduced ourselves, and then headed out on our tour of the mountain. These silly monks were our first introduction to the monk-hood and I breathed a sigh of relief that they were so relaxed and goofy even.
At the ornate wooden bridge, the white tiger monk suggested we take a photo. We had debated whether to take our cameras. “Will they say, the hike is about the experience and not to concern yourself with photos?” We had pondered. In the end, we decided to take the camera regardless.
Our first clue that this hike would not be like others was a glimpse of what looked like clear glass beneath our feet covering the ground. But it wasn’t glass, I might of even been glad had it been, for most likely anything was better than ICE on a steep mountain side. The ice seemed to have implanted itself into the ground, sprouting roots, taking hold of every dirt molecule. It was my first experience seeing frozen solid ground. I had read about it in books, but I had never seen, let alone climbed a mountain on it first hand.
Our hiking boots, purchased in Italy, which are wonderfully light and perfect for gravel and rocks, proved to not handle icy ground well. In fact, one might say, that they are more appropriately ice skates when contacted with ice. One of the monks generously lent me his hiking stick, which I gratefully took. Towards the top, the ice lessoned long enough for us to enjoy the extraordinary view of Seoul in its concrete glory surrounded by nature. It was probably the best view of Seoul that I have ever witnessed. A sea of concrete buildings squashed together in a scene of ultimate “civilization” without a spec of green in between to destroy the urban-ness. Surrounded by trees and mountains, breathing the mountain air, it was a spectacular arena, but it reminded me that no matter where you are in Korea, the urban sprawl is nearby.
Our trip to the bottom, however made me think twice about the intelligence of climbing an icy mountain. Had I known the hike we were going on was a labyrinth of ice, I probably would have opted not to go on the treacherous mountain slip and slide. It is a wonder that we didn’t slip and plummet to our deaths. On a particularly steep section, I fell and was miraculously caught by a tree branch. It felt at times as if we were playing the game “lava” as we did when we were children, trying only to step on rocks to avoid the “lava.” However this game was real, and the “lava” was slippery ice.
Near the bottom, our friend Garret made the ultimate faux-pa, saying, “It is a wonder no one has actually fallen.” One more superstitious might credit my fall to his lack of knocking on wood. Whatever the case, not two minutes later, I was on my behind, nursing scratched hands and a sore tailbone. As luck would have it however, the section of my demise was flat, and served as a safe place for an ineluctable tumble.