When it’s just you and the rockIt’s a breathtaking view from Mount Bukhan’s Insu Peak, 810 meters (2,657 feet) above sea level. Standing at the top, looking out over the landscape and feeling the wind cool my sweat, was incredible. And the memory of how we’d gotten there ― by scaling the peak’s challenging rock walls ― made the moment all the sweeter.
“Rock climbing is not easy, but once you learn it, you can’t let it go easily,” a member of the Seoul Alpine Federation’s rescue squad had told me earlier.
That made more sense to me once I’d climbed a rock wall for the first time.
Recently, I met four people who were going to take me to the top of Insu Peak. They were all professionals, and all volunteer rescuers.
We decided to try a couple of the 50 different possible courses. We began with a nearly perpendicular wall, at an 80-degree slope.
I had braced myself for this, but my legs still started shaking as I stood there facing the rocks. “You will regret it all your life if you don’t do it now,” said Seo U-seok, 40, a senior rescuer.
Jang Gyeong-gwan, 25, climbed up first, moving like a spider. He dropped a rope. I wound it around my waist and began climbing.
I nudged my fingers into a narrow crack, and struggled to hold onto it before struggling on to the next place where we could rest safely.
The first pitch ― a section between one safe area and the next ― was 20 meters (66 feet) long. Moving over that 20-meter pitch was harder than it had been to hike the three-kilometer (1.9-mile) mountain trail from Ui-dong in northern Seoul.
The next pitch was even steeper. For safety, we used an ascender, a machine that pulls the rope to help the climbers.
After an hour, we reached the top. Because of my inexperience, my fingernails were cracked, and my left knee was chafed. But the feeling I had at the top of the peak was enough to make up for the pain.
I met people I wouldn’t have expected to find there. Kim Yeong-hyeon, a 47-year-old businessman running a doll factory and living in Oksu-dong, Seoul, said, “My wife and I lost 25 kilograms (56 pounds) between us after we began rock climbing, and our affection for each other has deepened.”
His wife, Oh Eun-jeong, 43, began rock climbing to lose weight four years ago. She is now a semi-professional.
“I felt scared at first,” Ms. Oh said. “But I realized that by fully learning the basics, I could prevent risks.”
“Rock climbing can improve one’s courage, concentration and endurance and gives you a chance to enjoy nature,” Mr. Seo said.
Rock climbing is an exercise for the entire body, particularly the abdomen. It is not about challenging danger, but about overcoming difficulties.
The most important thing is safety. This means undergoing sufficient training before one’s first attempt, and it means thorough equipment checks.
Most training is done on artificial rock walls; there are 50 of these in Korea. Beginners can learn the basics, including how to avoid dangerous situations. A week of intensive training should be enough.
Before starting out, climbers need to check their equipment and tools. Ropes need to be elastic, so as to reduce shock to the body in the event of a fall. Rope can be worn out after rubbing against the rocks too many times.
Wearing a helmet is a must. A falling stone, even a small one, can cause a fatal head injury. Especially in the spring, when there are many falling rocks, climbers need to be careful.
The Seoul Alpine Federation says rock climbers should have safety equipment, food, communication devices and waterproof jackets in case of emergency. It also stresses that a first-time climber must be accompanied by an experienced one.
by Sung Ho-jun