“Are you okay?”
I try to answer but what comes out sounds more like the sound my car used to make when I’d left the headlights running all night. My legs are tired and I feel like I left a lung at the bottom of the mountain on the bus.
I’m not exhausted by any means, but my body isn’t used to the strain of hiking trails much less moving up and down stairs were carved into the mountain. At certain points there weren’t even steps, more like unevenly flat areas where you could just fit your feet until you found the next one.
As I make the walk up yet another trailing somewhere behind a slew of my older, heavier but much more hiking oriented coworkers a few grandmothers and elderly people pass me by making the embarrassment complete. It’s during the stops where the guide talks about some rocks here or in the distance moments that a few of us hang back looking for somewhere to sit. Anywhere to sit. Or maybe we fail at that and find a nice place to lean.
We walk to one spot, the guide speaks and swoons over the view; we backtrack and walk to another spot with more talking and more swooning. After an hour of this repeated fetch quest we approach a bend in the trail. The guide passes over to the left leaving an open trailing curling up some rocks to the right. The path isn’t clear or easy but it is short. The guide says something but by the time I make my way up there he’s already moving on. Only four of us make the one minute walk up to the flat of a huge set of boulders fenced in by a few wooden fences. I walk up to the edge and the world just falls away.
To my right the mountain side slopes down to a valley which stretches out like an extended arm. Just before you can’t make out any details the green opens up to reveal a city bathing in the beach waters of a cove. To my left the hills cover my sight of anything else except for a temple built some precipitous on a mountain side that it’s a wonder it didn’t slide away as I was clicking the shutter on my camera.
I take a breath, stretch out my legs and backtrack down the rock face to the trail that my group disappeared to. It’s another trek down and grueling walk up before I catch up with my group at the temple which was teetering in the distance.
Later I found out the mountain’s name, Geumsan (금산). It literally translates to “gold mountain”, although it may be Hanja in which case it isn’t meant to be translated that way. The temple to which we trekked the long way ’round was Boriam temple. Not bad for someone who was trying to avoid falling unconscious and slipping off the cliff the entire time, huh?
I spent 3 hours wandering from spot to spot following the tail of whoever was in front before I got back down to the bus. Another thirty minutes from then before I found my other lung. I took fifty pictures that day, climbed other rocks and wandered away through several trails where I found other sights and scenes. It was a… unique experience, one that I’ll remember forever with the help of a few photographs.