On The Road with Steve Barriault

Steve Barriault

June 13, 2017

I love South Korea, land of people that work hard but play hard too. Just came back from a two-week trip that took me there, in part to speak in front of the MDS Technology Automotive conference (200-300 people in the room), and then to provide some integration services to a good client of ours. This time, the project was an "artificial" satellite (didn't know we were launching "natural" ones! But then, so are the subtleties of Google translate). The system works on RTEMS OS. My first time trying this. It went flawlessly, and to celebrate this feat we went on to a very good Korean BBQ restaurant. Because, you know, this is what one does in Korea: eat well. Not exactly a haven for vegetarians, however, so beware!

Grabbing delicious "meonge" (some type of soft seafood) from a street vendor after climbing a mountain. Raw of course. :)

Then, I have some time off during the weekend. I need to train to get these extra calories out of my system. Solution? Head for Bukhansan, the national park that is right next to Seoul! Majestic mountains going up 700m to 820m above sea level.

But the way, up is not for the faint of heart or the lazy. No sky gondolas here. Want in on the mountain? You need to work your way up, you, your two legs, and yes your two hands. As I told you, Koreans are hardworking.

They are also a bit crazy, at times. Bukhansan is proof of this.

This time, I am entering the park from the northeast. It all starts with a train ride. Cross a street. An old gentleman comes toward me in the middle of the street telling me something in Korean. OK, I understand jihacheul, he doesn't know where the subway is. OK. I explain to him in my VERY approximate Korean to come with me. I get him to the metro. 

Go back on the road. Follow what Google Maps tells me to do. Go through a scrapyard. Finally hit a school, and go on a dirt path around it. And then finally it starts climbing and climbing. A little at first. Then more. And then, well, I will let you judge!

Don't let go of that rope!

I present you the Y Valley! Why the "Y" Valley? This is why: you are going down on the rock phase, and then up. You go up and down probably 100 meters on a VERY steep slope and a path that must be 50 cm wide. No rope. There is a handrail that you must hold to hoist yourself up that slope.

How steep is the slope? Well, I am 6 feet. At some point, the slope nears 90 degrees for 5 feet. You don't want to let go because between that "step" and the "bottom" of the slope, it is a long way down. So, I resolve to take my time and hold on. Tight. Like the many others with me, all of whom are Korean of course.

As I said, not for the faint of heart. But then you have people of all ages - well, almost, I did not see anyone below the age of 9! - going through this. And on the top, the view of the mountains and Seoul is really something. 

Just before hitting the Y Valley. It becomes more spectacular from here. Go to Korea and find out!

Some people even bring meokeolli to have a taste of a traditional Korean alcohol on the top of the mountain. Because, you know, this isn't sporty enough as it is! In my case, I did get a fresh beer, but later, I was back on the ground. I must be skittish.

Now, I did encounter one problem: I underestimated my need for water. And these trails aren't exactly well marked for the exits. And the spring that the trail signs advertised was a mirage: instead of some fresh running water I was treated to some greenish mud. Yuk! I was never able to find the exit I was looking for, so I finally had to backtrack 5 kms to an exit near my entry point, asking my way with my rudimentary Korean. I even got a lady who spoke to me for a while, all while clearly being a bit dehydrated. But then patience paid off: another spring, and this time water is present! And excellent water at that, not the ozonated/treated stuff that doesn't taste how water should. 

Life-saving water near a temple.

All and all, 2300 calories burned. Boot camp level of activity.  OK, me and my tired legs are heading to China.