Hallasan: Hiking the Highest Peak of South Korea

Hiking this ancient mountain in Korea leads one traveler to an unforgettable adventure.

The author at the top of Hallasan. Photo by Laura Tarpley
The author at the top of Hallasan. Photo by Laura Tarpley

My previously-held theory that “maybe Koreans don’t sweat” came crashing down when I noticed a perspiration stain forming around the butt of the Korean lady hiking in front of me.

At a popular rest stop about halfway up, Daniel desperately had to use the bathroom. He had made it through his entire year in Korea without using a squatty potty, but when you combine spicy kimchi and exercise, the digestive system works its magic.

As I sat on the ground, waiting impatiently for Daniel, I grew colder by the second. My ghastly skin was turning purple and developing goosebumps, and I could feel myself becoming grouchier and more judgmental of the Korean hikers around me.

Why were these people so weird? Why wear six layers of clothing and then sweat through your pants when you could just strip layers? How ridiculous it is to buy the most expensive gear! I was just so tired of their staring at me…

“You want my panties?”

The concerned middle-aged woman looked down at me, surrounded by her gawking friends.

“No…thank you,” I stuttered. How else do you respond to a stranger offering you their underwear?

“I have panties,” she said as she pulled a bundle of clothing from her backpack and handed them to me.

“Oh, pants!” I exclaimed, relieved. “Um…thank you.” I awkwardly tugged them over my shorts as the group watched intently. They chattered briefly amongst themselves, then turned to make their way up the path.

“Wait!” I called after them. “Your pants!”

“No.” She turned back and shook her head. “You keep.”

“But how will I return them to you? Where will I find you?”

It seemed as if the thought had not occurred to her, but I could tell she understood me. After a few moments of silence, she pointed down the mountain. “Down.”

“In the parking lot? I can find you later in the parking lot?”

She smiled kindly. “Yes, yes. Lot.” Then she joined her friends to continue on their journey.

A rush of guilt swept over me. I wanted to run after her in protest. Then I remembered how rude it is in this culture to refuse a gift.

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