Written by Meg Coast
Photographed by Meg Coast and Ben Robins
Dusty, chalk-coated hands, the feeling of cool, hard stone under rough, callused skin. Fingers reaching, hands running along the veins and wrinkles of rock face in search of a crevice, a ledge – anything that will serve as a hold. Heart hammering. Muscles thick and swollen, lactic acid coursing through drained forearms. Push through, persevere, breathe; climb on! Just you and the rock face, time in suspense, the world below forgotten. At the top, views that are unparalleled await. The rush of euphoria. This is the world of climbing, and the rock face is open to anyone who’s up for a challenge. Be warned, however – though your feet may hit solid ground again, your heart now belongs up on the mountain.
In the words of Ron Akers: “To see what others cannot, you must climb the mountain.” All the best things start with a little risk and adventure, and climbing is no exception. If you plan to make your time in Korea count, and you want to see what this amazing country has to offer – all while having fun and getting fit – consider looking at things from a (literally) different perspective and giving rock climbing a go.
The rock climbing scene in Korea is still relatively young, but despite the fact that this sport is in its early days, it’s growing fast, and you’ll find that there are plenty of options, both indoors and outdoors, for thrill-seekers who don’t mind getting their hands chalky. Most climbers tend to spend the majority of their time training at indoor climbing centers in preparation for the real thing outdoors, and as always, Gwangju has you covered with a choice of gyms to suit all of your climbing needs. The downtown clientele frequent two main gyms, Bawi and Climben. Climben is a great place to gain experience and try out lead climbing and bouldering routes that will test the strength and endurance of any climber. My rock climbing adventure, however, started at Bawi’s front door.
Underneath Bawi’s rock logo is the subtitle “Road to Adventure,” and they couldn’t have picked a more appropriate slogan. Little did I know, when I handed over the cash for a one-day pass and took my first tentative steps on a training wall, that I’d be scaling mountains mere months later – with nothing but a rope and harness between me and gravity.
Don’t let size deceive you; while Bawi isn’t the largest climbing gym in the city, it packs a punch, and it is known for its challenging and creative routes that’ll have even the most seasoned climbers frustrated and pushed to their limits. Walk down Bawi’s steps and, once in the gym, you’ll find a lead climbing wall, multiple training walls, and a colorful array of bouldering routes to keep you occupied. Newly set bouldering routes of varying levels from beginner VB to pro V8 appear every Friday, and members are encouraged to join regular, friendly “bouldering parties” to test out their new climbing skills in a supportive and fun environment.
If you’re interested in trying rock climbing but don’t want to commit, Bawi offers one-day passes and one-off guided lessons with an experienced instructor who will walk you through the absolute basics of climbing technique before giving you a chance to try your hand at lead climbing and bouldering. If, like me, you’re hooked from the get-go, monthly memberships start at 110,000 KRW, with discounts available if you sign up for longer periods of time. Thorough courses including lead climbing, multi-pitch climbing, and bouldering are also offered, and they will see you safely from indoor gym to outdoor rock face, where you can put your newly acquired skills to the test as, for many climbers, the Great Outdoors is where you can truly experience the thrill and adrenaline of climbing.
Beyond the rocks themselves, dream team Sun-gyo, Sang-a, and Young-su are what make Bawi truly special. Owner Sun-gyo has 12 years of climbing experience under his belt and, among various other achievements, has been a representative member of the Gwangju climbing team for the national climbing championships. As a qualified route-setter for national and international competitions, he most enjoys making new and creative routes, watching how climbers go about solving them, and sharing their knowledge.
All three members of staff bring an incredible level of experience and skill with a genuine love for climbing; between them, they have cultivated a warm and welcoming atmosphere where the gym and its members become a second family and a home away from home.
To those who are contemplating climbing but aren’t sure, the Bawi team says, “Just try it!” After all, to steal a line from Sir Edmund Hillary, “it is not the mountain that we conquer, but ourselves.”
Bawi Climbing Center 바위 클라이밍 센터
Address: 광주 동구 예술길 31-15 광주아트센터
Gwangju Art Center, 31-15 Yesulgil, Dong-gu, Gwangju
Operating Hours: Weekdays 12 noon – midnight, weekends 12 noon – 8 p.m.
Meg has lived in Korea and been involved in the Gwangju community for the last three years, including performances with the GPP and writing occasional articles for Gwangju News. She is an avid lover of all things active and outdoorsy, and loves to spend an unreasonable amount of time climbing.