It’s been so long since I’d seen the stars. Gazing up from that pitch black parking lot, the universe looked so real that it almost seemed fake. Everything was so clear, so distinct, and so perfectly arranged. The vastness and intricacy of it all was disorienting. I’d gotten so lost in those brief seconds that I wanted to just stay there and get more lost. For a moment I’d forgotten what we came here to do. A crater still loomed ahead in the pre-dawn black, and we had a sunrise to catch.
Step by ginger step we hiked up the mountain. A fog had begun to settle and the humidity was so heavy we were soon covered in a film of sweat and dew. Stumbling up the narrow steps in the dark, it occurred to me that flashlights would have been a good idea. Without the moon, my night vision was utterly shit. Each step taken was a probe in the dark, and combined with the heat and fog made our ascension rather sluggish. Any time I paused for a breath I was greeted by the delightful company of mosquitoes. Next time, bug spray.
Despite our pace, our climb was a short one. On the peak it was still dark – dawn was a good 50 minutes away. To my relief, I noticed that only a handful of ambitious Koreans had made the journey to the top at this ungodly hour. This meant choice viewing spots, so we took ours and waited.
I wish I could say it was the ideal sunrise – cloudless, vertical, and on time. What we got instead was a delayed sun struggling to break free of a stubborn cloud cover. I’m not sure if the sun broke free or if the cloud moved away, but when that yellow orb finally peeked its face it nonetheless drew the gasps and murmurs the people had been waiting so patiently to give. The crowd had swelled to over 100, and cameras were clicking nonstop.
I can’t say I didn’t appreciate it. The sunrise came and went in its own fashion, in a pleasant yet expected kind of way. However, the moments leading up – the stars, the feel of a fresh breeze at the summit, the haunting view of the town below as it was swallowed by the morning fog, the paintings the clouds made as the sun splashed its spectrum of pinks and reds to announce its coming – they were beautiful to experience. Oddly, my deepest impression was made not at the end of the journey, but at the beginning. Looking into the black celestial infinity, the purpose of my trip dulled in significance. It was not a disappointment however. Watching the sunrise simply went from being the end of my journey towards being a bonus to my day.