Think again if you believe climbing the high mountains of the mighty Himalayas is an adventure for only serious mountaineers. Park A-reum (Yonsei University, 2), 20 years old, conquered the 5,550 kilometers-high Kala Patthar peak of the Himalayas on January 2009, becoming one of the youngest Korean university students who climbed the mighty mountain.
Park, who graduated from high school one year earlier than her peers of the same age, is a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie who is on a constant lookout for another new adventure. She prefers playing basketball over talking at a coffee shop and constantly looks for materials that can challenge her.
"I really like adventures, and am looking for something I can challenge myself with," said Park. "The idea of going to the Himalayas came up when I was looking for a new opportunity to test my limit."
Park saw an advertisement on the Internet looking for teenagers between the ages of 15 to 19 who will take part in the mountain trekking to Kala Patthar peak in the Himalayas from January 5 to 23. The trip program, sponsored by Kia Motors and Berghaus, was aimed to share the mummerism and challenging spirit with the youth. But the competition to get into the trip was fierce, as more than 1,000 teenagers applied for the program, which required the applicants to go through three rounds of intense tests, including an interview, physical test and a camping trip. But Park made it to the list of 20 final winners, all of whom were high school and middle school students except for Park.
"At first, I felt a sense of responsibility for the other participants, because I was the eldest member of the group and the only college student there," said Park.
But the sense of heavy responsibility turned into a relief and a sense of cameraderie as she got to know other members, who Park discovered were as mature, responsible and reliant as herself.
After they were all introduced to each other, the ambitious teenagers practiced their hiking skills on Korean mountains.
"I knew that in order to successfully complete our expedition to the real Himalayas, we had to practice starting from Korean mountains every weekend," said Park.
"However, it's true that it was difficult to balance my school activities with hiking. Because I would go hiking every weekend, I had to work extra hard during week days."
Park emphasizes that because she was an athlete even before this event, it was easier for her to deal with the hard physical work required for hiking.
According to her, the most memorable thing that she experienced was when she carried a Korean traditional drum up to the peak.
"We not only had to train physically, but also practiced things for the cultural exchange that they planned with the teenagers in Nepal," said Park. "I chose playing the traditional drum and carried it up the mountain once. It was nearly four kilograms and I suffered because of that."
These sufferings in Korea were nothing compared to what she encountered in the Himalayas.
"When I got to about 4,000m, I came down with mountain sickness and it was almost impossible for me to move forward," said Park. "There was not enough oxygen and I had to rest every 20m for five minutes."
Even with the help of the sherpas, local people who help carry backpacks and guide their stay in the Himalayas, the unfamiliar environment was hard to get used to. It was no longer sleeping in th wilderness only for weekends.
"Except for when we were eating, we walked for almost six to seven hours a day," said Park. "At night, we slept in tents. We were so exhausted that we quickly dosed off."
After enduring all these hardships, Park says now she can march through anything. This experience taught her that anything is possible if you challenge yourself.
"I suppose making the first step is the most difficult thing. After that, nothing can stop you," said Park. "I learned the vastness of nature and how mankind is nothing compared to it. However, I also saw the potential within us to get through nature."