It’s only 50 minutes by bus from Gwangju to Yeongam. From here you can simply hop in a cab and point to the obvious mountain in the distance and they’ll take you to the park entrance for 5000 KRW. The open faced summit and lack of trees give this range of mountains a striking resemblance to the Seoraksan National Park area. The climb was filled with stairs, something I’ve gotten used to here in Korea, but the summit is only 800 meters. Find more information about my day hike in Jeollanam-do.
Nearly all Korean hagwon teachers get 6 days off for Summer vacation during July. We spent ours in (or on) Jeju-do. For the second time, I stayed at the Tae Gong Gak located above the Seogwipo Harbor. One of the owners even remembered me from when I went to Jeju for the Chuseok holiday last October. “Hey, I know your face. You were here with a girl last time. Where is she?” She stayed in the Hyatt Hotel in the Jungmun Resort area, which is a 30 minute ride away on the number 600 Bus.
After a day or two of drinking Chivas Regal and chatting it up with fellow vacationers by the pool at the Hyatt Hotel, we woke up early for a hike to the summit of Halla mountain in Hallasan National Park. Although this is the tallest mountain in South Korea, the incline is gradual and substantially easier to summit than the #2 mountain in Korea, Jiri-san, or the #3, Seorak-san — both of which I hiked earlier this year. Of the several routes to take, we chose the Yeongshil trail for it’s epic scenery. Unfortunately, the weather was anything but fabulous; Yeongshil ended up being a cloud maze and we couldn’t see shit. We came down through the Orimok valley which was a kilometer longer, had more stairs, and was less interesting to maneuver.
Moon’s Guide to South Korea recommended hiking the small peak of Songak-san, located on a small peninsula at Jeju’s West end and supposedly offering some of the most splendid views of Halla-san and the adjacent mound of rock called Sanbang-san. I set out the next day in search of glory and got lost in a bumfuck beach town called Moseulpo, but soon found my way to Songak-san Park via taxi for 5000 KRW. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a small black sand beach and several sea caves dug into the massive cliffs. During World War II, the Japanese forced Jeju residents to build these caves for use in suicide attacks against the Allied forces. It was a creepy area to explore. Having to worry about the collapsing hillside and look out for scurrying centipedes, crabs, and spiders, I did not dare venture into any of the caves. Probably not worth the risk anyways. As was the situation the previous day, the weather affording no magnificent view atop Songak-san. Bummer, dude.
What to do today… Oh, what to do today… How about some more hiking in Korea? Seems that’s all I’ve been doing since the weather has turned nice. Today’s adventure began with a cab ride from 봉선동 to the entrance of Mudeung Provincial Park at 증심사, where instead of the usual trek up the rabbit path towards 서석대, I veered right for a 1.9km climb up to Saeinbong (새인봉). Blessed with clear skies and perfect temperature, the trail was most crowded. Not 5 minutes into the hike, an old man slapped me on the back and said something to me in a native tongue which I could not comprehend. Shaking my head and saying to him (in Korean), “I don’t understand you”, the old man started laughing and grabbed my hand as he motioned for us to move onward. Apparently, he just wanted someone to walk with, so I held this old dude’s hand as if he was my wife for 1/3 of the way up the mountain. Awkward? Yeah at first, but he insisted, and I’d be damned if he was going to go the rest of his life telling his buddies about a rude and stupid American he met at Mudeung. So I imagined he was my grandfather and it was kind of nice. At the top I came across a group of hikers in their 20’s laying out food and burning incense as they stood in silence with lowered heads. Upon further inspection, I discovered a framed picture of a young man as the centerpiece of their offerings. The nature of this memorial service lead me to believe that the circumstances of this young man’s demise were quite tragic, and I stood nearby for a moment in contemplation. Decending from Saeinbong, I came across some random burial mounds just off the trail which are actually quite common around here (pictured above). Then there was the tomb of Ullim-dong, a stone burial chamber believed to be from the Baekje Dynasty. Yeah I don’t really know what that means either, but it was one of the only things mentioned in English on the plaque. Up close it looked like a big grassy igloo, but these particular types of tombs are apparently quite rare. No idea who, when, or what, was buried there. Why do they even bother making English guides if their not going to include worth while information? From here, I ventured over to a temple which had a bunch of lanterns setup in preparation for Buddha’s Birthday celebration, which is this coming Friday. This is a big holiday over here and we will be heading to the second largest city, Busan, to witness some of the festivities.
Loaded up the backpack with some beers last night and set out on a night hike up Geumdangsan in Gwangju, my new favorite place for local hiking. It would have been a lot better if Gwangju World Cup Stadium was lit up, but the scenery was no less amazing. FYI, the lights going up the main paths go out at midnight.
Below is a view from the top during the day time, the opposite view of the above image. Finally found it after seven months into Korea this past weekend at the top of Mt. Geumdang right behind my apartment. The relatively easy climb divides the Namgu and Seogu districts of Gwangju, which has better scenery than even Mudeung mountain can offer on a clear day. At the top, we found a couple of old ladies selling shaved cucumbers and cold beers alongside boiled eggs and rice rolls. What a country.
Crossed another one off the TO-DO list in hiking Cheonwangbong (천왕봉) on Jirisan (지리산) this past weekend. At 1910 meters, 천왕봉 is the tallest peak on mainland South Korea. It is also the tallest mountain I’ve personally ever hiked, and there were a few mental / physical road blocks on the way to the top. But if it were easy, it wouldn’t mean anything. Read more about it on Tripwolf.
I’ve posted on Tripwolf my experiences hiking Seoraksan in December. From what I remember of this, it was cold. I’m from Maine and it was definitely really fucking cold there last December. The restaurant bodega mart just outside the park entrance was at least open at 6 a.m. — serving fresh hot coffee, tea, corn dogs, and chicken sticks. Very warming, indeed. If you brave the cold and go hiking in Seorak, you’ll find that the high winds and frigid haze take very little away from the pure rock outcropping spectaculation that is Seoraksan National Park.
Mt. Mudeung, one of the biggest mountains in the Jeolla province, is just under 1200 meters to the tallest peak, Cheonwang-bong (King of Heaven Peak). The two smaller peaks are Jiwang-bong (King of Earth Peak) and Inwang-bong (King of Men Peak). Progress has been deemed more important than timeless natural scenery, and you will find that massive communication towers dot various peaks and pierce the view. Hiking access is even blocked to the very top of King of Heaven Peak as a result. Getting to the top was confusing for us because we started at Jeungshim Temple. Several trails begin here and intertwine at various points along the mountain. So depending on the route you take, a 2 hour hike to the summit could easily become 4 or 5. A friend wrote down “top” on a piece of paper so we could ask for directions, but this seemed only to confuse people. One Korean, totally confused by our lack of hiking gear, laughed when we showed him the hackneyed description of where we were trying to go, and motioned for us to turn around and go back down. “Screw him,” we thought. “It’s a friggin’ mountain.. let’s just find a trail that goes up and see where it takes us.” Actually, not a bad strategy for Mudeung, although we ended up at one of the smaller peaks 2.5km from where we intended on being.
Our second attempt, one week later, we simply went right instead of going left at one of the intersections, and found an almost direct route to the top.
From Jeungshim-Sa (증심사), go to Jungmeorijae (중머리재) . This is a flat spot 2.3km up, where you’ll find someone selling ice cream (if the weather’s right). The main trails have a lot of stairs, so we veered off into the woods and hiked up to Tokkideung then looped back over. It was longer, but more scenic and less crowded.
Take Jungmeorijae to Jangbuljae (장불재): We thought this was the top because it was so hard to get here, but really there’s another 1.5km to go. For the top, look for Seoseokdae (사삭대). If you really want to push yourself, take the Jungbong path to the summit. It’s 1km of narrow trail and stairs that go straight up the mountain. We ended up taking this path down from the summit not knowing how steep it really was, which wreaked havoc on my knees.
At the top we found amass of Koreans enjoying picnics and taking pictures. We sat next to one group of about ten middle-aged Koreans who were drinking Soju and pounding beers. “Are these guys fucking serious?” I remember thinking. Better whip out the ol’ can-o-SPAM and show these suckers how America gets down after a long hike. This proved too much for the locals. “Look Jay. She’s watching you eat your fucking gross SPAM and telling the others. And now they’re looking at us and laughing…” Upon glancing up from my can of finely cured meat, I found that they were indeed looking directly at me. So I waved…. Then came more laughter. Moments later, one of them held up what looked like a huge burrito wrapped in aluminum foil and said, “Korean hamburger”. He walked over and handed it to me, along with a can of beer, 4 oranges, and a handful of Jalapeno peppers. Guess they figured I was would enjoy a flaming orange hamburger. It sure as hell was NOT hamburger, but looked more like a California roll, and at 1200 meters it tasted great. At sea level, it needed it’s own trash bag. Regardless, I couldn’t thank the Korean hikers enough for their generosity.
Never mind why you are going; tell me what are you doing to prepare. Have you ever been to Asia? Do you speak any Korean? Have you taught children before? If your interview was anything like mine, it went “no, no, and… no.” Lack of experience aside, I got the job and cut through the red tape only to find myself here, talking to you instead of my Rosetta Stone. The program pairs phrases to pictures without actually revealing the literal translation of the subject matter. It is a great learning tool, but requires a lot of “back end” brain work and the academic discipline needed to complete 90 some odd lessons. I should be finished the first exercise of the first lesson come take off. People enter the United States that do not speak English all the time, and they do fine.
Do not think this as being ignorant, only realistic. Spend your last days before leaving home doing something special with close friends and family. Or you could put on a pair of jorts and set fire to an old couch in the woods. I chose to hike Mt. Katahdin, the tallest point in the State of Maine. The rock scramble portion was intimidating up until the point where a 70 year old man free-handing his way up an eight foot boulder. Looking down at the 3000 feet of shear death to our right, the man said he was afraid of heights and starting laughing. I remember thinking, “Is this guy really here?”
Reaching the 5200ft summit at Baxter Peak took nearly 4 hours, 2 apples, 1 peach, 3 cliff bars, and a full can of SPAM. Eating the SPAM would not have been possible under normal circumstances, but a friend had given me a shiny new spork as a going away present just days before. To him, I dedicate this last sentence. And to you, I say go hiking.