Now that Craig and I (seem to) have a departure date, the pressure is on to get to the final few national parks. Woraksan is the fourteenth of fifteen, so we should be able to do it.
Getting down there seemed easy enough, with frequent buses from Central City. However, apparently, it’s a popular destination, so we had three hours to kill between buying our tickets and actually getting on a bus. No problem. Central City is basically a mall that includes several bus stations. So, we found a steamed chicken restaurant and worked our way through the good parts. That killed an hour.
Next, we found the one empty table with a single chair at a coffee shop (the second or third we visited). Craig grabbed a chair from a nearby patron, and we were set for the next few hours. It was so packed, that the two tables nearest us were 2-person tables with 4 ajumas sitting at each. I’m surprised my hearing wasn’t permanently damaged.
Finally, it was time for our bus. The ride took less than two hours and deposited us at a bus station/ HomePlus. We took that as a sign and stocked up on provisions for the night and the next day’s hike before looking for a room.
The station is sadly bereft of yeogwans, but the train station is only about 1 km away, so we could see the bright lights of accommodation and followed them, like a seedy Star of Bethlehem. We quickly settled on one which looked recently refurbished. That’s always kind of a gamble, becomes sometimes they seem to run out of money/ interest after redoing the exterior. This one was fine, though, and we had a quiet evening in with our chips and snacks from HomePlus.
In the morning, we were able to flag down a taxi as soon as we stepped out the door, and 40k later, we were at Deokjusa, the starting point of the hike. Well, actually, everyone else seemed to think the starting point was about 1 km farther down the mountain, but I didn’t mind cutting out 15 minutes of walking up the road with dozens of other hikers. So, we passed them while only making a little effort to hide our faces.
Craig had prepared me for the worst with this hike– he had read there was a steep decline near the peak, meaning we would have to go down, then up again, then do the reverse on the way down. That is NOT the way I like to hike. In reality, it all seemed fairly steep with very few bits of
respite level ground. As we gained elevation, the snow got quite a bit deeper, and I was thankful Craig had remembered our crampons. Unfortunately, neither of us remembered our walking poles, and they would have come in quite handy as well. Live and learn.
The crampons did make me feel superior to the group of high schoolers not only hiking without crampons, but without even proper hiking shoes. One was clearly working on a Darwin Award, and nearly careened off the side while trying to show off. Luckily for him, he smacked into a tree and his friends were able to rescue him. While they were thus occupied, Craig and I got around them, mainly to avoid their shenanigans.
After a final massive set of stairs (not the ones in the above photo), we made it to the top. At some point, the kids had gotten around us again, so we had to wait for them to each take about 100 photos of the group on their phones before we could get our obligatory shot with the elevation marker. They were kind enough to take the photos of us before wandering over to the faux peak 20 feet away.
The trip down was not nearly so straightforward. There is a crossroads not far from the peak, and we chose to take the shorter path down, rather than retrace our steps. You may not be surprised that it was shorter because it was steeper. Waaaaay steeper. So steep, there were rails most of the way down. This is when the poles would have come in handy.
I am not the most fleet-footed of souls. In fact, I am usually gingerly picking my way down a hill as 90-year-old women race past me. This was ridiculous, though. I fell four times. It would have been more, but I caught myself on the rail a few times and held myself up as my feet lost contact. Craig managed a medal-winning save, keeping me upright and not losing his own balance in the process. It was truly a miraculous maneuver.
Despite all the awe-inspiring saves and numerous other close calls, I bit it four times. One left me with a goose egg on the back of my head and the other three left me with bruises on all four limbs, my ribs, and my butt. I even did a full head-over-heels triple axle of slip and falls. Too bad I wasn’t in a grocery store. I could have bought a house with the payout from that. I’ll just be grateful I didn’t break anything or end up with a concussion.
All of the twists and turns in the path and my fear of more falls meant our decline was completed at the impressive speed of less than a mile an hour. I’m surprised we didn’t leave a cloud of dust in our wake. Juwangsan is the sole remaining national park hike for us. Hopefully, I can do it a bit faster with fewer falls. We’ll see.