One thing I love about England is the plethora of well-marked trails. Sure, Korea is covered with mountains covered with trails, most of which are well-marked, but England has trails everywhere. Whether you are in a rural or urban area, you can generally find a marked trail and probably a book detailing more information than you would ever want or need about it.
We decided to check out the Cumbrian Coastal Path, since we were staying nearby. So, early one Sunday morning, we parked up at the Maryport promenade and started walking to Allonby. The roundtrip would be roughly ten miles– a nice, gentle hike on flat land.
Well, the CCP is sign posted. However, this portion of the path is either promenade or overgrown plants and grass. Clearly, it will not be giving the Hadrian’s Wall walk a run for its money.
It was nice enough scenery, but cutting a path through brush gets old fast. We stopped in Allonby for Sunday dinner at the pub (along with the rest of the town, it seemed) and turned around.
We often break long paths into multiple trips, but I think I’ll just read Ruth’s blog for an account of the rest of the Cumbrian Coastal Path. If people going on long walks impresses you, Christian Nock is also walking the entire UK coast, but without stopping. His blog is really a collection of links to newspaper articles about his walk, but you can also donate to help homeless vets there.
Way back in April, Craig and I were on a mission to check off all of the national parks in Korea before his contract ended. Juwangsan was the last on the list, mainly because it’s in Gyeongbuk and one of the few places in Korea that is a pain to get to from Seoul. The best thing I can say about the transportation is that I didn’t accidentally act like a jerk in someone’s car.
After a long bus ride made even longer with numerous stops in one-horse towns and towns which wished they had a horse, we arrived at the gates of Juwangsan National Park. Okay, I guess it could have been worse– you can take a single bus from Dong Seoul to the gates of the park. Anyway, we started by checking out departure times, hoping to sort our tickets in advance. No dice– the tickets are sold by machine, but they are the old style “admit one” kind which are only good on the the day and are strictly first come, first served.
We were able to pick up the thinnest, most over-priced poncho available outside of a sporting event. Craig had packed his wet weather gear, but I had not, and the weather was looking a bit iffy. As we left the bus terminal, we passed a pile of at least one hundred discarded ponchos, so I could have saved myself a few thousand won, if I hadn’t been so proactive.
It was already mid-afternoon, so it was too late for any real hiking, anyway. We decided to just stretch our legs a bit before getting a room. We found the entrance easily enough– a coffee vendor had cannily put up a sign.
We walked for about two hours, taking in the waterfalls, and planning the “real” hike the next day. It was nice enough, but we had been on a bus for five hours– I wanted to see something a bit more impressive.
After the somewhat disappointing tour of waterfalls, we left the park in search of a yogwan. Point of note: there are no yogwans in front of the park. We walked for about 30 minutes, asking each of the very eager women standing in front of their minbaks if they had beds, only to be knocked back at every turn. Finally, one took pity on us and drove us to a nearby competitor with A BED (yes, that’s singular).
That room was already taken, but we gave up and took what she had left. A few minutes later, she knocked on the door, and instructed me to give a sour-looking man 10,000 won. She then moved all of our stuff into the room with the bed, at which point his sour expression became understandable. Sometimes, it’s good to be a foreigner. Sorry, Charlie!
Finally unpacked, we did a bit more searching to find an open restaurant and had one of our final giant hiking meals. I’m not sure why Koreans seem to think you need four days’ worth of food in one meal when you go to a mountain, but they do. So, we ate until we were ready to burst. All the while, the ajjuma interrogated us and cheerfully reminded us half a dozen times that she served breakfast.
In the morning, we walked past her place at a brisk pace, wondering if she would come running after us. She had at least explained why everything was closed: we were there a month early. Koreans like to do everything together and at the same time every other group is doing them, and May is month to visit Juwangsan. There is an azalea festival and everyone comes out to see the flowers.
I’m from Louisiana, I’ve seen azaleas. So, I’m happy to miss them if it means avoiding the crowds. Fifteen years in Korea couldn’t make me assimilate.
So, over five hundred words in, and I haven’t mentioned the hike. That’s because it was pretty underwhelming. The lack of crowds meant the restaurants along the trail were being manned by desperate ajjumas. Nobody likes an aggressive ajjuma. I did appreciate the one who stood out by offering hikers a cup of hot tea on their way up as her way of advertising. More flies with honey, and all that.
There was a requisite temple, Daejeonsa. It looked like all the rest, but with a rock formation in the background. We took one or two photos on our way to our planned hike. Our plans were quickly scuppered by glorified police tape blocking the path. We thought maybe it was just that one bit, and headed to the other path leading to that peak, but it was the peak that was closed off.
By this point, the tour busses had started arriving, so we quickly headed up the open trail, trying to get ahead of the strolling masses. For the most part, we were able to avoid the crowds. I suspect that is largely because the crowds were pretty thin by Korean hiking standards. At any rate, I was thankful we hadn’t waited a couple of weeks to make that trip.
Craig and I took the bus to Jinbu, a small town in Gangwondo. He skipped out of work a bit early, so we could get out of town before rush hour. We arrived just before 8PM, and wandered around for a bit looking for a motel that looked… um… not terrible. I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a struggle, and in the end, we just decided to take a chance on the one we were closest to at that moment. It was pretty basic, as expected, but the owner gave us extra blankets, so I didn’t die in the night.
Craig was keen to go out, even though the town looked like it had already gone to bed. We were able to find a 70/80 bar and gave it a try. I knew they were supposed to play 70s and 80s music, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that that would be more trot and less The Eagles. Lesson learned. We were the only customers, and when we walked in, a guy jumped up and started singing (hits?) with some electronic music as back up. The menu was just as dire as the music, so we drank two drinks (quickly) and cleared out of there.
In the morning, we were up bright and early and took the 6:30 bus from Jinbu to the entrance of Odaesan. We were there so bright and early, in fact, the driver dropped the only other passenger off at the toll gate, where he presumably works.
The walk begins not far from Woljeongsa temple, which is slightly larger than average, but overall, a pretty standard Korean temple, so we only paused long enough for Craig to snap a few quick photos.
From there, we walked along the river 9 km to Sangwonsa temple. There were numerous river crossings, some over bridges (one of which was made of sticks and logs to resemble bridges from the days of yore), but more often than not, the crossings were over stones. The man-made ones were fine—they were high enough to be dry, uniform height, and narrowly spaced.
The natural rock ones were a bit trickier. Water nearly covered some of the rocks and the air was just cold enough to create a thin layer of ice. Add in their natural slope, and I was sure I was going in the water more than once. As usual, Craig helped me across and didn’t even laugh at my terror, which was somewhat disproportionate to the actual danger of the situation. Yes, the water was cold, but it wasn’t deep or particularly fast, so even if I had fallen in, it would have only meant that I would be cold and wet.
About 2 ½ hours later, we got to Sangwonsa temple, where we stopped in at the café for a coffee. Only Craig was able to get one, though, because the café had no milk. According to the barista, that is because Koreans don’t like milk in their coffee. I translated that for Craig, and he somehow managed not to laugh in her face. His inability to get a satisfactory black coffee at work has been an ongoing pet peeve of his here in Korea.
Once he had drunk his coffee, and I had warmed up by the fire gas heater, we headed back out to walk the route in reverse. There were several buses in the temple parking lot, but, as suspected, none of them were there to walk. On the way back to Woljeongsa temple, we saw few hikers, but we did see a group of people picking up litter.
As much as we hike, that’s only the second or third time we’ve seen people picking up litter on the hiking trails. On the other hand, I’ve seen people casually toss bags of lunch trash to the side as they walked on more occasions than that.
Six hours after we began, we arrived at the start/ finish point just after one of the infrequent buses back to town had left. So, Craig stuck out his thumb and within a few minutes, an older couple stopped to give us a ride.
They were very friendly and told us about their kids who all lived in the US. While they were talking, I checked my email. At some point, I realized that music was coming from two sources, but I didn’t think anything of it, until they turned down their radio. Finally, Craig asked me about it. A website I had been looking at the day before had started playing music (which it had not done before). It took me several minutes to figure out what it was and how to turn it off. So, I can only imagine that this lovely couple thought that I had deliberately turned on the music I wanted to listen to while riding in their car. Yay, me.
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.
We somehow managed to get a late flight out of Jeju which left us with the entire day to enjoy. The hike up Halla hadn’t been too taxing, so this ended up being a rare occasion when we planned and followed through with consecutive hikes. Although we often go on extended walks in England, in Korea, we can rarely manage two consecutive hikes, regardless of advance planning. So, yay for Halla’s shallow climb.
After our early start the day before, I insisted on a bit more of a lie in, and we arrived at the ferry terminal just in time to fill out the necessary paperwork and board. That was a stroke of luck, because the ferry terminal is waaaaay out of the way of pretty much anything, and the taxi ride was far longer than we had expected. Anyway, we sailed at 10 and arrived on Udo about 15 minutes later.
The ferry had been fairly full, so I was expecting the trial to be packed, since Udo is quite a small island. I needn’t have worried. Everyone else headed straight for a pair of tour buses. Seriously. The entire island is less than 6km².
We weren’t there for the tour, though. We wanted to walk another section of the Olle Trail. Udo is section 1-1 and covers between 14 and 16km (depending on the map), circumnavigating the entire island in a roundabout way, much like the other sections of the trail we have walked. This meant that we would leave sight of the coast for short periods, only to rejoin it no more than 50m further on, despite having walked several hundred meters along the path. No matter, we had more time than we needed for the fairly flat walk.
While most of the trail is very clearly marked, the beginning/ end at the ferry terminal is not really clear at all. Fortunately, the policeman/ teen imposter loitering outside/ patrolling was more than happy to point us in the right direction and give us a few pointers on adding a the only hill to the route.
The weather could not have been clearer. We were able to see Halla clearly, for instance. Haha. I expressed my disappointment more than once during the day and Craig may have gotten a little sick of me asking if he thought we would have been able to see Udo from Halla, had we switched our itinerary around. He’s a patient man, fortunately, and played along each time.
About halfway around the island, we came across a restaurant that was open, had food we wanted to eat, and chairs. The trifecta! We stopped for about an hour to enjoy a giant pot of maeuntang (Korean fish stew). I think Craig’s favorite part was watching the cook choose and catch the fish. My favorite part was eating boiling hot stew. Have I mentioned it was cold? No?
Well, it was. Very cold. And windy. I wore the same dorky Elmer Fudd cap I had worn on Halla. It was so windy that tears were running down my face at some points. But I’m a weak waegoogin. The diver grannies were hard at work.
We completed the trail with perfect timing to catch the penultimate ferry of the day. Nice-uh. The terminal was unheated and the ferries were an hour apart. I also suspect the last ferry would have been full of the bus tourists. I was happy to be on the boat out of the wind, but there were gulls outside, so Craig spent most of the 15 minute journey feeding them a donut he had been carrying all day.
It turns out the fourth time is the charm. Craig and I have been to Jeju three times before, but have bypassed Halla in favor of the Olle Trail on the past trips. With our departure from Korea (probably) imminent, we realized we couldn’t keep putting it off to “next time”.
Craig, as usual, had done all of the research and knew we needed to arrive early enough to make certain check points before cutoff times. Since we are always slower than the time estimates, we arrived before dawn to be on the safe side. We had no trouble getting a cab despite the early hour and arrived to a full parking lot at 6:30. The restaurant was packed with hikers grabbing breakfast, but we thought it would be better to get ahead of the crowd and eat on the trail.
The trail is unmistakable, at least in winter, since it’s packed down while the surrounding area snow is piled high, but that didn’t stop 90% of the other hikers from using their miner’s caps. (I’m sure they have a hiking name to justify whatever crazy price hikers pay for them, but they look like miner’s hats minus any protective qualities.) All that really did was kill everyone’s night vision. Well done!
Soon enough, the sun was up and not long after, people turned off their headlamps. (I’m a dork, I know, but I couldn’t resist.) Halla isn’t a steep mountain, so we made pretty good time. It didn’t hurt that there were relatively few people on the trail at that time. The trail was never more than two people wide, so it was just as well. Whenever we met a hiking group, we had to step off the trail to let them pass, or get around them, if they had decided to take a break.
We reached the first checkpoint in about three hours and Craig rewarded himself with a nice bowl of ramyeon. I chose not to have any for two reasons. 1) It was standing-room-only, since most people seemed to think their bags deserved a comfy seat. 2) There is no trash disposal on Halla. Craig got to carry his ramyeon bowl back to the parking lot. Ramyeon bowls are giant, so I knew I’d never finish one. Carrying half a bowl of ramyeon the rest of the way up and all of the way down might hold more appeal if it were more enjoyable to eat, but it’s not, so it didn’t. I guess that’s three reasons.
As fun as standing in an unheated roomful of people is, we were once again on our way as soon as Craig finished eating. By this time, we were gaining elevation quickly. Just as quickly, the temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up. By the time we were above the treeline, it had started snowing just enough to obscure what must normally be an amazing view.
By the time the end would have been in sight, if we could have seen more than a few meters, it was a gale. I was trying not to have a panic attack that my crampons would fail and I would slide off the side. This part is like stone steps, but not really steps, just step-like. There were a few times I’m sure I annoyed other hikers, but I was pretty scared.
Finally, we were on the top. By then, it was snowing hard enough to obscure everything and so we only stayed there long enough for the obligatory peak photo. The wind seemed to have gotten stronger during those few minutes, so I had to stop and hold onto the ropes a few times, because I was sincerely terrified.
Soon enough, we were below the wind again and it was smooth sailing from there. Until we hit the wave of late starters. By the time we got back to the cut off checkpoint, it was the deadline and bedlam doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’m pretty sure there have been more orderly prison riots.
Thinking the hut would be nearly empty, what with everyone trying to beat the cut off, we nipped in for a short break. LOL It was jam packed with people who seemed to have chosen cup ramyeon over completing the hike. For the next half hour or so, everyone we passed was rushing to beat the cut off. An hour later, we were still passing people on their way up. I can only assume that the posted cut off time is fake, or they were planning to ignore it. After all, there only seemed to be two rangers and literally hundreds of hikers waiting.
Since the trail is so narrow, hikers going up had to wait at the cut off point for room to move. Picture a security line at a major airport and you get the speed I’m talking about. Now picture it hundreds of meters long and everyone is wearing hiking gear. That seems a good trade off for an extra hour or two in bed…
The crowd was moving in the other direction, so we reached the Seongpanak parking lot quickly and were able to get a cab at only a slightly extortionate rate.
Overall, it was a great hike. It wasn’t steep, and the crowds were always moving in the other direction. It was a huge shame that we didn’t get to enjoy the view at the top, though. If we get the chance, I’d love to go back. Preferably, on a work day while school is in session.