Tag Archives: hiking

Apocalypse Climb

This is a true story, as evidenced by the photographs. But you know me: I can’t help dramatizing things a little.

Apocalypse Climb

I saw a preview of the apocalypse this past weekend as masses of humanity pressed together, fighting to ascend (and then descend) a steep, rain-soaked path of tumbled rocks. The horror, the horror…

Apocalypse Climb

Koreans love them some mountain climbing and they love them some autumn colors. And considering that everyone loves them some weekend, going mountain climbing on a Saturday in Korea in the fall is like a perfect storm, especially in the rain.

The sky was overcast when I left the house in the morning. I couldn’t find my umbrella, but I had a magic talisman that prevented rain. At least, it rarely rained when I was carrying it and I believe strongly in the principle that correlation implies causation.

I got to the mountain (which is also a provincial park) and as the bus passed long lines of cars parked along the side of the road, my heart sank like a bowling ball in a banana souffle. It was, as the Chinese say, a mountain of people, a sea of people. If zombie hordes wore expensive hiking gear and preyed on autumn leaves, I would have been in a George Romero film.

The rain started as a fine mist about halfway up the mountain. By the time I got to the park’s famed Cloud Bridge, the path had bottlenecked and so we all stood in the rain, shuffling forward at a snail’s pace until I finally reached the bridge. I looked down at the path 250 feet below me and saw the winding, ant-like column of hikers abandoning the mountain.

I saw a sign saying the maximum number of people on the bridge was 200. Not that anyone was counting.

I saw a sign saying the maximum number of people on the bridge was 200. Not that anyone was counting.

I gave up the idea of going to the peak. A cloud had sat on the mountain as if it were snuggling into an easy chair and after the bridge was a treacherous metal stairway, over 200 feet high and as steep as a ladder. I wasn’t the only one who decided to cut the trip short and head for the cable car station nearby for a quick trip to the bottom. The trails were choked with sodden hikers, some with expensive cameras, jewelry and nice purses, all picking their way down the slick rocks. I felt like we were refugees from some disaster.

Apocalypse Climb

The group on the left are the ones who climbed under a railing and swarmed down the rocks to cut in line on the main path.

“All it takes is one person to slip…” I kept thinking.

There was a two-hour wait for the cable car, nowhere to sit and nowhere particularly warm. At least the view was pretty.

Apocalypse Climb

I got home four hours later and soon the apocalypse was only a distant memory. It’s amazing what a hot shower can cure.

Apocalypse Climb

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Happy Surprises: Gosu Cave

Don’t you love accidental discoveries and happy surprises?

A few weeks ago, I took a trip across Korea by myself. I’m kind of an introvert anyway, but another reason I like traveling alone is the total freedom to do random things when I want. On the first day, I had just gotten off my second intercity bus of the day in the small rural town of Danyang in the deep mountains of central Korea. It was about 4:00pm and when I checked the bus schedule to see what time the bus would be leaving in the morning for the national park I was going to, I noticed the word “cave” in one of the destinations.

I had not known of any caves in the area, but I hadn’t known of anything in the area, and there are few things that get me as excited as caves. I looked it up on my phone and found it was only a kilometer away. So I started walking. And I got there just before it closed.

It was called Gosu Cave and was pretty amazing for something I had never heard of before, after almost nine years in Korea. It was a limestone cave with some stunning features.

20130918_163809Another amazing thing about it was although it was very high, it was also incredibly narrow. This meant that as I walked through it, I was very close to everything. You could even reach out and touch some of the formations, although I felt guilty doing that, after years of warnings never to do that (the oil in your skin can damage the stone and prevent the formations from growing.)

Kosu caveThere was almost no one there since it was almost closing time. Interestingly enough, the two groups that went in at the same time as me were Americans. They were some of the only non-Koreans I saw the entire trip.

Kosu caveThere were two courses, a slightly shorter one that was more for families and a longer one that included everything open to the public. It took about 45 minutes to go through it.

Kosu cave

The longer route featured a formation called Lion Rock, which looked like a lion’s roaring mouth. Unlike some rock formations (like the bear that I could kind of see), it was pretty clear. You can see it here:

Kosu cave lion rockHowever, this cave was not for the claustrophobic. Some places I had to squeeze through, it was so narrow, and even if I didn’t have my big pack on my back, it would have been difficult. In a few places, I had to get down and crawl for a few feet because the ceiling was so low.

Kosu cave

Gosu cave

Gosu cave

 

Gosu cave

I guess it’s true that we don’t necessarily regret missed opportunities all the time, since we don’t know what we missed, but I am glad things worked out to go here. There was another cave up the valley from this one that I tried to go to the next day, but it was a national holiday (Chuseok) so the cave didn’t open until 12:30 and I couldn’t wait that long. I’ll just assume it wasn’t as good as this one.

Just to prove that I didn't get these pictures off the Internet.

Just to prove that I didn’t get these pictures off the Internet.

 


Once Upon a Hike in Korea

Once upon a time, in the far-off country of Korea, lived a man named David who liked to hike. One Thursday, the government said that there would be a holiday to honor soldiers who died in war, so David decided to go hiking. The weather was hot, but he decided to go on a course of four mountain peaks. First he assembled his inventory.

He brought:

– 3 liters of drink (+4 to Life)

– a Snickers bar (+2 Energy, +2 Yum)

– triangle kimbap (see blog post on Tuesday) (+2 Health)

– peanut butter jam sandwich (+1 Health, +1 Cheap)

David also brought his trusty Staff of Walking (+2 Hiking, +3 Attack versus spiderwebs) and put on his magical Boots of Hiking. They were 16 years old, so while this gave him +2 to Nostalgia, they also made him -3 resistance versus blisters forming. You can’t have everything in life.

David took a crowded bus to a nearby valley that was green on all sides. He started at a temple at the base of the first mountain.

1

The initial climb was brutal. The weather was hot and the air was still and sweat stung his eyes. Still, he pushed on and the slope gradually leveled out to a nice path between tall trees. Nearer the top, there were breezes that cooled him a little.

Hiking in Korea 2

An hour later, he got to the top of the first mountain, Jongnamsan. So far, he had seen no people.

Hiking in Korea 3

The path between the first and second mountains was much easier. For most of it, David walked along on a level, shady forest path. Here, there were more people (14 in all, and one dog). The second mountain peak Seobangsan was empty and barren and had a place for a helicopter to land. It was hot and David didn’t stay there long.

Hiking in Korea 4

As he started to descend, David caught a glimpse of the valley he had traveled along. The air was hazy and the distance faded out into white. The flies were becoming annoying. There were no biting flies or mosquitoes, but there were millions of flies around. There was a dull roar in the otherwise silent woods from the sound of their combined humming.

Hiking in Korea 5

The path went steeply down to a low  pass between the second and third mountains. On the way, he passed a tall stone gate that was blocking his way. Just as well it wasn’t a solstice or midnight or anything or he probably would have been whisked away to another world. On the pass between the mountains, he met a Korean couple and advised them on the routes to take, as well as informing them that the map board that was located there had been printed backwards (for some reason). Then he set off for the third mountain peak.

Hiking in Korea 6

The third mountain was the most difficult. It was taller than the others and by this time, four hours into the hike, David was getting very tired. He struggled up the steep slope and up and over some deep clefts in the ridge until he was able to look back at where he had come from.  He saw that a narrow road was being built all around the valley. This disquieted David a lot, since the only reason he could see for it was logging and he hated to see the beautiful valley he loved so much logged and denuded.

Hiking in Korea 7

The third mountain, Seoraebong, was at the intersection of three mountain ridges and now David left the first valley and struck out onto a new ridge, an almost straight  line to the last mountain at the very end of it.

Hiking in Korea 8

This last ridge was much easier in some ways, but by this time David was very tired and his knees were hurting. Looking back, he could see the double notched ridge of the third mountain.

Hiking in Korea 9

Along the way, he passed many interesting things, like more stone cairns and towers, plus the Wood of Confused Pines. They went in all directions, as if they had had a fight when deciding what direction to grow in.

Hiking in Korea 10

Finally, David reached the final mountain peak, Ansusan. It looked over the prosperous farming region of Gosan, where newly-planted rice fields were laid out in neat rectangles as far as the eye could see.

Hiking in Korea 11

Coming down from Ansusan was much more difficult than going up the first mountain. The slope was steep rock and David had to use ropes and chains to hold onto as he went down.

The first time David went down this slope was in the dark. On Halloween.

The first time David went down this slope was in the dark. On Halloween.

 

The path kept going down steeply. After it entered the trees, the path became more dangerous, with loose rocks and fallen leaves covering everything.

Hiking in Korea 13

Finally, 8 hours after getting off the bus, David arrived at another bus terminal and waited with other hot people for a bus back to his city of Jeonju. It was a long, hot day and he was very sore and tired, but overall it was quite magical.

Hiking in Korea 14


“Well, I’m back,” he said.

As you probably know if you saw my Sunday post, I was away last week on  a trip. I went by myself to a couple of small islands in the southwest of Korea, called Heuksando (흑산도) and Hongdo (홍도). They’re part of a national park, which is not surprising, considering all the natural beauty there. As promised, here are some pictures I took there. It’s very visual, although not fiction; it’s a travelogue, and actually was pretty fantastic. Enjoy~

I left here on Sunday and went down to the port city of Mokpo. The next day I took this ferry. It was very fast and the water was very rough, making it fun for me, until other people starting getting sick and throwing up. The guy behind me kept saying, “I’m dying. I’m dying. I want to live. I should have gotten off at the last island.”

fast ferryOn the first island, I took a bus around the island on a road that wound up and down mountains on hairpin turns and steep grades. Between the cliffs and mountains, were tiny, idyllic coves with fishing villages.CoveHere is one of the roads. This one is famous on the island and has twelves switchbacks in a row. It was quite something going up this in a bus.

Snake RoadThe next day, it was crazy windy so I walked along the beach to see the waves crashing up on the rocks.

Wind and wavesAfter a while, I hiked back inland, through the forest and through pastures. I came across a lot of cow dung, but only 4 cows the whole time. This was a bull, a cow and a calf. The calf was very cute, but I didn’t want to get close, since the cow kept bellowing at me, even when I was out of sight.

CowsThe forest on the island was almost all broad-leaf evergreens and there were vines and ivy everywhere. It is much different from the rest of Korea.

Heuksando ForestThis is a view of the harbor looking back across the peninsula where I was hiking. I could easily have stayed there for a long time. It was so peaceful.

Heuksando ViewAt sunset, I went back to the harbor where my motel was. It was the off-season for tourism, so I think I was the only one in the hotel. I never ate at a restaurant with any other customers; just the owners eating their supper.

Sunset at Yeri HarborThen I climbed up the hill behind my hotel, where I was rewarded with this view:

Sunset over HeuksandoThe next day, I took a ferry thirty minutes to the island of Hongdo, which has some of the best craggy rock formations I’ve seen. Just like on Heuksando, I was one of the only tourists there.

Hongdo harborI climbed up the mountain and had a beautiful overview of the whole southern half of the island.

Hongdo overviewThe only problem with this island was that it was quite inaccessible. A lot of cliffs, like the one below, were off-limits, with no trails or safe ways to get to them. Which is too bad, since I would really liked to climb up on some of them.

Hongdo CliffsThe day was absolutely beautiful. As opposed to the previous cloudy and windy days, this day was sunny, warm, and serene.

Hongdo ocean viewI found a hotel, then struck out to the south side of the island and fought my way through the forest of vines and thorns down to a small beach. This island was just offshore from there.

Hongdo IslandA lot of where I walked was quite close to the edges of cliffs that plunged more than a hundred feet straight down to the ocean. I was careful, of course, but I’m sure my wife would have had a heart attack if she’d seen me.

Cliffs on HongdoHongdo is much smaller than Heuksando and everyone lives in one village in the middle of the island. Probably half the buildings are hotels or restaurants, the vast majority of which were closed for the season. Here is a shot of the harbor as I was coming back in late afternoon.

Hongdo harborI walked down to a dock on the far side of the island to see the sun set behind the island.

Hongdo SunsetThe next day I got up way too early for the ferry, so I went down to the harbor and watched the sunrise.

Sunrise over HongdoThen it just better and better as I waited.

Sunrise over Hongdo

Sun and cloud over Hongdo

I hope you enjoyed the tour. Now that I’m back, I am slowly climbing the long, winding steps up into the Green-walled Tower to see what other fantastic worlds I can spy. More fiction coming up tomorrow.

P.S. Bonus points if you can name the reference in the title. It doesn’t count if you’re related to me, since I KNOW you know. 🙂


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