Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Solo adventure to Bukhansan National Park

Sunday marked the first day I traveled outside of our district on my own for the full day since arriving to Korea. I wanted to go to Bukhansan National Park for a second time while Christine wanted to focus on her artwork while I was gone. Although we had visited the park only a few weeks prior, I still went over the subway and bus route with Christine as she (and I) were afraid I might get lost and have no way of getting back. Fortunately, this park is visited by so many people (especially on Sunday mornings) that I only had to follow the people in hiking attire to find my way.

I left my hiking boots at home as they were too heavy for my bag and took up too much space. After hiking a short distance on our last journey, I really wished I had brought them along. When we left the park, we stopped in one of the many outdoor shops to see what they were selling. As a size 9.5 US, I have "large" feet by Korean standards. I found a pair of hiking boots on clearance for 10,00o won ($8.75 USD). They turned out to be an excellent find for my this Sunday's little excursion.

Bukhansan has a lot of historical and cultural history looming in the mountains. They are several Budhist Temples, some of which are still very active. There is also a large wall that was erected in the Joseon dynasty, close to 2,000 years ago. This was constructed to protect the capital at the time. There are also a few small towns within the park that house a number of residents and businesses.

Shortly into my hike, an older Korean man approached me while we were waiting for van to drive by one of the small roads. He started talking to me, in English, and asking me how I enjoyed the park and the mountains. I hiked with him for quite some time enjoying the company and having the opportunity to talk with an older generation from the Korean standpoint. I changed my initial plans of reaching Mt. Baekundae in the morning to continue hiking with him. I found out he was 73 years old and made the same 10+ kilometer (6+ mile) hike every Sunday with his wife (whom I was later introduced to). He was in excellent shape and didn't stop until he reached the public bathrooms halfway into the hike. He had lived and worked in America for 10 years moving to some major cities while he was there. When we reached the East Gate, we parted ways as I wanted to look around and turn back to reach the summit of Mt. Baekundae.

When I reached the approached, I realized why the man said he didn't hike to the summit. The trail had become a mass of boulders which I had to scramble up and around for some distance. After some time, you could tell when the trail became a trail again, but by no means was it an easy feat. The park service had put giant iron rods in the mountain with cables passing through each. This was to offer assistance while climbing or descending and provide protection for a fall. I'm sure the only reason they did this was because of the vast amount of people this park sees annually. With or without these devices, these hikers would be determined to make it to the top.

When I was able to see the top, I was surprised by the enormous amount of people at the peak, not that I should have been as I had a large number of people both in front of and behind me. This peak was easily 3-4 kilometers (2-2.5 miles) from the nearest entrance and proved to be a very strenuous workout to reach this area. The views from the top, however, proved to be worth the amount of people I had to squeeze through to move around. I was able to see the the mountainous side of Korea as well as an aerial view over a small section of the city (outskirts of Seoul) below. The South Korean flag at the top was pretty impressive and a lot of hikers were getting their pictures taken with it in the background.

The hike down was just as intense as the hike up, though it was much faster. My legs had become so fatigued that I was experiencing "Elvis Leg" or "Sewing Machine Legs" each time I stopped on the edge of a rock that formed the trail. I have experienced this sensation only while rock climbing, never while hiking. My legs had been burning through most of the hike as they had not worked like this in some time. When I reached the bottom, however, I regained enough energy to explore the creek bed in search of some boulders to climb on my next visit. Feeling satisfied with my day, I sat at one of the many restaurants to fill my belly with treats before heading home. Unfortunately the restaurant I chose did not have pictures in their menu, so I just picked a line and pointed. The meal turned out to be tofu and kimchi - not my idea of an excellent meal. I ate as much as I could and drank from my bottle of "Cass Fresh" to put an end on my day (at least the beer was good!).

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About Me

We are both living in South Korea teaching English as a second language to elementary aged students. We arrived in September 2008 to work at L*Bridge for one year. It's like a reality TV show without the cameras and obscene backstabbing. See you in 2009!