I’ve spent the last two weekends teaching my legs a thing or two about hard work and pain by climbing a few of Korea’s voluptuous mountains. Both have teased and tempted me with their treacherous paths and tricky rock formations, but eventually Dobongsan and Naejangsan shared with me their many treasures of hues, views and fresh air feelings not often experienced. I can’t quite tell you what it feels like to conquer a mountain peak, to breath in that untainted, crisp air, to look down or across a ridge and see just how far you’ve come. It’s a feeling of success, glee, exhaustion and peace all combined and streaming fast through your veins; something like adrenaline, but more unique. It’s a wonderfully addicting thing, this feeling, hence my tale containing not one, but two mountains. And, hopefully, many, many more of the mountains Korea holds upon its land.
First came Dobongsan, one of the closest mountains to Seoul itself, a mere 90 minute subway ride from my home in Anyang. Though my Halloween weekends are typically spent fiending on candy and recovering from previous evening shenanigans, this October 31st was spent not in costume, but rather in gear that made it clear to all of the appropriately attired Korean hikers that I was not a usual to the sport. I should mention that Koreans take hiking very seriously. They also take their hiking clothes very seriously, always prepared with their brand-name gear: brightly colored hiking shirts, pants, sturdy boots, long hiking poles, heavy packs (filled with plenty of delicacies to create a feast at the peak), etc..
Though I was originally supposed to hike Dobongsan with my friend Spenser and the S.H.I.T.Y. hiking group, Spenser was late to our meeting spot and after some waiting, I decided to head to the mountain for a solo adventure. Upon my arrival at the base of Dobongsan, I got a taste of just how popular a hobby this is in Korea.
Aside from the many vendors selling hiking gear, tools and trinkets, there were a great many restaurants and tables splayed with snacks, including what could only be considered the hiking essentials: makguelli (Korean rice wine), soju (Korean vodka), ramen bowls and water. They might even be displayed in order of importance.
When I finally came to the hiking trail, I almost immediately fell under a trance from the fall nature show of leaves making like acrobats, transforming their colors. Living among buildings and cement sometimes makes you forget just how magical nature can be.
Though there were innumerable options of routes and trails to go on as well as destinations, I decided to make Uiam Rock my first point. Being a novice at this whole hiking thing, I stopped frequently along the way and spent some quality time taking in the little things. I noticed on my hike to the top many rock stacks lining the trail, or placed atop boulders, and later discovered that “rock stacking” is a practice of meditation, and that each layer is supposed to represent a family member you’re praying for or a wish that the individual has.
After a few hours I finally made it to the top of Uiam Rock and of all the people in all of Seoul, I found Spenser at the top the rock!! Well, technically he found me when he saw a view that looked like a mighty fine photo op and, of course, there I was with my fancy cam getting busy.
After snacking on some kimbap (literal translation is “roll rice”) and mixed nuts, Spenser and I felt rejuvenated and continued along the ridge line to Jaunbong Peak. About halfway along we came across this amazing viewpoint:
A few hours of hiking the ridge line brought us to a busy Jaunbong Peak:
And just over a few steep steps later, we made it!
When we did finally make it to the top, Spenser disclosed that he has a slight fear of heights (surprise!!) and after taking in the chilly breeze and beauty at the top, we decided to make the trek to the bottom for a hot meal (my favorite kimchicheegae, aka kimchi stew) and some celebratory makguelli and cider (best drink in all of Asia, I swear to you)!
And, of course, we couldn’t make it to the bottom without making a temple pit-stop:
There are so many wonders hidden in this mountain and I’m sure there are just as many in every other Korean san. In a few days I’ll give a play by play of my conquering Naejangsan, but until then, enjoy the tale of one mountain and the many photos that come with it.