I recently moved to South Korea for to teach English and explore the Asian continent. As I was doing some research on Korea, I came across a cool fact that got me even more jazzed up to get here: The Korean peninsula is roughly 70% mountainous (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_Peninsula). With that, and the fact that my work schedule is from 4 – 10pm Monday through Friday, I couldn’t ask for a better situation to get some serious Mountainbeering done!
This past week we had a nice little 5-day weekend due to the Lunar New Year, what better opportunity than to get started on introducing Mountainbeering to Korea, and Asia! I decided to take a bus ride about 45 minutes outside of my town to an area known for a traditional Buddhist temple, at the base of 3 great hiking mountains, called Bogyeong-sa (If you’re in the area, here’s the link).
So I arrived and spent some time checking out the temple. There were extremely ornate buildings, actual monks, and really cool artwork thousands of years old…it was pretty sweet.
After cruising around the temple, I was getting pretty antsy to charge up this hill, and even more antsy for the deserved beer at the top! So I took a couple pictures of some signs at the base (this will prove very useful later on) which were all in Korean and set off!
The first part of the hike is very well maintained and had a decent amount of people on the trail, which I’m guessing is due to the holiday. After about an hour, the trail comes to a fork, one way loops back around to the temple and the other path gets fairly steep and heads up toward one of the first peaks. No-brainer on the trail I took. This would be the last time I see people for quite awhile…
I was a big fan of the fact that I wasn’t seeing any more people. One of the great things about hiking is the silence of nature and taking in the beauty. Although I do really enjoy company to share the experience with, so when I thought I was about half-way up I found some snow and decided to have a bit of a Tom Hanks in Castaway moment and introduce “The Snowman” to Korea…
I opted for Korea’s Hite beer because that was what I was gaining as I made my way to the summit. Well that, and I left at like 6am and it was the only beer I could get at the convenience store…anyway, I put the beer back in my bag, said farewell to The Snowman and pressed on.
One problem I encounter when hiking alone is that I find walking to be very tiring. Given the option, I would choose running over walking any day, I think it’s easier. When I have company, it’s nice to stroll through the woods and ask ridiculous questions like “Who do you think is the greatest entertainer of our time?”. If you don’t know the answer to that, I’m sorry. If you’d like to know, go here. Another problem that I have is how much fun I find it to venture off the trail and bushwhack around, exploring other routes that eventually lead back to the trail. I fully attribute this problem to my two roommates, Lucas and Luke, this past summer in Alaksa.
So a ran around and kept finding the trail, which wasn’t the best help because all the trail signs were in Korean and eventually came across a fantastic spot that I assumed was the summit! So I whipped out my beer and a snack, set the self timer on my camera and did some documenting!
At this point I thought there was another trail that looped back around and met up with the original trail. However, once I continued on I realized that where I had stopped was the first of MANY false summits! So I kept on running until I finally reached the top! This is where things took an interesting turn…
One thing I don’t like doing is backtracking on trails. I love trails that send you on a loop, instead of an out-and-back. It gives you more things to look at and keeps the trail interesting. Given this, rather than simply turning around and heading back the way I came (which may have been cool to say “hey” to The Snowman) I decided to follow a trail that looked a bit less traveled and seemed to snake back down the mountain towards the direction the temple would be in. So I started running again.
I may have gotten a bit carried away and I definitely misread a few of the Korean signs, so I got lost. There was some semblance of a trail around certain corners, but I figured if I was heading “down” then that was at least somewhat right. So here was the situation: I was alone in the woods, halfway around the World from home, in a country that I just moved to and barely speak one bit of the language, with no food, very little water and it was about 4:30pm so daylight was not going to last very much longer. Yikes. On top of that, I pulled out my camera to take a picture along the way and saw that my battery was pretty close to dead. I decided to save what little juice I had left in the camera in case I had to show somebody the pictures of the signs I took at the start, hoping they would recognized where it was and send me in the right direction…
The best part of this was that I was still running around the woods like a goofball with a smile on my face and having a fantastic time! I only wish I had brought a few more beers!
I got to the bottom of the mountain and decided to take 2 quick pictures to document the fact that I ended up here:
My guess was that I ended up in the next valley over, but I had no clue. I figured I could try to go back over the mountain and retrace my path, but definitely didn’t have the daylight for that. So I started running (got a great workout in this day) down the only road there was. About an hour down the road (yes the same and only road) I finally came across this old Korean guy on a walk (I assume he lived in one of the 3 houses I saw on the road). He spoke no English (of course) so I pulled out my camera and showed him a picture of the sign I had taken. This is when he started to laugh. So I started to laugh and he gave me the international sign for crazy. Then he busted out some English and said: “You, you go over mountain”. We then exchanged a number of gestures, including me running in place while tapping my watch (trying to ask how long it would take me to run to the nearest town) and he gave me directions the best he could. Basically he gestured to follow this barren road until it ended, then go left until I start to see a town…all the while I think he kept asking me if I had a tissue to give him? Who knows.
So after another hour or so of running in the middle of nowhere, I found the town. It was actually a town I went through to get to the temple, so the fact that it was something familiar was nice. I found a tiny little bus stop and deciphered the posted schedule the best I could. 45 minutes later I was on a bus back to my town! On the bus I pulled out my camera to review some of the pictures, from one whirlwind of a day, and my camera died. Wow.
All-in-all it was one helluva first Mountainbeering trip in Korea. In some regards, I hope there are many more like this to come.
If there is any wisdom I can give to you guys for future adventures: make sure to charge your camera before you leave, always take a picture of the trail map and anything else that may help you if you get lost, running will get you places faster (especially if you’re singing while you run, dance running, or a combo of the two), and ALWAYS bring at least one tissue with you…because you never know.