Thursday, May 31, 2012

To the Top of the World! Hiking Jirisan, the second highest peak in Korea

Yup, I wasn't kidding...  I really did catch hiking fever!  So after our last hike in Gyeongju, I spent a good amount of time looking for some more challenging and upcoming hiking opportunities across Korea!  As it turned out, Seoul Hiking Group was organizing a trip to Jirisan for the first weekend in May.  Measuring in at 1915m, Jirisan is the second highest peak in the country and first on the mainland (the other is Hallasan in Jeju), not to mention a little intimidating.  Up to this point, the highest peak I had reached was under 1000m high, so signing up for this one was somewhat of a leap of faith, hoping I could complete the 16km course.  Unfortunately, the arrival of May also meant that Jen would be starting her Master's and her AQ courses, which meant I would have to do this one solo.  Although I felt selfish for leaving Jen alone at home with her books and boring assignments, curiosity and adventure got the best of me and I just had to do it.  Besides, after going to a Lady Gaga concert and celebrating her birthday, I needed a little bit of me time!
As with most SHG "owl" trips, I was picked up in Jukjeon around midnight on Friday night, en route to what would be the longest hike of my life thus far.  While waiting for the bus, I met another foreigner going on the same trip.  An avid and experienced hiker equipped with all the coolest gear (including a GPS), he warned me that the previous year, their group had not been able to complete the hike due to time constraints.  Needless to say, that got me a little worried.  Here is this seasoned "mountain goat" telling me, a casual beginner, that he was unable to do the hike I had just signed up for... this should be interesting.  Of course, I had to keep in mind that he was signed up for the 24km course, so he had much more terrain to cover than I did.
The peak looked like it was so far away at the beginning
The sun coming out to greet us
Around 4:30 in the morning, we arrived at the base of the mountain.  With the sun not even peeking its rays yet and barely having slept, we were instructed to gather our stuff and start up the trail.  We hiked for about 40-45 minutes before we took our first "stretching" break.  Already breaking a sweat, I took advantage of the pause to get rid of my jacket and put on lighter clothing (my shorts).  It wasn't until about an hour later that we stopped again, this time for breakfast at around 6:30am.  I had packed some goodies from Paris Baguette to replenish my energy and make sure I wouldn't run out of any all day!  By this time, the sun was starting to rise just above the horizon and gave us amazing views of our surroundings.  Another hour hike would bring us to Beopgyesa Temple, which is still a 2km ascent from the peak.  Here, we took another longish break and enjoyed the scenery which was simply breathtaking!

Beopgyesa Temple
Pagoda at the temple
Only 0.8km to go

The lead group warriors

When we started to get going again, I decided to get to the front of the pack and join the lead group.  By this time, I was feeling extremely good.  We had already hiked close to 5km and my muscles were loose and ready for some more action.  With every step, I took in a deep breath of fresh air and kept moving up and up and up, keeping a pretty fast pace.  By the time we reached the peak, our group had distanced itself from the rest of the pack by about 20-30 minutes.  Along with Claire, Katie, Se Rok, David and Warren, we enjoyed an elongated rest while taking in some fuel as well as many pictures of the amazing panoramas.

The last stretch was the worst
I can see it!! I can see it!!

The second group down below
Hiking the ridge
Shortly after the second grouped reached us, we decided to get going if we were to complete the 16km course.  While David and Warren stayed behind to wait for the others, Claire, Katie, Se Rok and I took the lead and set out on our quest to reach the bottom via the long route (we had an option to do the 13km at one junction).  With a pretty rapid pace, we hiked the ridges from shelter to shelter, stopping from time to time to fill up our water bottles, eat a snack or take a thousand pictures.  As the day was getting hotter in the late morning/early afternoon, water breaks grew more and more frequent as a necessity.  By the time we reached the last shelter, we all pretty exhausted.  We definitely thought that the worst was behind us and all that was left was an easy 6km descent to the end of the trail.  Boy were we wrong!

The last shelter before the descent
Hiking down the mountain was without a doubt the hardest part of the hike.  Filled with boulders in a steep decline and our legs already tired from the over 10km we had walked, we advanced at a snails pace from here on end with frequent necessary stops.  Sometimes, the only thing that kept me going was the thought of the beer that was waiting for me in some fridge of a shop somewhere at the bottom.  The hardest and lowest point of the whole hike must have been when, after about an hour of intense descending, we realized that we had only covered about 0.7km and that there was still over 5km remaining.  However, in the middle of all the hardships, I have to admit that I was thoroughly enjoying myself.  Although my legs and my feet were at times killing me, the feeling of being out in nature and breathing fresh air and walking along a never ending stream was quite remarkable and enjoyable.
we were promised some falls... this is what we got
Fortunately, there were more later as we followed the stream all the way down

At one point, we decided to stop and dip our feet in the ice cold water.  I also took the opportunity to go in knee deep and rub out my legs before putting in my whole head to freshen up.  That was exactly the jolt that was needed to get us back on track.  The last 2km was pretty easy and leveled, which made it much easier on our legs.  The green forest around us was also in its full summer dress and rendered our walk a picturesque affair.  And thus it was when we reached the end of the road!  As I had promised myself, I bought two beers which I then proceeded to consume immediately.  The sweet nectar quenched my thirst in ways that water simply couldn't at this point.  What was more, we technically completed the hike in as much time as the rest of the group finished the 13km course.  Only Warren and a few others had dared to follow us on the 16km course and they arrived almost an hour later.  So overall, we felt quite a sense of accomplishment with our 11-hour hike!  Once everyone had convened at the bus, we left for Hadong, where we would spend the night and the next day exploring the Green Tea Festival.
The "winning" team after the hike.  we didn't actually win anything
Needless to say, when I got on the bus for the 1hour30min trip, I was completely exhausted.  The couple of beers I had just chugged did nothing to make me feel more awake either.  No sooner was I in my seat that I passed out and napped the whole way to Hadong.  Once there, we walked to our pension, got our rooms, showered and cooked an amazing BBQ feast courtesy of Warren.  A few beers later, the group was falling like flies, victims to sleep that was claiming one after the other.  By 11:30pm, the long day was finally taking its toll and retired to my chambers where sleep soon won me over.

The next morning after breakfast, we visited the Hadong Green Tea Festival where we learned how to make tea, participated in a traditional tea ceremony and rode some really weird robot slaves.  Overall, it was really fun despite being a little tacky.  For lunch, I enjoyed a delicious pajeon, which is a seafood pancake or omelet, before heading back to the bus.  Next, Warren took us to a famous market that sits on the border of two southern Korean provinces before making our final stop at the Cheese Theme park where we ate some delicious pizza with fresh cheese (a delicacy in Korea) and even got to make our very own mozzarella to take home (I ate mine on the bus)!  Another loooonnnng bus ride home ensued, but, reflecting on my weekend, it had been completely worth it!  This trip was another great success and one that I will remember for a long time!
Let's make some tea

Tea ceremony
"T" = tea
creepy but fun robot slaves
more "T"-ing
It's a race!  with John
Cheese making fun!
Next up... Muui-do beach camping!


  1. It was awesome! but suddenly strong winday came and destroyed main stage :( have a long story gah!, yeah too much dance on weekend, couldnt work on monday when i try to go home hahaha, nice pictures though! Did you guys tried orange mackgirli? haha whats your guys facebook or something? wanted to keep in touch as well!

  2. one month ago i went muui-do beach camping though, weather was not good, but got sunburnt as hell hahahaha care about sunburnt though!

    1. Muui was pretty awesome when we were there.. No sunburns and perfect weather... even a little chilly after sunset but nothing a good bonfire couldn't fix! Where can I try orange makgeoli? I never heard about it before but now that you mention it, I want to try it! hahaha! As for Facebook, just try looking us up. If you can't find us, check out one of our group and you should be able to find us!

      Wednesday Night Culinary Experience

    2. Awesome! haha, i think no button for add in your facebook since i found your name :(

    3. And unfortunately except for jeju :( cant find orange mackgirli gah! :(