As we watch a monk going through his prayer ritual and admire the beautiful colors and intricate details, my son and I engage in idle chit chat…
Noting his interest, I suggest, “Ben … maybe you should take up Buddhism?”
“Yeah, but you have to give up all your possessions…”
Knowing he is thinking of his Play station II at home, I counter with…”Hey…Richard Gere is a Buddhist and he hasn’t given up all his possessions (as far as I knew)”
“He is not a monk; I am talking about being a Monk…” Ben replied.
“Well Ben that may be a bit severe…no one said you had to be a monk” I offer…
Ben drives his point home with, “if you are a monk you don’t have to work at all…. all you do is pray all day…”
” Ahh, yeah … hey, they build nice temples don’t they Ben… wonder what was here first, the park or the temple…?”
These are the deep discussion you can have with your son after a day in the mountains. Today had been no different. With the kids off school in Korea, I took some time and we headed to our 2nd national park in Korea, Kyeryongsan National Park, near Taejon, in west central Korea.
We never know what to expect when we arrive at the parks, since our mastery of Hangul (Korean language) is nonexistent, but judging from our first park in Nov, we knew to arrive early, find the parking lot and pay your hiker’s toll at the entrance.
This time I asked for a map at the toll booth and actually received a well done topographic map of the entire park with the trails clearly marked. We also knew you must walk through the temple gate as you enter for good luck. This being Friday, the 13th, we all felt that was a prudent measure!
After looking at it for a few moments while we approached the trailhead, a circuit hike up two peaks with a long ridge in between clearly jumps out… and quickly became our plan.
We head up the trail…well I guess you could call it the trail. I have yet to see a full defined well-built switchback on any trail in Korea. They seem to be either straight up or straight down. Sometime so steep they are more like rock ladders so steel rods are put in the ground to keep people from falling all the way down when they slip. It was basically a wakeup call with a Stairmaster as ascended the “trail”.
Along the way, another hiker catches us and introduces himself…I think he said his name was Hangnam, but his English teacher had given him the nick name “Robin”. He hiked with us for about an hour, practicing his excellent English with the three of us. He had planned to be on a business trip, but it was cancelled and decided to go hiking…smart choice. After about one hour into the hike, we stopped for water and snack break and that was when I found out that all of my careful planning of bringing more than enough food had dissolved by leaving the entire sack of multiple sandwiches witting in our frig at home. Aghgg… shades of our last trip in Korea where we ran short of food. But with a shorter route today, probably not an issue. Ben said as long as there was food at the end he was ok.
With no switchbacks or false summits it’s pretty easy to see the top of the peak you are climbing…look straight up and that’s yr. destination. So we just did…straight up arriving at a small saddle where multiple trails intersected.
Another 300 meters up the ridge, and we were on top of our first peak for the day, Kwanubong Peak!
We broke out our food rations and enjoyed a snack in full sunshine and warm temperatures. Just before summiting, Ben had remarked maybe one peak was enough for the day, but after seeing the great ridge between Kwanubong and Sambulbong Peak, Kate and I started talking like we needed to continue our route…and besides, who wanted to go down the steep rock ladder we had just ascended.
Ben agreed, noting again as long as there was food, he was fine to go. We had watch Robin crossed the 1 mile ridge while we snacked and gauged his progress against a watch to see that the terrain, although certainly not flat, was not as hard as we had just ascended. The ridge is a beautiful ridge to look at and looked like it would be a lot of fun to cross. Although not on the standards of the many ridges in Colorado, it was nevertheless an interesting journey.
Unfortunately first came the elevation loss, about 300 feet right off the bat and handily, rather than down climbing 5.5 rock, the Korean government and simply installed a metal orange ladder/stairs…much like the viva ferrate in Italy.
We enjoyed the ridge in perfect weather, found it challenging in spots, but always fun. The midpoint on the ridge was a rock spire and we made good time. As we approached Sambulbong Peak, we skirted sheer walls falling off in the valley below as we gained about 400′ from the ridge to the summit proper! At the top we met some more hiking friends shouting to the heavens of their good fortune to be on top. It is a custom where one feels closer to heaven on a peak, so folks shout their blessings to the gods once on top…makes for a noisy place! 🙂
The ridge had taken about an hour and we were still fresh so we packed off the other side of the small summit and quickly dropped in elevation to another saddle where we ran into throng of hikers; seemingly from one club. It’s best to get an early start in the popular Korean mountain parks! We turned right at the saddle and descended to a monument and pagoda. from there the trail, yes you guessed it, headed straight down on rocks…Ben gave me his other trekking pole so I could use two to help my knees and we headed slowing down to the valley…painfully for Kate and I. Ben sprinted ahead with a FRS radio and won ($) to start the food hunt. After about an hour of descend ding, we were back and started the walk out of the park proper.
We have been to two national parks and both were similar; a well-worn wide path or road to the temple and then regular trails after that through the mountains. There were hundreds of people walking in as we were walking out with cherry blossoms filling the air like snow falling in the wind. We obviously as Americans were the talk of the town as we passed various groups; you just get used to people pointing at you when you are in a place that does not see many Americans.
We stopped for lunch of egg, octopus, mushrooms, and Kimchi , sipping on some tea. We continued our walk out to the parking area and pointed the car towards home; idling slowing through the traffic outside of the park where it was obvious a festival of sorts was going on with a carnival atmosphere. The air was alive with the blossoms falling like snow…
Beta: 10 km RT, 4 hours