With the weather starting to warm up a little bit I thought I’d better get some more hiking in. I’d been away to Malaysia with Jen for the Lunar New Year and had probably eaten and drank more than was good for me. Not all of the food was particularly healthy either and the nearest that I got to a piece of fruit was buying it to feed to the monkeys.
I got to ride an elephant too, so there was the odd bit of physical exertion.
However, good as all that was, if you want to be fit to walk up hills, then you have to walk up hills. So, I set my alarm for daft o’clock and by 5.45am I was on the subway. Half an hour later I was at Dong Seoul Bus Terminal where I discovered that the first bus to Songnisan didn’t leave until 7.30am. I could have had an extra hour in bed if I’d been a bit more organised. Whatever. I bought my ticket for sixteen thousand Won and loitered in a nearby coffee shop for an hour.
The bus was just about empty and arrived at Songnisan National Park three and a half hours later. Songnisan isn’t one of the more popular hiking destinations and a couple of Korean lads even went to the trouble of asking me how I knew the place existed. That’s the beauty of the internet I suppose. On those brief occasions when you need a break from football message boards and porn, there’s plenty of information to be found on places to hike.
There is a small town just outside the gates of the National Park with a wide main street a few hundred yards long and then a couple of smaller streets running parallel with it. With it being February though, the place was deserted and most of the shops were closed.
I had been hoping to buy some gimbap or something, but there wasnt very much available in the way of food so I ended up with a fake snickers bar and a packet of chocolate chip cookies. There was a bloke selling chestnuts just outside the park gates so I got a bag of those as well. Inside the park was a little bit busier, mainly because there is a temple at Beopjusa that was attracting coachloads of pensioners. As I was passing I had a wander in myself and whilst the temple was pretty much the same as all the others in Korea, there was a big gold statue of someone or other. The biggest in Korea apparently.
The hike itself was tough going in places as the terrain seemed to alternate between ice where I would wear my crampons and rock where I’d have to take them off again. At one point when I wasn’t wearing them I slipped and with one leg either side of a steel railing post I was about 6“ away from having to accept that my procreation days were over. A few minutes later I stopped at a hillside cafe where I got some pajeon, which is pancake with bits of onion in. The first one that I ate had already been cooked when I got there. It was cut into pieces and seemed to be quite oily.
The next one was freshly cooked and was much better, I also had some soup with some small white wrinkly objects in it that I hoped were dumplings but suspected might have been testicles. I did wonder if they had been harvested from hikers who had slipped on the same bit of path as I had. I limited myself to a scrotums worth and left the rest.
The route that I was following took me to the Munjangdae peak, which is 1054m high.
At the top, the final section of rock would be just about inaccessible without the staircase that someone had kindly installed. There was also a fence around the peak, presumably to stop hikers being blown into the surrounding valleys. The views in all directions were good though and despite the cold I spent about twenty minutes at the peak.
I came down via a different route taking in the 1031m Munsubong peak on the way. The ground conditions were just as mixed and about halfway down I caught a crampon on a root and pitched myself over the edge of the path. Fortunately I only fell about six feet, rolling a couple of times before another path broke my fall. I couldn’t have fallen much further anyway at that spot but if I’d tripped at some of the other more exposed places then it could have been a whole lot worse. Maybe those railings aren’t such a bad idea after all.
I seem to be falling over a lot more frequently these days. Perhaps its an age thing. I haven’t fully recovered yet from a slip at the Paul McCartney concert that I went to in December when I ended up flat on my back whilst going down the stairs. I took a real whack from about three separate stairs, winding myself and for a moment wondering if I’d lost the feeling in my legs. My chest still hurts when I sneeze.
Anyway, this fall wasn’t too bad with just a few bruises to go with the odd blister that I got from walking in crampons on rocky ground.
I got back down to the town and eventually found a hotel that was open. I’m sure the place is vibrant in the summer but out of season it was deserted. I might very well have been their only customer and to help heat the room up I had to resort to turning on the electric blanket.
Going out for something to eat was equally difficult as the town seemed to be closed. Eventually I got some fried chicken in a place that seemed to be cooking box after box without anyone ever coming in to eat or collect it. I left after a couple of beers and there must have been twenty odd full boxes lined up on the counter.
The next morning I planned to try a different peak, the 1055m Cheonhwangbong and I set off back into the National Park at about 8.30am. I passed a frozen waterfall early on and was about 2.4 km from the top when I snapped one of the straps on a crampon.
I struggled on without the crampons for a few more hundred metres, alway conscious that getting down again is a bit harder in icy conditions than going up. A couple of stumbles later and I called it a day, wondering to myself how far you should go in packing spare gear. More than the one pair of crampons seems over the top but if one breaks and the paths are solid ice then you are going to struggle.
I managed to get back down again without too many slips and caught a bus around lunchtime back to Seoul, this time to the Express Bus Terminal. I’ll probably go back to Songnisan in the summer when the place will be a lot livelier and I can leave the crampons at home.