Hiking on Dobongsan and a trip to Hongdo and Heuksando, 21st May 2010

View from the bottom

This weekend coincided with Buddha’s birthday and so I got the Friday off work. Excellent. Many happy returns, Bud, the extra days holiday is much appreciated.  So, what to do? I was going away the next day with my hiking group for a two day trip to a couple of islands off the South coast and since that was more of a partying trip by the look of it, I thought I might as well get my hiking fix on the Friday instead.

 I’d been re-reading one of my guidebooks and it mentioned a hike in Seoul that was supposed to be pretty good. It was at Dobongsan, about an hour north of me on the subway and looked ideal. One of the things that I’m not too keen on when I’m hiking in Korea are the crowds, I like to hike in the company of a small number of friends, not hundreds of strangers. However, if you are going alone and don’t have a map or much of a sense of direction, I can see the advantages of the hills being crowded with other people all on their way to the top.

 I got off the subway at Dobongsan and as expected just followed the swarms of hikers across the road towards the mountain. There were lots of stalls selling everything from hiking gear to food. I could probably have turned up completely unprepared and kitted myself out from scratch. As it was I limited myself to a bowl of potatoes and a neckerchief that was overprinted with a map of the National Park. Whilst I thought it might be useful for navigation, its main purpose was to keep the sun off my neck and to make me look like a twat.

Busy at the start

 I followed the crowd along the pavement until we left the road and entered the park. After a few minutes we came to a fork and almost everyone went left. I noticed a sign for something to the right, 350m away. It could have been a sewage works for all I knew, but I thought I might as well have a look anyway.  I wasn’t in a rush and one of the advantages of walking alone is you can go wherever you like. It turned out to be a temple, decorated with lanterns and with quite a few visitors milling about. I had a quick look and then had to decide between retracing my route to rejoin the throng of hikers or to press on up the path through the forest. I’d like to say it was a sense of adventure that kept me going along the unknown and much quieter route. But it wasn’t really, it was more an unwillingness to concede the gain in height that I’d already made. If I went back down to the main path I’d have to do all that uphill stuff for a second time.

A bit quieter here

 I pressed on upwards confident that the path must lead to somewhere and not too bothered which of the peaks that I got to the top of. There were a few other people heading the same way, but it was certainly the quietest I’d seen any route out here so far. After a while I came to a signpost that confirmed that I was still on the same mountain, although on a slightly less direct route which was fine by me. As I say, I wasn’t in a rush. About half way up there was a bit of a monument, although I’ve no idea what it was commemorating, and an hour or so later I reached the top. Some sections had been a bit strenuous and I’d had to haul myself up using the iron railings and rope thoughtfully provided, but overall it wasn’t too difficult.

Monument, about halfway up

 There were plenty of people at the peak, some in groups of a dozen or more, sat around elaborate picnics. There is a lot of effort goes into these picnics, with lots of different dishes, stools, blankets, even little napkins. A bit less effort from me though as I took my potatoes from my backpack. They aren’t too big on potatoes over here. As you may have guessed, it’s more a rice sort of place, and so they were just about the only ones I’d had since I got over here.

View from the top

 Now that I was back on track I could have a look at the guidebook again and it offered me a different option for getting down. I could walk a bit further along, nip up another peak and then descend via another Buddhist Temple at Mangwolsa. That seemed ok and that’s what I did.

 As I approached the temple there was quite a bit of noise, the usual drumming and bells. The path to the gate had been decorated with lanterns and there were more hung up inside. I stopped for a coffee and then went up the steps to a courtyard in front of the main temple. A group of Chinese girls were dancing in front of about a hundred people.

Happy Birthday Bud.

I watched for a while before they finished and the crowd dispersed.  I had a look around the temple and then made my way down the path and got the subway home.

I know, I know, but I didn't want my neck getting sunburnt.

 Next day was an early start. I had to meet my hiking group at 7.10am for the bus ride to Mokpo. The plan was to get a ferry there to an island about sixty miles away, Hongdo, stay overnight and then return the next day via a different island. We got there just before lunch and to my surprise it was pissing down. That was something that hadn’t entered my head. It had been so sunny the previous day that I hadn’t even brought a coat with me. It got worse, the organizer was informed by the ferry company that the conditions were marginally good enough to sail today, but the forecast was for rougher weather tomorrow and that if it materialized then the ferry wouldn’t sail. That would mean we would be stuck on the Korean version of Craggy Island on a day when I was supposed to be three hundred miles away at work.

 We went for lunch, before making a decision on whether to get on the ferry. It was crab soup, with crabs cut in half, shells and all, providing the flavour. In addition there were some small crabs as a side dish. They were about the size of a penny and you just ate them whole. I had a couple and it was just like eating a shell full of sea water. They were soft rather than crunchy and whilst they tasted very fresh, there wasn’t much to them.

 Of the nine of us on the trip, three felt we shouldn’t travel. I don’t like missing work when I’m supposed to be there and two of the others, both Americans, felt the same way. We let the other six get on the ferry and we cleared off to the pub. A few beers later we were on the train back to Seoul after an interesting but ultimately pointless day out. From what I saw of Mokpo, it’s a working fishing and ferry port. Most of the shops seemed to sell stuff like fishing nets, buoys, wooden legs, parrots, you know the sort of thing. We worked our way through wine, makgeolli and beer on the journey back and I was fairly merry by the time I got home. The next day I felt pretty rough, which I attributed to those two mini crabs full of seawater. I’d been fine before I had them.

 Meanwhile, Lee Dong Gook wasn’t doing very much, just waiting to see how quickly his injury would clear up and whether he would make the final squad of twenty three.

4 Responses to “Hiking on Dobongsan and a trip to Hongdo and Heuksando, 21st May 2010”

  1. Cogstar Says:

    Right what disease have you got, your mum is going to play hell with you for not eating. Really it’s a good job you posted that picture or I would have been wandering round terminal 5 looking for so James May Yeti character. I guess I owe you a gig ticket too.

    and just over an hour to the top is pretty impressive that looks about 650m on the photo.

    I’m off to eat a grape for lunch

  2. Cogstar Says:

    OMG! you’ve shrunk! you look good on it. x pam

  3. onthetrailofthelionking Says:

    Thanks Pam, the fat is just hidden behind my back though, I tuck it in for the photos.

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