Chiaksan Hiking, Sunday 9th January 2011

I had a bit of time off over Christmas and managed to get back to the UK. It was fairly eventful with amongst other stuff a couple of Boro away games, a Paul McCartney gig at Liverpool, my son’s twenty-first birthday and the birth of my first grandchild.  With all that going on I didn’t manage to get any hiking in, so on my first weekend back in Korea I thought I’d have a walk up a hill.

I’d read on the internet that there was an Ice Festival taking place in Hwacheon which is in the North East of the country.  I quite fancied going to that as well and reckoning that I should be able to combine the two I got the bus on Saturday morning from Dong Seoul bus station.

One of the things that attracted me to the Ice Festival was the prospect of doing a bit of ice fishing. I’d seen it done on the Ural river when I’d worked in Atyrau, Kazakhstan a few years ago but I’d never had a go myself.  There were too many stories going around of fishermen disappearing through the ice to make it seem a sensible way to spend an afternoon.

Ice fishing at Atyrau, Kazakhstan.

It was really cold as I left Seoul, maybe -10 degrees and the sort of day where it’s tempting not to go out at all, particularly when you’ve had your apartment underfloor heating cranked up to the level where you need to wear two pairs of socks just to prevent your feet blistering.  It was starting to snow as well, with the fresh new flakes adding to the dirtier older stuff that had been there for a couple of weeks.  With it being so cold, the snow hadn’t really been melting away and the other night I’d watched a JCB scraping a pavement and depositing the snow onto the back of a lorry. I’m told that they sell it to the ski resorts.

The Han River was frozen over in parts and as the bus drove alongside I watched some kids playing football in the snow next to it. When I was a kid we didn’t let the snow stop us getting the football out either.  The novelty of throwing snowballs at passing cars would wear off after a day or so and three inches of snow just meant that the tricky ballplayers were less effective than usual whilst the rest of us revelled in attempting diving headers at every opportunity.

I got to Hwacheon at ten to two and asked at the tourist information desk for directions on getting to the Ice Festival. The woman gave me the dreaded crossed arms response and sheepishly pointed to a small poster on the wall beside me.  The 8th of January start date for the festival had been written over in black felt tip and now read the 15th.  Great, I’d travelled for three hours on the bus and the festival had been rescheduled to start a week later.

I couldn’t see a lot of point hanging about in Hwacheon, particularly if I was going to return at a later date for the Ice Festival and so ten minutes after arriving I was back on the bus and making my way towards Chuncheon, where I caught a bus to Wonju. I could have then got another bus and looked for a hotel at the base of Chiaksan, but by the time I’d got to Wonju I’d had enough of being driven around. I had a wander about, bought myself a pair of crampons and then checked into a hotel close to the bus terminal.

Wonju Hotel

I slept in the next morning and thought that rather than waste time looking and waiting for a bus I’d just get a taxi to the start of the trail. Twenty minutes and twenty five thousand won later I was at the entrance to the National Park. It was a fairly easy start to the trail and I was soon at Guryongsa Temple.

Guryongsa Temple

I’m not too impressed with most of the temples out here. They all seem very similar and this one was no different, just another big shed really. What did catch my attention though was a white rabbit sat nearby.  I’ve no idea if it was wild or whether it was fed by the monks, but it didn’t seem scared as I approached it.  I got to within about three or four feet of it and even then it didn’t seem bothered.

It was quite well disguised, really.

A bit further along I came to the Suryeom Waterfall. It is probably a bit more spectacular in the summer when there is actually water falling, but it was worth the slight detour to see it in its frozen state.

Suryeom Waterfall, it's probably better in the rainy season.

The trail got a bit steeper from this point and with the snow and ice underfoot I had to put my newly acquired crampons on. There were a few tricky sections where I had to haul myself up a rope or a railing, but there were also a few sections of stairway that made life a bit easier. The trail was probably one of the quieter ones that I’ve walked on in Korea, possibly the sub-zero temperature was keeping some of the hikers at home.  Almost four hours after setting off I reached the 1288m Birobong summit.

It was noticeably chillier without the protection of the trees and when I sat down to eat my lunch I nearly cracked a tooth on a Snickers Bar that had frozen solid.  My bottles of water had iced up too and by the time I came to drink the third one I had to push a plug of ice into the bottle. Even after giving it a good shake it was probably only half liquid.  The views from the top made up for the cold though.

Because of all the trees, you don't see much until you reach the top.

Birobong is famous for having three stone pillars that were built by a local baker in the 1960’s. I can’t quite see why he bothered, but a bloke needs a hobby and I suppose hauling rocks up a mountain is no worse than spending all day riding around on buses attending non-existent Ice Festivals.

Two of the three Chiaksan Pillars.

It took me about two and a half hours to get back down again, the crampons making it relatively easy. The rabbit had cleared off by the time I got to the bottom, but I suppose that it wasn’t really the weather for sitting about.

2 Responses to “Chiaksan Hiking, Sunday 9th January 2011”

  1. Cogstar Says:

    that looks like a good walk, although the ‘mountain man ‘ pose at the top is quite ridiculous

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