Gajisan Hiking, Saturday 19th November 2011

There aren’t too many football games left this season, but the second leg of the National League Play-off Final was taking place in Ulsan on the Sunday and so Jen and I caught the KTX south on Friday night.

I’d only arrived back from Oman a few hours earlier. It had been a more interesting trip than normal as I’d had a spare day to have a look around Muscat. The area around the port is worth a wander, as is the old fortress. I’d nipped into the big mosque that they have as well.

Muscat Fortress

The highlight of my trip to the site in the middle of the desert was having camel for my tea. I’d mentioned to the Omanis on my last visit that I’d like to try it and they were surprisingly keen. Most of them hadn’t eaten camel meat since they were children, so I suspect that there was a bit of nostalgia on their part. They bought one that was fourteen months old, it cost about five hundred quid and it fed over forty of us. Some of it was cooked in a fire pit and as you would expect that had a smoky taste. Overall, the taste and texture weren’t too different from lamb, apart I assume from the hump. I was picking at pieces from a couple of plates, one of which had the skull and jawbone on it, the other a bit of leg, a couple of ribs and a gum, complete with holes where the teeth had passed through. I stuck to the ribs and leg, declining the gum and brains in order to leave room for a bit of cake afterwards.

There was more meat on the bones when it was first served.

The consequence of all the travelling (and possibly the Friday night red wine on the train) was that I didn’t wake up until ten o’clock on the Saturday morning in Ulsan. That’s a rare lie-in for me. As we had made plans to hike in the Gajisan Provincial Park that meant that we had to get a move on. We were staying near the bus station but struggled to find the stops for the buses 870 and 1713 that go to Gajisan. As time wore on we gave up and just got a taxi instead. It was a fair trek, taking half an hour and costing thirty thousand won. Gajisan is over to the south-west of Ulsan and it would have made more sense to have stayed in a hotel close to the out-of-town KTX station rather than heading into the city only to have to retrace our steps back to the countryside the next day.

The weather had been good in Ulsan, warm enough for me to put shorts on, but by the time we set off towards Seongnamsa Temple there was rain in the air and the temperature had started to drop.

Seongnamsa Temple

As we hadn’t started hiking until early afternoon we doubted that we would have time for the circular route that was shown on the map. Instead we decided to settle for the 1114m Sangunsan peak.

We went to the right.

We crossed a bridge just before the temple and made our way up a well-marked path that was a bit slippy underfoot. We discovered later that the route we had taken wasn’t the route that was shown on the map. Nevertheless, we gained height quite quickly. After an hour and three-quarters we joined a track that would take us to within a couple of hundred metres of the summit. This was easier going but it never seems as much fun to me if you are hiking on a track that cars can drive up. We reached the top another forty-five minutes or so later.

It was better weather when we set off.

Not many people had chosen to visit this peak, most of them had continued along the track towards some famous rock and the slightly higher Mt. Gaji. It was nice to get a summit area to ourselves for once in a while but the wind and the fog meant that there weren’t really any reasons to hang about for too long.

We took a different route back down, one which brought us out onto a road which wound its way down the mountainside. Whilst we were less likely to fall and it was a lot easier on the knees and ankles, it did add about seven kilometres to the hike. We passed a couple of restaurants that specialised in pheasant and rabbit and heard the howling from what were likely to be dog farms.

Pheasants upstairs, rabbits underneath.

Just before it got dark we made it back to the Seongnamsa area and stopped for a duck bulgogi. It was meant to serve four people I think, but the owner’s dog seemed happy to help us out by wolfing down as much raw duck meat as we’d feed him. He wasn’t quite as keen on the carrots.

Fewer jawbones than camel.

We might have struggled to get back to Ulsan afterwards but the fortunately the restaurant bloke called someone he knew to taxi us back to town. I think that if  we go back to hike the peak that we didn’t have time for, the sensible thing to do would be to just get a taxi straight from the KTX station to Seongnamsa. There are sufficient motels and spa hotels in the area to be reasonably sure of finding somewhere to stay.

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