Woraksan Hiking, Sunday 24th February 2013

woraksan

I tried to get to Woraksan a couple of years ago, but instead spent all day in Chungju  waiting to see a football match that had been re-located at the last minute to somewhere out of town. Once I’d realised this it was too late to catch the last bus to the National Park. This time though, the football season had yet to start and so I wasn’t expecting any problems.

The plan was for Jen and I to take the bus to Chungju from the Central City terminal. There’s one every half hour, with the one on the hour being the de-luxe version with wide seats, extra leg room and minimal livestock. Chungju must be a popular destination on a weekend though as despite getting to Central City mid afternoon the first available seats were on the six o’clock bus.

There’s a big shopping mall at the bus station with restaurants and coffee shops so we just filled the time in by eating and drinking. We had that chicken thing that comes in a dish that is about the size of a bin lid. The one with the sweetish brown sauce, plenty of potatoes and with glass noodles sneakily hidden under the good stuff. We rarely get around to eating the noodles as there’s usually enough chicken and potato not to have to bother with them. Besides, I’d only brought the one pair of jeans and I didn’t want to be splattering them with sauce before I’d even left town.

The journey to Chungju took an hour and forty minutes. Oddly enough there didn’t seem to be any motels in the area around the bus station. The railway station is only about fifteen minutes walk away though so we headed for that. We soon spotted the neon lights and had a full row to choose from. Most of them looked new, although maybe they had just had the outside cladded so that sleek aluminium covered up the fake stonework that used to be so popular.

The one we picked seemed ok. I think it was fifty thousand won, although as I’m writing this ten days later I can’t actually remember. The room was pretty smart though, definitely a step up from some of the places we have stayed at.

Not a turret in sight.

Not a turret in sight.

I’d previously managed to get the times of the buses to the Deokjusa entrance to Woraksan from the Chungju Tourist Information Office, but we didn’t know the number or where the bus stop was. The easiest thing to do in those circumstances was just to take a taxi and so that was what we did. Forty thousand won and half an hour later we were pulling up outside Deokjusa temple having overtaken a few hikers on the last mile or so of the route.

The map showed that we’d have a further 4.9km to hike to reach the 1097m Yeongbong summit.

Seems straightforward enough.

Seems straightforward enough.

I’d read somewhere that the trail started off fairly gently but then increased in gradient over the last two  kilometres and had a particularly evil twist in that there was a long descent before you reached the top that meant you had to gain the ground all over again. I hate doing that. I want a steady ascent on the way up and then when I’ve got to the top I expect to be just heading downwards. It’s great when you get some flat bits as well, particularly when you are at a decent altitude, but I’d prefer no downward stretches on the way up and no strenuous climbs on the way down.

It wasn’t really as I’d read though and the first couple of kilometres seemed just as steep as most places. About an hour in we passed a stone Buddha carved into a rock. I’m no historian, so we’ll just say it dates from the olden days, maybe mid to late period olden days. It looked newer than that though so I suspect that the monks had been busy with their chisels.

Easier to make than a proper statue.

Easier to make than a proper statue.

As we got higher the snow got more tightly packed and we’d have struggled without spikes. Once we were in the last couple of kilometres I kept expecting the big descent but it never really came. Instead we had lots of short downward sections, some of which we needed to make use of the ropes and railings to avoid slipping and perhaps disappearing off the side of the mountain. Inevitably the downward sections were followed by even steeper upwards sections.

That's it from about an hour and a half away.

That’s it from about an hour and a half away.

It took us almost four hours to reach the top, the last hour or so involving some of the steepest staircases I’ve encountered here. The six inches or so of snow didn’t make it any easier and I felt sorry for the bunch of kids that were dragging themselves up with just trainers on their feet.

Jen is behind that bush.

Jen is on the right, hidden by the tree. I don’t know who the others are.

There were good views in all directions from the top but we didn’t hang around for much more than ten minutes. With plenty of uphill bits to do on the way back I doubted that we’d knock much more than an hour off the time it had taken us to get there and we had to get back to Chungju.

Part of the way down there’s a junction with an alternative route back to the car park. It’s a kilometre or so shorter than the way we’d came up but I suppose the downside is that it’s a little steeper. We gambled on taking it anyway to avoid some of the slippery sections that we’d encountered on the way up.

It started off ok, with a clever little zig-zag route that took the sting out of the slope. As we got further down though there were sections with very little snow and good as the spikes were they don’t really do much on ice-covered rocks. Jen had a few trips, one involving a full head over heels manoeuvre.

On the way down.

On the way down.

The short cut paid off in the end though and we were at the bottom in two and a half hours. It’s probably the worst ratio of time to distance that we’ve ever done, averaging less than a mile an hour, but that was more due to the conditions underfoot and the undulating nature of the trail rather than a drop in fitness levels. If anything, we probably stopped for a rest less frequently than normal.

Once we were back on the road we looked in vain for a taxi. Outside of a restaurant there was a bus destined for Dong Seoul that would have been perfect had we not stashed all of our surplus gear in a locker at Chungju Bus Station that morning. Running out of options we decided to eat in the restaurant and then get them to call us a cab.

The restaurant had a pretty limited menu and the old biddy in charge seemed keen that we eat her special rice, which was described as a bowl of rice with other stuff mixed in that you could pick up and eat between those skinny sheets of seaweed. After a day’s hiking I was hoping for something a bit better than that and after turning down kimchi stew we ended up with another bin lid full of chicken and potatoes. The chicken wasn’t as good as we’d had the day before, there seemed to be more skin and bones than meat, but they were generous with the potatoes.

Better than just rice and seaweed.

Good as the special purple rice was, the other stuff was better.

There were timetables on the wall and we were able to work out that there was a bus back to Chungju at 5.45pm, which gave us just enough time for us to eat the best bits of the meal. The family of the old biddy seemed to be eyeing up what was left of the chicken, which seemed fair enough. They were pretty much out of luck with the potatoes though.

Before snaffling what was left of the food they very kindly identified the bus outside as being the right one and hurried us onto it. We were the only passengers when it set off so it seems that most people who hike Woraksan either come as part of a tour or else have a car.

A bus. Our bus.

A bus. Our bus.

The bus took about half an hour to get us back to Chungju. It didn’t have any stops scheduled for anywhere that we knew so we just got out when the streets started getting busy and caught a cab to the bus station. That makes it fourteen of the fifteen mountain National Parks hiked in now, just Juwangsan to go.

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