The alarm went off pre 7am and I headed out bright and early, with a seat on the monorail, to the bus terminal to go to Geochang. After a last minute sprint to pick up the perpetually cutting it fine Matt, we were on our bus out. We met Lexi, who lives in the middle of no-where, at the bus terminal and got into a cab out to the national park office.
Our winding journey took us up to the base of the hike, our cab driver just about being able to understand where we wanted to go. The forecast for the weekend had been poor in the week leading up to the hike, but when we arrived the sun was blazing down and sun cream was lavished on.
Our two day journey would take us high up to Hyangjeokbong Peak at 1614 metres where we would sleep in a shelter for the evening before hiking along the ridge and and back down just before we reached Satgatbong. The various blogs and national park sites had warned that there was a lack of running water along the trails, with very few spots to fill up water bottles, so our bags were laden up with about 6 litres of water each. I also had the camping stove, a fair amount of food and a free mat that I’d gotten when I’d ordered chicken to use as a sleeping mat.
The first day was a long tough climb in strong humidity and heat. A constant extra layer of sweat covered our bodies and the progress was fairly slow. The final section of the climb was actually up a ski run, as one face of the mountain turns into a ski resort in the winter – I much prefer skiing down them than clambering up them, but I’ll save that for a few months. Upon reaching the top, we found that the resort’s facilities were all open, including shops, cafes, a restaurant and basically a ton of places that we could refill and purchase any additional food. This was mildly annoying having carried such heavy loads all day, but I guess we get an additional sense of accomplishment or something.
We finished the push to the summit and went to drop our bags in the lodge. The place was a lot nicer than I had expected, with our own little cubicle of 4 wooden bunk beds. Koreans love hiking and with it being illegal to camp in national parks, the few little lodges book up extremely quickly – we’d only been able to get into this one as it had no online booking facility so a Korean friend called up an reserved for us. We had arrived before 4 in the afternoon so decided to take the 2.5km trail down to a nearby temple. What we didn’t realise was quite how down it was – pretty much back to the base height of the hike. There was talk part way down of turning back, but the vote to keep going won, and so we got to see the typically average temple before the painful 2.5km back up.
We certainly had our appetites up by the time we were back and I got our little stove fired up. It was a very little stove and the Koreans next to us took pity upon our ‘one at a time’ method of heating the packet curry sauces and heated several of them for us on their pro gear. We destroyed our way through curry and rice, crackers and tuna and other various snacks, with plenty of space left in our stomachs. I thought we’d brought a lot of food, but we should have probably brought more. Luckily Koreans are super lovely people and the guy next to us saw that we’d finished eating pretty quick and made us some extra ramen and sausages – champion!
That evening we relaxed out the front of the shelter, sharing our soju with the Koreans. The sun set and an incredible, huge, red moon rose up partially shrouded in cloud. We appreciated it for a bit, but the temperature also dramatically dropped and none of us really had cold weather gear with us, so to bed we went for a restless night on the wooden boards – my chicken mat didn’t do a lot to help with comfort.
Sunday was an early start, with the sun waking us early. The view in the morning was incredible – the sun rising above the clouds, the peaks of the mountains poking through periodically. The views throughout the morning continued to be impressive as we followed the ridge line along peaks. The early start also made the hiking a lot more pleasant on the exposed ridge. As the day wore one we started to drop lower and the path became more covered by vegetation, so we avoided the extreme sweat that hit us on day one.
As we approached the final 1km of our route we came across a beautiful waterfall and perfect looking swimming hole. There was little hesitation in deciding to strip off and jump into the icy waters, I felt a new man coming back out and threw on my flip-flops for the final kilometre to where the buses were. We had it pretty perfect with our two buses back, with them both leaving pretty much when we got on, getting us back to Daegu with plenty of time to relax and refuel.
Overall, an amazing weekend hiking, waking up already on the summit was pretty incredible and the ridge line was probably the best views I’ve had in Korea to date. Getting out hiking in Korea is fantastic – such a beautiful country.