Having called Colorado my home for the last seven years or so, I would like to think that I know a thing or two about hiking. Right before I came here, I dominated one of the most dangerous mountain trails in America. I AM A HARDCORE MOUNTAIN WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR, KOREA and I will waste your puny 6,000 ft. molehills (was my mindset before partaking in any Korean hiking).
I guess when I think about it, my elitist 'tude is warranted, for once. Korea is the size of Portugal/Orgeon, and with 54 million people packed into this tiny, tiny country, there's really no "escaping" the crushing masses of humanity. Hiking is probably the National Korean Pastime, and seemingly everyone floods into the mountains on the weekends--especially to Dobongsan, a mountain just a few subway stops away from Seoul and just two stops away from Uijeongbu. That's right--you get off the subway and "go hiking".
Wrap your mind around that.
There's so much traffic through Korea's parks that trails have to be closed regularly just to prevent rapid trail erosion. There are so many people, I frequently step on heels and nearly elbow people in the face when I'm hiking here.
PEOPLE EVERYWHERE; I can't get over it. Since there are so many people here, there are relatively few trails to traipse around on (once again, erosion), and many of them are conspicuously man-made looking with stairs and railings.
Seeing as I think the best feature of many American National Parks is the distinct lack of people shouting/talking on their cell phones/asking you to take pictures with them, it's a little bit hard for me to understand Korean hiking.
That said, there's definitely a lot of uniquely Korean things about hiking here that are delightful in their own way. Every park that I've been to has a massive tourist "village" at the foot of the mountain--sporting goods stores, souvenir shops, and restaurateurs selling every kind of food that you could possibly imagine. You could easily come to the mountain and never actually go hiking, there's so much going on at the base of these places.
One of my favorite things made in these villages is Makgeolli, a delicious wine made from fermented boiled rice. It tastes like yogurt and is reputedly full of the same probiotics. Just another aged, rotting thing that I love to consume.
Since it's fall here, autumnal fruits (apples/dates/plums) are thrown into the brew. LOVES.
Just some post-hike makgeolli drinkage, is all. I love homemade alcohol. And Koreans do, too...many of them drink while they are hiking. Can you say dehydration like whoa?
Koreans are all totally nuts about proper hiking attire, too. It seems like everyone here rocks the North Face/Patagonia/Mountain Hardware from head-to-toe and has those goofy hiking sticks, which I've always thought were pretty useless, personally.
So to get back to the actual hiking, I've been to the afore-mentioned Dobongsan twice since I've been here...here are some pictures.
Just my adorable partner teacher, is all.
Brendan looking very small next to a boulder.
Brendan blowing his shoes off post-hike. Yes, Koreans really are that dirt obsessed.
This past weekend, I traveled four hours to the south of Seoul to Juwangsan National Park with Jenny for some hiking/fall foliage marveling. The leaves were just starting to turn, and there were people selling apples, persimmons, roasted chestnuts, and all kinds of delightfully autumnal agro-products in the village at the base. Leaves were rotting, and it smelled like fall.
Jenny tells me that people stack rocks this way as a sort of good luck thing...sounds like the relics of a shamanistic ritual to me, maybe?
Gorgeous waterfalls, high granite cliffs, and relatively few people on the more difficult trail we took on the way back down (as previously mentioned, WE ARE HARDCORE).
What's the best post-hike supper (to go with makegeolli, of course) after four hours of climbing? A heaping plate of homemade dubu with mountain vegetables. Delicious and nutritious.
So although it might not be what I'm used to, Korean hiking is pretty fun. Maybe I will invest in those goofy hiking sticks, after all...