In case you were wondering what I do on the weekends, I either travel about the country or participate in the Yeoju English Stars program I introduced in the Temple Stay entry.
The first weekend after the initial arriving-in-Korea weekend, my friends Shannon, Peter, Alex and me took a little trip to Wonju, a city maybe 40 minutes east of Yeoju to hike in Chiaksan (or Chiak-san) National Park. Apparently Koreans speak of "ak" when something is challenging or difficult, and "-san" is an ending that means mountain. Similarly, "-sa" indicates temple, "-ri" village and so on.
Well the name was apt. It was an unbelievably difficult hike! Think using a stairmaster for 3 hours on the hardest setting. It was actually probably worse than that.....but it was breathtaking and rewarding and I'd do it again. Oh, then it took another 2 hours to get down, and that was worse. You probably wouldn't know this if you haven't' hiked recently, but down is worse. You're exhausted at that point and it hurts all your joints and your feet. I was sore for almost a week afterwards. I mean my calves were shaking violently by the time I reached the park entrance.
Anyway, I think this time I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.
Okay so here is what the park looks like on the way in:
Apparently it only takes 13 hours to hike the whole ridge, but I don't know how much I believe that.
...A bridge on the path leading to the trailhead. Check out the cool dragon head! This sign post was right by it:
Yup, that's right. We went to Birobong Peak, the 5.6 km hike that felt like 20 km (in a good way).
Here we are, innocent little us, having no idea what we were in for. Actually, I knew it would be a tough hike (we warned by one of the teachers Alex works with that Chiaksan is "very danger"), but the others didn't believe it.
We're standing on another bridge that looks out over this beautiful little falls/pool:
So then we walked a little more down this path and came across a temple. Here are some pics:
Finally, after walking for a half an hour, we began the real hike. At first it was pretty easy. We made it to a second waterfall pretty soon.
That's Peter and Shannon, still looking chipper.
Check these out:
See the rock piles? Hikers place these stones to make wishes. When you place a stone, you make a wish, but if you knock over someone else's stone in the process, you are cursed instead! At the top of the mountain are enormous piles of stones that one guy spent 30 years creating. He hiked to the top and placed a stone there every day. What a crazy! These piles were just to the left of the little cascade. Here's another picture of them, because I happen to love them:
So then after the "waterfall", the hike started to get difficult.
All those rocks are actually stairs. Often, there were actual staircases made of metal, but they weren't much easier to ascend because they were so long and steep. Here are some views of the way up:
And a caterpillar:
The view of the mountainside was where we breaked for lunch. Then the hike started getting ridiculous.
You could not actually traverse that part of the trail with a pack on your back, unless maybe you were a Navy Seal.
Then, occasionally, there were moments that reminded us why we were doing it. Those moments looked a little like this:
Pretty good moments, huh? And then, finally, the summit:
Yup, that says 1288 meters. That may not seem like a big deal, but that's a lot of meters to climb in less than 6 km.
And these are the piles that man spent all those years compiling:
That's Alex behind Shannon, in case you were wondering. But here, check out the summit for yourself:
Here are just a few shots of the hike down:
We're almost there! Isn't Korea beautiful? This next one is a picture of a small altar outside the temple. I took a picture of it on the way up, but it was so much more intriguing as night was falling, so I took another picture:
The plan had been to stay in Wonju for the night, but we got back with time enough to make the bus back to Yeoju, so we just went home. We were exhausted. And satisfied.