Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hiking Chiaksan

Chiaksan is located in Wonju, Gangwon-do, South Korea. Last Saturday I went hiking up this mountain with a group of friends. It was both a wonderful and difficult experience.

There is way to much to talk about regarding this trip, so I'll start with the briefest summary I can come up with that will still give you a decent sense of the trip.

We all headed out of Jecheon on a 9:45 bus to Wonju. An hour or so later, we did a quick bathroom break before heading for the long line of taxis outside the bus terminal. The taxis dropped us off in front of Wonju (train) station, and from there we caught the city bus to the national park. It was the last stop, and we got quite a few stares from all the other bus passengers. What were all these foreigners doing on this bus? So many, taking up all the seats so that not even the old ladies could sit down. The teen girls kept looking in our direction after every stop, hoping some or all of us would get off so they could take a seat. We rode the bus all the way to the last stop, the mountain entrance. After a few last minute preparations, we all headed into the park and onto the trail. I was a bit excited but also nervous. I'd never hiked the way I was about to on that day: from top to bottom, nonstop (minus the necessary resting breaks). The others were showing various emotions from blatant excitement to hesitation.

In short, the place was beautiful. This mountain had a nice system of streams cascading here and there along the journey. There were mini waterfalls everywhere. Vines (for Tarzan-swinging), boulders covered in soft, cushiony lichen, toadstools, the occasional bird-call, and tons of chipmunks! (Honestly, I hardly see wildlife here in Korea, but that mountain seemed to have all the chipmunks in the country).

Chiaksan is a tough mountain to climb. Even the easier trails are incredibly steep. When the real climbing started, I found myself moving from the center of the group to the very end. Even though I was one of three who were the last to reach the summit, I was still the last to take the last few steps to the very top. Honestly, I could already see over all the other mountains from my spot below the last outcropping of boulders that made the crest of the mountain. I was so tired, couldn't believe how many stairs I'd climbed, how many stops I'd made, how well my heart and lungs were doing considering my screaming muscles. I knew I'd be in pain the next day but was the trip worth it?

Yeah, it was. It had been worth it to see all the beauty of the mountain. Honestly, it felt like being in a fantasy novel or movie. The best parts of the trip were simply seeing everything. The landscape of every elevation had its own importance. The hardest part of the trip was having to walk around to see it all (haha). Honestly, if I hadn't been there to hike up and down, I would've hiked sideways and had a better time of it.  Actually, knowing me, I would've been stuck in one spot, exploring a stream and petting moss. I did share some of my trail candy bars with the chipmunks when I reached the top.

It was cold at the top. Misty and foggy so that only certain directions could be seen. We were lucky to catch a glimpse of Wonju city shining in the distance, glowing from the light of the sun. Now that I think of it, we were probably standing in a cloud. There were plenty of other hikers coming and going at all points of the journey, but many were at the top, taking pictures near plaques and stone mounds (that were built by someone who'd had a vision... or something... I didn't read the plaque. Sorry....).

Before the real hike began, our group agreed that everyone would go at their own pace. Still, there was an agreement to all wait at the top until everyone had arrived. There were people in my group who were experienced hikers, racing ahead and never tiring. By the time I reached the top with the two other "stragglers" they were cold from the wind and itching to start the descent. I didn't blame them, but I wished I was able to keep up with them.

I should mention the multitude of "old" people who were hiking up and down that mountain. They were dressed for the part (Koreans seem to get dressing right. They always look the part, as if auditioning for a movie), and some had backpacks while others carried nothing but hiking sticks. They all carried on at a constant, brisk pace that I both admired and despised. How in the world are they able to move like that?! When you look at them, they look like they're just taking a walk. There's no stress in their eyes from the hike, just a sense of, "Well. now it's time to go up," and, "Well, now it's time to go down."  Some people brought their young children with them. Young children were strapped to backs where they could look around or just sleep for the entire hike.

The descent was better, but by the last couple of miles, my leg muscles were spazzing a lot and my feet were becoming quite sensitive to the rocky ground. The way down was just as beautiful as the way up, and the climbing was altogether different. I used my arms a lot, climbing over tree roots and between split rocks, jumping from muddy step to step, and scaling down difficult spots with the help of metal stair railing.  In the last stretch of the trail that led to the end of the park, my friend and I decided to speed-walk to the end. She said walking fast seemed to make the pain go away. She was hurting so much that she was starting not to feel anything. I laughed at this, assessing my own pain. I was torn between wanting to finish quickly and slow down to a more comfortable pace. We all eventually reached the end and people decided on how they'd finish the rest of the day. Those who'd finished early had eaten at the restaurant outside the park. Of those who'd finished last, some decided to stay and eat, while others wanted to head to the bus that would take us to the train station. I decided to take the train right away, resolving that if I just got home, I could make my own food and relax immediately.

We left the park on the next bus, scrambled off when our stop arrived, and sprinted down the street to the train station entrance. We realized we had 5 minutes to buy a ticket and make it to the platform before the next train came. Despite our various degrees of pain and fatigue from the hiking trip, we all ran, paid, and climbed the two sets of stairs that separated the waiting hall from the train platform. As we climbed down the second set of stairs, the train pulled up. We all laughed at the craziness of the situation, but ultimately glad to have made it on time. We got on the train and headed home.

I'll write a little more about the sights next time.

'Til next time,

No comments:

Post a Comment