JEJU ISLAND, SOUTH KOREA (continued in Los Banos, Laguna) – I am commencing my series of posts about my South Korea hiking trip even while I’m here, so that the memories are still fresh. The highlight of my trip with inveterate Kiwi tramper Jo Steven was no less than a traverse of the entire ridge of Jiri-san (Exquisite Wisdom Mountain) – at 1915 MASL the highest mountain in mainland South Korea. Jo and I met at Seoul, and from the Express Bus Terminal we headed to the tourist town of Gwangju, then we caught up another bus to the Hwaeomsa in Jeollanam-do, where our Jirisan adventure began.
We walked a few kilometers to visit Hwaeomsa, one of the ten famous temples of South Korea. This impressive temple is very ancient, constructed in the year 544, and is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhist. Most impressive were the natural scenery, including the pink blossoms and majestic pine trees; as well as the cultural heritage: no less than four national treasures were located in the temple.
Then, we commenced trekking up the arduous, four-hour steep, rocky trail to Nogodon shelter. At the onset, the kilometer sign said that we were 32.5 kms away from Cheonwangbong Peak – the summit of Jirisan! It was such a daunting distance, but we were motivated by the fact that the Jiri-san Traverse is said to be the definitive Korean hiking experience.
Fortunately there were signs to track our progress: basically we had to ascent a total of almost 1200 meters, across 7 kilometers of trail. Later on, our newfound Korean friends would describe this as the most difficult part of the Jiri-san traverse. When we finally arrived in Nogodon Shelter, I had cramped on both legs and couldn’t even sit down! We hit a rough road after 6 km of trekking, but the final kilometer simply wound around the mountain endlessly. I was really relieved when we finally arrived at 1920H.
The shelter was fully-booked so we had no choice but to sleep on the main hall. At least we didn’t have to pay the W7000 fee for the shelter use! The friendly Okchun Jade Kim, who later became our friend along the trail, assisted us in communicating with the park ranger. Later that night we went around the shelter complex, and was impressed to see how large the facility was. There was even a separate hall for cooking and eating (see above picture). How different sleeping in the Philippine mountains was from this kind of experience!
Early the next day, after a breakfast of rice and dried octopus, we hiked up to reach Nogodon Peak. At 1505 MASL, it had breathtaking views of the town of Gurye and the surrounding lands, and it was at that point when we begun to understand the meaning of the phrase ‘Korea in the clouds’. Truly, we were in the clouds and it was beautiful up there!
Nogodon Peak was just the start of the very long trek to Cheonwangbong Peak. We continued up the rolling, forested trail, and just before lunchtime, we decided to make a detour and visit Banyabong Peak – at 1603 MASL one of the high peaks of Jiri-san National Park. The detour took less than two hours, but was again very rewarding for the very nice views of the surrounding peaks.
By 1350H we were back on the main trail, ready to proceed to Byeoksoreyong Shelter where we planned to stay the night in order to have the summit within striking range the next day. We still had a very long way to go, but high up in Banyabong, Jo and I knew that this would be a great and unforgettable trek. Here’s a picture with our newfound friends from Seoul:
Hiking gear I used for this climb:
Pack: Deuter Aircontact 55+10
Pants: The North Face Horizon Peak
Inner Jacket: The North Face Fairfax Crew Sweater
Outer Jacket: Aigle Actimum GoreTex
Raincoat: Mountia Raincoat Blue
Shoes: Merrell Waterpro Maipo
Gloves: The North Face Denali Gloves
Altimeter: Casio Protrek Waveceptor
Cameras: Nikon D3000 + Fujifilm Finepix Z33 WP