Friday, October 10, 2014

The Amazing Hike at Sinbul Mountain!

Stylish Korean hiking apparel.
Although I have been hiking in Korea before, I feel like this was my first “true” hiking experience.  This hike took place at Sinbul Mountain, which is not a national park, or huge tourist attraction.  It’s more the type of place locals from Ulsan go to hike.  It is the second highest mountain in the Youngnam Alps located in the western part of Ulsan, South Korea, so there is some draw to the area. Where to begin to even describe my Korean hiking adventure?!?!

Me in my Korean
hiking attire.
I guess I should start off by saying that Koreans take their hiking VERY seriously.  That is obvious by the stylish hiking attire seen all around Korea – both on and off the trails.  I have even succumbed to the trend and bought some of my own hiking apparel.  And, I gotta admit, Koreans know what they are doing.  The hiking pants I have are the most comfortable thing I’ve ever hiked in!  It does seem a bit extreme to us Westerners that Koreans will cover themselves from head to toe…literally!  Long sleeves in the middle of summer, hat, gloves, and even face masks.  I’ve heard a few different theories about this and the most popular seem to be that they cover themselves to avoid exposure to the sun and use masks to avoid breathing in toxins from the air.  In any event, they are well protected from the elements.

The scene at lunch time.
In addition to hiking, Koreans take their food and alcohol very seriously.  This is evident on the trails.  All along the way, Koreans stopped to have a picnic lunch.  In the States, this usually means sitting on a rock and pulling out a sandwich and a few snacks from your back pack.  In Korea, lunch while hiking is a totally different story.  Koreans bring blankets and
Koreans enjoying quite the
spread of food.
picnic pads to sit on.  Some even bring small collapsible chairs.  And the spread of food is by no means basic 
sandwiches and snacks.  It is an all-out buffet of various side dishes and main courses.  And no meal in Korea is complete without an alcoholic beverage.  Options while hiking included beer, soju (popular Korean alcohol), and meokali (a popular rice wine).  I couldn’t imagine drinking alcohol while doing this hike! Another common site (and a bit unusal to the Westerner) is the random man selling popsicles from a cooler he carried up the mountain.

It’s safe to say that hiking is a very popular pastime in Korea.  As a result, there were TONS of people on the trail.  It was a national holiday so that is to be expected.  However, I’m used to crowds on the easier parts of trails in the States.  Usually, the crowds thin out as the trail gets more difficult.  Not in Korea…it was crowded the whole way…and it was DIFFICULT!  In fact, this hike goes down as one of the hardest, most dangerous, and most amazing hikes I’ve ever done.  Let me explain…

It was hard because it was up hill just about the whole way to the top – very limited straight paths to allow you to catch your breath.  There were stairs for some steep parts – for whatever reason, just about all Korean hikes involve stairs.  In addition, there were several spots that involved scrambling up rocks.  Some of the scrambling was such a steep grade that ropes were added for assistance.  For many of these parts, easy options were available to bypass the rocky surfaces, but where’s the fun in that?  Naturally, I had to take the ropes.  Now, let me explain why it was dangerous…

At one point, you hike along sharp edges of rock with steep slopes on your right and your left.  If you slipped or lost your footing, you would surely be in trouble.  I was shocked that there were no railings, chains, or ropes at this point.  I couldn’t imagine hikes like this in the States (Angels Landing in Zion National Park was close, but even it had chains).  But here in Korea, there were tons of people just scrambling along the sharp ridges.  Did I mention the course we took was called “Knife Rock” – it seemed like we were walking along the blade of a knife made of rock!  Once you made it through the rocky edges, there was the challenge of scaling up a rock surface.  Again, if you lost your grip or footing, you would be in trouble.  There were a few parts that actually made me nervous.  Had I been hiking this area with just a few friends, I may not have been so brave.  But, seeing all of these people scrambling over the rocks, gave me some confidence (it could have been a false sense of security, but it worked – I made it through).

So the challenge of the hike – both in terms of the difficulty and the precariousness – combined with the beautiful views made this one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever done!  

Our outdoor cafe.

Pajeon and meokali
Oh...and the day ended with some pajeon and meokali at an "outdoor restaraunt" before we even left the path.  No need to look for a place to eat on the drive home!

I’m not proud to admit (but I will) that there were times when I saw where we had to go and how much was left and I kinda wanted to cry…just a little.  (Those of you who know me know that this is a powerful statement).  And, I’m not sure I’ll take on this hike again…I’d have to do some work to mentally prepare myself.  At the same time, I am SOOOOO glad I did this hike.  It was a truly FANTASTIC day!!!!!

Me and my Korean hiking buddy, Kim Won Jeong,
feeling accomplished at the end of our hike! 

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