Thursday, May 8, 2008


Thanks to an abundance of off days, I was able to make a trip was to Jirisan (Mt. Jiri) National Park. The two day trip was originally meant as a warm up to a three day adventure, but two days of intensive hiking took its toll on my body.

For starters, anyone who wants to head to Jirisan, or any other national park in Korea, should check out Korea in the Clouds. It is an exhaustive compendium of hiking information.

The trip began with several bus rides to reach the park. The initial plan was to start near Chilbul-sa. Unfortunately, the trails from that area were closed for restoration. The next closest starting point was about 10 km away. Instead of hiking there, we managed to hitch a couple of rides down the road and back up to Daeseong-ni. From there, it was a relatively easy 3 hour hike up to the Byeoksoryeong Shelter. I say relatively easy because our initial plans involved a 7 hour hike to the shelter, and a complete crossing of Jirisan involves approximately 20 hours of hiking. The trail itself is rather intense, with obstacle almost every step of the way, and about a 1000 meter ascent (3281 feet).

Once we reached the shelter, it wasn't officially open yet. And while the weather was nice on the way up, as soon as we reached the top, the wind started howling and clouds moved in. Within 20 minutes cold rain was beginning to sprinkle down, so we headed to the covered cooking area, which was filled with people, all of whom had camp stoves and massive packs. While pretty much all I brought was some cans of tuna, spam, and crackers in a day pack. When the shelter opened, we went to check in. I had made reservations on the Korean National Parks web site, which has a lovely English interface. Unfortunately, if you don't pre-pay, your reservation gets canceled. And of course, there is no place to pre-pay on the English web site. So we had to end up waiting for them to sort it out and finally give us a "bed."

The shelter is relatively small and designed to hold 135 people. Each "bed" is about two feet of space on a large wooden platform. With 135 people, the shelter is pretty crowded. But in addition to the 135 reserved spots, at least 50 other people showed up without reservations. Some are prepared and camp outside or in the cooking area. Others sprawl themselves over every inch of free space. The entire lobby ended up being wall to wall sleeping bags. The shoe foyer had people in it. People were sleeping on the stairs. Next time I go, I'll definitely be bringing my tent and camping outside. Even the smallest one man tent would give more free space than the shelter does. Not to mention how uncomfortable sleeping on a wooden platform is.

So the next day we headed out for a bit longer hike. We had an afternoon bus to catch, so we started out early in the morning. From Byeoksoryeong we head east along the ridge to Jangteomok Shelter. By that time, my knee was really flaring up, but we had a 1000 meter descent to the bus stop. My partner ended up having to carry my bag while I hobbled over rocks and boulders all the way down the mountain. What should have been about a 3 hour hike down the mountain turned into almost 5 hours. At last we had some luck though, and managed to catch the last possible bus to make the final connection back home.

As I write this, a week later, my legs are still a bit sore. It's definitely a rigorous hike and needs to be worked up to. Hopefully I'll be able to get some practice in over the summer and return in the fall.

Here are a couple of pictures from the hike. There were quite a few low lying clouds that obscured most attempts to capture the scenery. And it's always difficult to stop and take time to shoot photographs while you're hiking.

A look down from the top

A look up from about half way down. We had to make our way through this boulder strewn creek bed on the way down. Which is not easy when every step is riddled with pain.

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