Lets go for a hike he said, it will be fun he said. This is what I learned from my first hike in South Korea
Upon arriving in South Korea we were very excited to get out and about and see Korea. We visited some temples and went to a cool park full of bears…but we also wanted to see the landscape of Korea so I went to the local USO and inquired about upcoming tours.
Songnisan National Park is located in the center of the Sobeak Mountain Range, between the provinces of Chungcheongbuk-do and Gyseongsangbuk-do. When I signed up for this hike I asked the tour guide how difficult it was— he said “pretty easy”, apparently the Korean idea of a difficult hike varies drastically from my idea of a hike. It was a 2-hour bus ride to the base of the mountain so we started very early that morning.
We packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and took lots of Gel shots from REI for quick boosts of energy. I did not know at the time I put them in the backpack just how bad we would need them. My Mistake #1 was not researching more where we were going and the length and difficulty of the trail. Mistake #2 was…well thinking we were in any shape to hike up a mountain.
We started out the hike full of energy and optimistic. We had a group of about 20-30 on the bus and at the entrance of the park itself were many people –some had babies strapped to them, some had toddlers. And I thought, if these people can do this it can’t be that bad…mistake #3…they were not all going to the top.
We ambled along enjoying the clear blue sky- which does not happen often in Korea especially in November. The path was easy at this point and we were optimistic that we would have time to stop at the temple on the way back…so we passed it by and continued on Mistake #4 thinking we would have energy at the end of the hike.
What I started to notice was the amount of people with trekking poles, and I thought it odd as the path was quite easy at this point…now I am not going even try and figure out how I thought we were going to get to the peak of this mountain—cable car, gondola, funicular….in my dreams….no this was us hiking all the way to the top. Mistake #5– not doing enough research into the hike itself and terrain.
We notice about an hour or so into it the path got steeper, though it was still not too bad. But we still had many kilometers to go to reach the peak…we thought it would only take about 2 hours…and everyone we saw kept saying….”you’re almost there” HA we were not even close…Mistake #6-believing other hikers regarding how much further it was to the top.
The terrain got worse, stones, uneven and spread apart. At some places it wasn’t even a trail, it was just stones…and we had to figure out which way to go… as we got higher, the people thinned out significantly and we could go quite a quite a while without seeing anyone…then we would stumble upon some other poor soul who looked about ready to die..as I am sure we did too.
Soon the rails and ropes at the side of the trail became less for stability and more to pull myself up the path…many times it was merely used to maintain my balance…we were struggling on the uneven stones and all I could think about was how easy it would be to twist and ankle.
There were several places to stop along the way and we finally gave in and sat down at one of them. We each sucked down one of the gel shots and waited for the energy to kick in. it took a while but we were at a crossroads…go back the way we came- which was terrifying to me—or keep going up…again we were reassured…”it is not too far”…”you can do it”….Mistake #7– not listening to your body!
Then I got pissed, I am not going to lie—the fact that I was sore and that we were basically stuck…to go back was to admit defeat—and admit we could not do this hike…which I was not willing to do.
So we caught our breath and headed on…Mistake #8- stubbornness!! .the path got steeper and at some point it seemed completely vertical and I wondered if we were mountain climbing instead of hiking—this was definitely more than we had bargained for.
Climbing those last few rocky trails I prayed we would make it safely to the top, in fact I felt as though I was crawling to the top of the mountain at this point.. so we crest the top and see all these people casually sitting at picnic tables and eating…as though they hadn’t just climbed an incredibly steep mountain!
I found Vincent our tour guide sitting at one of the tables and limped over to him as my legs were like jello and I couldn’t really feel them at this point. Walking up to him I gave him a piece of my mind—
No actually I just grimaced—it was all I was capable of doing at the time! Then I thought –oh thank goodness, we made it to the top…BUT WAIT there is more— I saw a flight of metal stairs leading up to the actual top of the mountain, we were on a plateau of the mountain.
So we sucked it up and went to the very top, the staircase was narrow and people were going both ways- I was very thankful that we made it safely to the top and the vista was beautiful. We spent a few minutes up there taking pictures and then headed down the metal steps.
We stood and tried to figure out how to go down the mountain, I was terrified to go back the way we came as it was so steep with uneven rocks for most of it. So we decided to hike across the ridge of the mountain and go down a different way.
By this time, we were sore and tired and couldn’t believe we had to climb down several kilometers. We headed across the ridge and started down. Unfortunately, it was just as steep going down—what I wouldn’t of given for a gondola or something to take us down.
There were some stairs going down so it was not quite as bad as the trip up, but any slip would definitely result in a twist or snap an ankle- and there was no cell service up there so I had no idea how I would get Daryn down the mountain if he fell.
We were regretting not having trekking poles I grabbed thick sticks but they snapped regularly, though they did help to take the burden off my knees and ankles. The terrain got better and there were some pretty bridges and waterfalls. Mistake #9 not having the right equipment!
We were catching our breath finally and came down by the flatter trail. At this point we were starving again, it had to be close to 5 and I was worried we would miss the bus. Mistake #10-not packing enough food!
We walked along the street but nothing looked appetizing, we went into a G25 and bought sugar everything.. wafer crackers and soda…we were dying for more energy to make it to the bus.
We met up with some of the people from our bus who seemed no worse for wear—apparently they are used to these rigorous hikes..we climbed into the bus and I was so thankful that we made it ok. I was really worried at a couple points that we would not make it, but there was no other option, move forward or go back.
We were sore for days, and by that I mean moving hurt…at work I could barely get in and out of my chair at work. I walked like I was 80 not 49, and Daryn’s knees hurt for weeks. We should have stopped at the one break area and headed back…we were both proud that we had accomplished the hike but in hindsight we were not prepared either physically or with equipment.
We now have trekking poles but have only done short hikes, which caused us leg pain again. I am learning that hiking is not a thing to do every few months, it is really something that needs to be done regularly to do it without risk of injury.
I hope you enjoyed our adventure, it took us several days after the hike to truly appreciate what we saw!