Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Long day hike on Wolch`ul Mountain

As if I could forget the 8 hour hike through Sorak mountain's trail to Daech`ongbong last october, that made me limp in pain for 3 full days, I got talked into a hike through Wolch`ul mountain in search of suspension bridge in mid Jolla-namdo, about an hour away from Province's port town Mokp`o again.

Upon arriving Seoul on saturday evening, we bused into Seoul, rested for the night and started early on sunday, at 7am to catch the high speed rail KTX at Seoul Railway station. Lucky for us, we could leave clothing suitcases at the service apartment's lobby for 2 days until tuesday, and were able to start our trip much lighter, just with a few clothings, umbrella in case rain storm hits, a few water bottles, and of course heavy bricktop laptops. A true backpakers. We were hoping to catch 7:25am express train and were dully notified we have to go to different train station for Honam-bound trains. Who knew... And, that the next KTX train for Gwangju would be 9:35am. With 2 hours left, and only 2 subway stations away, we indulged on Dunkin donuts we didn't quiet finish, walked around the station a bit for sightseeing, got held up by father-and-daughter team of Jahova's witness with broken english and some homeless begging for money. The station designated for Honam-province bound trains, Yongsan, had very elaborate station attached to mall, movie theatres, 4 stories of food court, and outdoor concert center. We spent about an hour walking around, buying some ginsaeng drink bottle popular in Korea, and drooling over some sushi houses and other numerious restaurants. We end up buying a few cheese burgers from Lotteria, Korea's own fastfood hamburger chain. The train left the station promptly, and our 3hour long express train ride began. From what I understand, slow train or slow bus would take some 5-6 hours, so 3 hour ride at speed over 300km/hr is a world class transportation. At such a high speed, I could use laptop just fine and didn't fear spilling drink at all. With 2 or 3 tvs per train car, and clean toilet at the end of each car and kitchen car, KTX is a pleasant ride. Slight expensive compare to other slower mode of transportation. Gwangju is capital city of Jolla-namdo province, south west province of South Korea, surrounded by many little islands and Yellow Sea. At 12:20pm when we arrived at the train station, we rushed out and got into a cab for 4000-won(like $4 usd) ride to express bus terminal within 10 minutes. We were lucky and caught bus bounded to Yong-am just as it was ready to pull out. About an hour and 20minutes ride, stopping about 3 other smaller country side, we arrived Yongam, at the foot of Wolchulsan.

Making a reservation from America, we assumed Wolchulsan Spa Resort, the only one listed on hotel reservation website was at the entrance of the national park. We learned fast that there wasn't much to do nor to buy snacks around Yong-am bus terminal, and our hotel was about 5minutes drive away from bus terminal and about 10minutes from each end of the park entrance. Having arrived and checked-in before 3pm, a little too late to start a hike but too early to sleep, we took local city bus for fare of 850-won(about $0.85 usd) per person to get to the bus terminal and took another bus that goes to the one end of the park, Do-gap-sa buddhist temple area. Like any park entrance areas, there were about 10-15 small eateries, more exciting that hotel vicinity, so we were hoping to get some jang-o-goo-i(fresh water eel bbq) that's famous locally or some cheap bi-bim-bap(vegetable & meat mixed with rice). We ended up eating Dak-do-ri-t`ang(Chicken soup). Amazing thing was that the owner goes back of restaurant upon order, kills a chicken without any equipment by simply twisting its neck, and would take feather off and cook. Eating a whole chicken is a big task for 2 people. Since we were open for experiencing local food, and most of the eateries at that area had chicken menu in variety, so we gave in and opted to order an item we weren't familiar with. It's like chicken stew with potatoes and other vegetables that's spicy. It wasn't nice of them to charge us for rice bowls, after such an expensive meal, but it was very tasty and we enjoyed it enough not to be sulky about it. As we were joking about the big portion of food, well suited for 4-5 people, we ate about 40percent of the chicken soup pot, and saw 3 of restaurant workers sitting and eating our left over when we revisited to ask for direction 5minutes later. The meal was hearty, and we were pretty happy. Since there are only 2 bus stops a day for the park, 9 in the morning and 4pm the one we took up to the park, we had to take a taxi which costed us 10,000-won(410 usd) to get back to the hotel. It was still not quiet 6pm and we were getting bored; no internet was available, too. So we walked down to B1 level where hotel's famous spa was located. We quickly learned that as hotel guest we'll get a free voucher a day, so we tried it and the place was organized as women's sauna and men's and I accidentally followed into men's and quickly came out; the lady at front desk gave me a look as if she wonders what korean I must be not to know the sauna configuration. Inside, it was somewhat awkward to be going to a public bath, but different tubs with different herbs, mineral, and temperature were truely impressive. I spent about 20minutes, jumping from one tub to another.

On monday morning, we took 7:30am bus to bus terminal and took the 9am bus headed to the other end of the park entrance, Ch`on-hwang-sa-ji. On sunday we didn't realize, but 7:30am bus was packed with little kids getting to school and local elders getting to downtown for hospital visits. We bought korean style lunch box, a container of rice and another container with pickles, and a bottle of water with a can of coffee to start our long journey. What we didn't realize was how unprepared we were in terms of water, we were just excited to have the mountain to ourselves as weekend hiking warriors all left town on previous evening. I also had mixed feelings with fear about going across suspension bridge, like donkey in animation movie Shrek.

It took about an hour to get to the suspension bridge, and my knees were already shaking. The trail was so steep and had so many big steps I was out of breath within first 10 minutes, huffing and puffing and constantly nagging for water. I was cajoled and coaxed into getting to the suspension bridge and that afterwards we might turn back to come down the way we started. The view was awesome and I realized after crossing bridge that climbing down the way I came up would be real difficult. I was told by a few hikers we encountered that continuing and coming down to Do-gap-sa would be easier on my leg. So we marched another hour and half to the Ch`onhwang-sa peak, tallest in the park, and it was an adventure in itself again. There were some very narrow passages between rock that would be difficult for any big person, and there were areas of reeds and bamboo and areas of slippery rocks. When I only had 0.1 km left until the peak, I thought I'd sit and cry and ask for helicopter rescuers if possible. At the top we shared lunch box, I got some sun block cream from another guy arriving at the top at the same time, and we even bummed some water into our almost empty water bottle. With me sweating and barely moving my feet, some climbers with sympathy had given us water here and there and so we got to have extra bottle worth of water. I was truly shameless taking candies and water from strangers. Heehee...

After lunch, for about an hour, I marched rather swiftly;powered by lunch and anticipationg to be off mountain as fast as I could. It was yet another 6km to go, easy or not. After first 30minutes of power walk, where I practically ran like those ancient martial man with skill to walk half the country in one day as if they can walk on water, I started to slump. And we were about half bottle left on small water bottle, and sun was pretty hot. We passed a group of Americans coming from the other side of the park as well. About an hour away from bottom of our destination, as we were about to pass out, we ran into some creek and without a hesitation we bottled up and drank up. At the bottom of the park was a huge buddhist temple and we were back at the eatery area from the day before at 5:30pm.

A quick bite at potatoe pancake and cab to hotel to dip into hot spring spa, we were ready for a feast of locally grown eel dishes next to the hotel.

If it wasn't for the spa, I may not wake up and walk about at all the next day. ^^

8 plus hours of hike was a long one, but view definitely was breathe taking.


At 5:08 PM, Blogger loahlam said...

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