After my last post about hiking, it may seem like I’d never be up for it again. Maybe I laid it on a little too thick there! Really, hiking isn’t all that bad. Plus, it is a lot easier to enjoy your time in Korea if you enjoy (or at least are open to) hiking – long and hard hikes, if you can muster it. Truly, the mountains of Korea can be indescribably beautiful, no matter the season. Getting out to actually enjoy them is the challenge, particularly braving the winter cold.
We agreed to go hiking with a couple of friends this past weekend and although I know I’m way behind on travel blogging, I wanted to share a few photos in an attempt to keep up with daily (or weekend) goings-on around here.
Our friends Justin and Christine also brought two dogs with them to Korea, and both happen to be larger than ours [for once]! So, if anyone can relate to the dog troubles, it’s them. They’ve got two adorable German shepherds who are every bit as quirky as our hooligans.
Anywho, we set off with four humans and four dogs to get in a nice long hike over on Gajisan, or Mt. Gaji, which is near where we went paragliding. It’s part of what is called the ‘Yeongnam Alps’, on the far west side of Ulsan, past the train station. We planned for a 5 or 6 hour hike and it turned out to be every bit of that. What we did not plan for, however, was the crazy amount of snow and mud we were about to get ourselves into.
I really wish we would have packed the Go Pro on this hike! The way up wasn’t too bad, pretty typical, if anything, of a moderate to difficult hike for a person of average fitness. There was a bit of scrambling over large boulders to get to the top, but other than keeping a steady pace and the stray dog that came to antagonize us while we pit-stopped for lunch, nothing was overly difficult.
Sidebar: If you haven’t tried refrigerator oatmeal yet, it’s really great. You can make so many different flavors and satisfy your sweet tooth while feeling at least a tiny bit healthy if you throw in some fresh fruit, greek yogurt and chia seeds. It’s especially convenient on a cold-day hike, as it will stay cold without a cooler!
We took these happy photos at the top of the mountain (over 1200 meters) before we got to the “good” stuff. For reference, though Gajisan towers as the highest in the area, it barely cracks the top 40 tallest mountain peaks in Korea. This is pretty impressive and I hope it demonstrates the extreme mountainous landscape of this country to the many Westerners who have never been or traveled outside the city of Seoul.
On the way down, we hiked the north(? someone said north…) side of the mountain, that had clearly been in the shade for the majority of winter as it was just coated in snow. This was the point where we realized that all the Koreans were geniuses for having attachable snow-spikes for their hiking shoes. We were not as brilliant; though of course, post-hike, J-Mar suddenly remembers being given a freebie pair at work….
In any case, we were quite literally skiing with our shoes, as the there was almost no friction between the soles of our feet and the very strangely smooth snow going down the mountain. This was only complicated by the fact that we had very excited four legged creatures pulling us downward, and making it nearly impossible to take a slow and steady pace. A few times, I was really tempted to yell “MUSH!” because I sort of felt like we were dog-sledding without a sled.
In reality, it was more like tug of war, which is a popular game around here when Austin the schnauzer-mix comes over to play. Minnie would tug to go faster, and I would try my hardest to resist without falling on my butt, with very little success. A few times I just had to let her go off leash toward Christine and Riley in front of me, so that I wouldn’t go down on my rear end and rip holes in my pants.
Props to Justin and Christine (and J-Mar) for being able to handle their dogs through the snow. I suppose they had better to be able to do that on top of carrying heavy-loaded packs, as they are training for a 2-week trek in the Himalayas later this year. Unabashedly, I’ll say that kind of thing is not for me.
The shoe-skiing seemed endless, but eventually we made our way down to low enough elevation where the temperature had increased enough for the snow to melt off. We took a semi-paved/semi-gravel road a little further, until we hit a path that cut through down to the parking lot where we started.
At this point, I started to hit a wall. Earlier, on our way up, I knocked my knee into a root that was sticking perpendicular to my leg. There couldn’t have been a more direct way to crack my kneecap. Luckily, it was just a bruise and continuing to walk and keep the blood moving actually helped the pain. However, once we started shoe skiing and hiking downward, the stress on my knees was fully kicking in. By the time we hit the really thick mud on the last portion of the hike (a few kilometers before the end), I was all but done.
It was actually quite amazing that the dogs as well as the humans didn’t get more dirty from the crazy mud. So much mud that we were slipping and sliding to try to keep our balance, and the dogs’ paws wouldn’t stay put for anything. Perhaps it was the creek at the end where we all waded in to get a little cleaner, but I was really impressed that the back of our car wasn’t completely dirty upon arriving home.
After an exhausting day, we settled in for a nice homemade dinner and some quality time with Netflix, an all to common habit around here That and princess Minnie being cuddled up in a blanket – burrito- or hot-pocket- or kolache-style.
Hope you enjoy your next weekend with some quality time in the great outdoors. There’s nothing quite like exploring Mother Nature!