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Published: December 22nd 2006
Still glowing from the joys of Mo’vember, we set out to conquer the tallest peak in north South Korea…Daecheongbong, in Seoraksan National Park. We made a noble attempt at this same peak early in November, but having expected an 8-hour round trip, we found out at the beginning of the hike that it was just 8-hours to the top (and 6 hours back down), which was simply not do-able in late autumn daylight hours. We had to give up 1 km from the top or risk dying on a mountain-side. While some of our photos may suggest that we’re hell-bent on meeting precisely this end, we’d like to reassure you all that we do it for the views, not for the glorious demise!
So this time…(yes, further into the freezy months, we know), we decided to attack the ‘Bong’ from Osaek on the other side, an area also famous for hot springs…Mmmm. In all, it turned out to be a reasonably disastrous weekend, but a goodie nonetheless.
We planned to have lunch en route to Osaek at Yang Yang…until our express bus cast us out on the side of the road beside some wintry, naked rice fields.
After 3 short treks to different bus-stops, we realized we’d just missed a bus to our final destination, which had the pleasant repercussion of allowing us to eat before the next bus came in an hour. Sadly, over lunch, we realized that in the hurry to scoot off the bus by the rice fields, we’d left both of our books behind…not a good idea for a 3-day weekend in a small Korean village! After a frantic tussle with a money-grabbing passerby who was the only one who seemed willing to help us get an elusive bus ticket, we arrived in Osaek…a veritable ghost town at this time of year. We whiled away our first evening playing backgammon, enjoying the oiliest dolsot bibimbap and the thickest, saltiest doenjang jjigae we’ve ever eaten, and watching an E-grade slasher movie called “Truck 2” on the only English channel.
We were both well and truly awake and psyched for the climb before our 7am alarm. Three weeks of basing our weekend plans around this climb were finally at an end. We were off to the top! At 8.20am, after breaking into a sweat in our many layers on the way to the
national park ticket booth, our dream was crushed. The park, on that side at least, was closed for “forest-fires”, which we understood to mean back-burning to prevent said fires. Mel actually shed tears of frustration. The bugger had beaten us again…but at least we understood why the town was so dead.
Out the other side of the village, we found an easy but amusingly rugged walk up the valley following the icicle-riddled river. Yes, despite a winter in Mongolia, ice is still quite the novelty for us, and this was some rather spectacular ice. Have a look at the photos to see what happens when some shoddy Korean engineering meets a very cranky Mother Nature. The whole valley was a picture of destruction. We have no idea what evil force had ripped through there, but all it left was a mess of mangled bridges and mashed up trees tottering atop boulders in the middle of the river. Quite awe-inspiring. As a result of whatever it was, some lucky and well wrapped workmen were rebuilding the path. This meant that we had no path at all to follow for most of the way, save for a rope to mark
where they intended to put the future trail. This meant a lot of teetering over log-bridges (Mel’s greatest fear), happily without incident.
But alas, after almost a year of crazy hiking in Korea, Mel finally took a tumble. I wasn’t even attempting to walk on the crazy ice…trying to get around it, in fact. Just a few rogue river rocks that saw me sprawled flat out on my face. Gareth was ahead, and completely oblivious to my plight. When he finally turned around and saw the sorry scene (Yes, there’s a photo), he said not “Are you okay?” but “What are you doing?” At this point, I collapsed in hysterical laughter, completely unable to attain verticality again.
Undeterred by Mel’s simple slip, Gareth tried some slick ice climbing with only the assistance of a knotted rope (that was frozen into the ice in places)…Mel could only watch as her stomach tied in knots.
Back at the ranch, we warmed our semi-frozen bread on the ondol (underfloor heating) for lunch, and headed over to the hot springs out the back door and across the car park. The Low Season…no lights, no heating, no other clientele
and two dank looking baths only about 2/3 full. Not one of our highlights of Korean bathing.
And here comes Santa Claus…We’ll be off work Christmas day…one of only 10 people in the whole village (nice choice of shift there!) We’re hosting a do at our place on Christmas Eve for some of our close friends. The menu looks set to overcater and highly satisfy…hopefully with many leftovers to feed us through our long hard days off.
Bonza Adventure planning is still in full swing and just as intimidating as ever. We’ve realized we’ll be in China for Chinese New Year…could be scenic, but foolish in all other respects as everything is said to either shut down or book up. Eek!
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