Woraksan National Park - 16/17 October 2004
The weather was perfect this weekend and I was really looking forward to getting outdoors for some fresh air, exercise and fun.
On the schedule for this trip was a visit to some caves, a pork and bonfire party and a five hour hike up Mt. Worak.
There were over forty people on this trip so the coach was full. A good mix of people too, although as per usual we were swamped with Canadians!
First destination, Kosu Caves
I've been here before so I and a few fellow been-here-beforerers kicked our heels around outside for forty minutes or so, looking at the tacky souveniers, trying our hand at the shooting stalls (I won TWO yo-yos) and trying some of the local wood; roots and certain trees
are harvested then processed and sold as health food.
One method is to press the juice out of what look like blocks of wood, the result being a black coffee like liquid. It actually tasted no worse than old,cold, stale coffee. You can chew small lumps of this wood too, sucking
out the juice then spitting out the pulp. This is what I'd describe as an acquired taste.
If you do get a chance to visit the caves at Kosu though, I'd recommend it; they are quite spectacular, with many weird and wonderful formations ranging from the obscenely phallic (ooh'er missus), to vast Gigeresque caverns.
Pork Party and Bonfire
The next stop was our accommodation spot, the youth hostel. The women got to stay in a really cool log cabin (by virtue of their lesser numbers), while us men got a room on the third floor of the main building.
One guy "brought his own" and slept in a tent. For some
reason it kept falling down and had nothing to do with the fact that random people kept taking out the tent pegs.
Our surroundings were very nice. There was a lake nearby with tree covered mountains on the far side. We had a miniature play area with a climbing wall, and there was a big dining hall building complete with stage and karaoke machine.
Our dining space was made up for us just outside the log cabin. Tables and chairs were set up, along with a log fire. We ate roasted pork with Korean side dishes. Earlier we'd stocked up on beers for the evening by buying out the nearby restaurants' supply of lager.
Also on the menu was the biggest bottle of Jack Daniels I'd ever seen - thanks to the trio from the US Army that brought that little baby along! The atmosphere was really nice and we had a pleasant time chatting,drinking and enjoying the fire. Later on we gradually moved away, some
to the karaoke hall, others to another bonfire down in the recreation area, and others drunkenly exploring the local environment.
One guy discovered how wet rice paddys can be (didn't you Caleb?).
Much later it was time to get some noodles inside us since we'd all got the beer munchies. Seokjin and Sieun boiled up about a million packets of ramyon and fishcakes that were slurped up in no time.
Next Seokjin introduced us to the boiling-hot-shot. I forget the name of the drink, but its boiled in a pan and then set alight. Then you've got to down it in one shot. Don't let it linger in the mouth, just toss it straight down your throat, otherwise you'll burn your tongue
(like I did) and likely spit it out (like I did). Others were much better than me at getting the drink down them, so I'm thoroughly humbled. Curiously though, scolding your tongue really brings out the ginseng taste of baekseju -- never noticed that before... [I'm writing
this three days later and my tongue still tingles a bit]
What with our hangovers and the late sleepers, the planned start of 7.30 was scrapped. We got underway around 10am. Not all of us went on the hike; some poor souls remained on the bus, relaxed at the stop, or trekked maybe half the route (if I'd had drunk much more the previous night that would have included me).
This was ok since we were starting and finishing at the same place -- this isn't always the case on these trips however, as frequently the only way back to the bus is OVER the mountain.
The hike itself was quite hard on the legs because there were a lot of steps. It was pretty warm too and we were thankful for the tree cover going up. The main obstacle was the million Koreans that had also decided to hike that day! This is obviously a popular route.
One party had a few group leaders equipped with walkie-talkies; this might be normal with a party off kids or in harsh conditions (neither applied here) but in this case it just seemed like another example of the commonly witnessed "hiking equipment overkill". That they had the
walkie-talkies wasn't really a problem, just the fact that that one user kept getting his to bleep and squeak for no apparent reason,which kind of distracts you from your surroundings.
We made the effort to slog past this particular group and were out of range within ten minutes.
After the first lot of steps we were finally amongst the trees on the proper trail and could see something of the views behind us. Ahead we could see the peak we were headed for, although we didn't know it at the time as it looked far too daunting, just a huge, shear lump of
rock with no obvious trail up! The route to the top however was from around the back.
The trees were on their way to turning into the beautiful colours you commonly see in pictures of Korean mountains, but they had quite a way to go yet. A few had gone completely red and yellow, and looked amazing.
When we hit the main part of the mountain there were more stairs for us to climb. I believe this peak would only be accessible to experienced rock climbers without those steps. It took about an hour to get up and at that point I was well ahead of the rest of the group and had decided to try and be the first to the peak (just so I could
rest for longer and say I was first).
Well I made it. There were steel barriers around the edge of the peak as it was pretty exposed up there, 1097 metres above sea level. On a less hazy day the views would have been fantastic. As it was, looking over the shear drop to the hills and mountains opposite, it was still pretty cool. On the far side of the peak we could glimpse a green
The rest of the group turned up within the next thirty minutes or so, taking a well deserved rest and plenty of photos. As we were starting to head back down, an SBS helicopter turned up and circled the peak a few times filming us. All the Koreans went crazy, jumping
up, waving and cheering. It was quite funny.
Waiting for us when we returned was a late lunch of bipimbab which we made short work of. This little hike took us about five hours in all,no small feat.
We were on the road around 5pm (after a brief detour to drop off a room key...) and were travelled for about 3 or 4 hours, so not too bad. There was a brief moment of uncertainty when we were on the home stretch into Seoul. A burning smell was slowly infiltrating the bus.
The driver stopped to investigate and we noticed smoke coming out from the side of the bus. My first thought was that he'd left the handbrake on for the last three hours. I don't know what it was, but fortunately bus drivers here seem more than capable of fixing minor problems so we
were soon on our way without having to endure the nightmare of waiting for a tow-truck and having to get forty-plus tired, smelly foreigners off a chock-a-block motorway!
Thanks again to Seokjin and Sieun for organising another fun trip.
Trip report by Richard