Kat: As part of our training for Everest Base Camp hike, we’ve started doing a major hike every second Saturday. Last weekend we hiked to Geumjeong Mountain, a popular hike in Busan that goes from Beomeosa Temple to Oncheonjang.
We started out at Beomeosa, looking around for the entrance to the hike. With no signposts (not even Korean), I was left to ask some local security guards in my broken Korean where to go. We walked up the hill to the right of the temple, following the road past a gated worship area with a big golden Buddha. Further up the hill is a fenced area with an open gate, the entrance to the Geumjeongsan hike. From there on in, it’s straight up the hill, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
After an hour or so of steep hiking in muddy conditions, we made it to the top with some spectacular views of the valley below.
Justin: The incline to get to the top of the mountain was a killer. It was incredibly steep with no plateaus for you to catch your breath as you ascend. The views along the way were brilliant, although for the first time the epic views were notable for large electricity wires cutting through the mountain.
It dawned on me as I was scaling the mountain that I am definitely getting fitter. All those hikes I do in the morning are now consolidating nicely. It’s hard to get up there but my recovery time is a lot better now. The hill had bits of ice and snow and mud, although it was still able to be done without spikes. In fact we did this hike with Jenna, a girl who was couchsurfing with us, and she was able to do it with runners and not fall once, unlike Kat and myself.
Kat: Following Koreans is an easy way to hike. I mean there’s stacks of them in fluoro outfits wandering over hills on any weekend. Winter or summer, you’re bound to see the neon clad groups of ajosshis hiking up a hill. So we just followed the Koreans up the mountain ridge. In the shade the ice still lingered, and I managed to stack it three times. I wish I’d taken my shoe spikes.
There’s always a small risk hiking in another country that you’re not going to understand the directions. Even with my ability to read hangul (Korean letters), we managed to get lost. The path to Geumjeong Fortress is not well-marked, nor are there any maps along the way.
I realized several hours later that the word “Bong” in Korean doesn’t mean a smoking device for illegal substances, but “gate”. And we needed to go to the Bong, not towards Yangsan.
Let’s just say I’ll never forget that word again.
Justin: We missed the right path. So we headed across a ridge not really knowing if this was a clear trail. There were Koreans coming in the opposite direction so we presumed we were still on course.
Kat: We came to an intersection towards the end of the ridge. We were forced to choose between 3km to Yangsan or 0.5km down the right hand side of the mountain. The path to Yangsan was covered in snow and we didn’t have our shoe spikes, so we chose the steep path down the mountain. While there was some ice, it was manageable. We followed the path down to a hidden shrine on the side of the mountain, where Buddhist sculptures sat next to a sheltered refrigerator. Go figure.
From there we lost the path. Although signs of human life abounded (broken bottles of soju and beer), we couldn’t find where the path restarted. We were left to bush bash down the side of the mountain on steep unstable terrain.
After about 20 minutes we spotted power lines going down the mountain. I felt very Bear Grylls, when we decided to head for the power lines. Because power lines need a clear path to be put up, don’t they? But to get to the power lines we needed to break our way through a thicket of thorny vines. How Indiana Jones. Unfortunately I left my machete at home.
Justin: Coming down this side of the mountain had a bit of everything in it. Broken glass from Die Hard, vegetation and vines from Platoon and the general uncertainty of the Blair Witch Project, without the witches! A machete would have been really handy in this instance, although waking around with a machete afterwards around the freeway and petrol station would have been a little strange to say the least.
Kat: Although probably not that strange in Korea.
Justin: Which brings us to the bizarre final chapter. We finished the walk at a temple, loitered around for a bit and then walked down a path leading toward a busy highway. When we got to the highway the path just followed the road forever with no local town in sight. We spotted a service station across the highway, but we needed to go through a slimy underpass to get to the other side. Once that was done we had to walk on the highway shoulder – a brave exercise seeing how crazy Korean drivers are – to the service station. We were in the middle of nowhere and needed a taxi. After some conversation with the staff, an elegantly dressed manager phoned a taxi company and then, this is the best bit, lead us through a junkyard and into the bush to merrily walk down a garden path and forest that led to a little road with a cab parked and waiting for us. This was magical and random, this was Korea at its best. We got a cab back to Nopo and eventually made it back to Eonyang. What an adventure – we are never going to forget this one!
Till next time dear readers!