Caitlin and I took a weekend trip to Jirisan National Park. The park is absolutely gorgeous, you could spend an entire week there trekking up mountain and through valleys. We did not have the leisure to do the longest walk in the park (65km from western to eastern end) but we did a fair amount of hiking. We covered about 8-9 hours of wilderness hiking in total by the end of the weekend.
We started at Hwaesom-sa temple, worked our way up to Nogodan Peak where we stayed for the night. The following day we took a valley trail down the mountain and ended our day in the little riverside village of Banseon.
Before embarking on the mountain, we were bombarded by a hordette of snacking Korean children at least 20 deep. They spotted us entering the park and were quick to try their "hellos" on us. As soon as one child discovered that we really did speak English and that we really were not form Korea, it wasn't long before we became the new attraction for the entire field trip.
It was their lunchtime so if you can imagine being surrounded by a group of kids all snacking on big, dirty bags of chips and bugles while sucking down pints of sugary red juices you can't help but feel like a sideshow to them. We fielded all types of questions from their little-kid, crumb-encrusted mouths. "Where are you from? Who is your favorite baseball player? Do you like Kimchi? Are you married? Do you like bananas? Is your hair real? " and others...
(there are oranges in my backpack)
Little Kid: "Do you like oranges?"
Me: "Are you going through my backpack?"
Little Kid: (motions away from backpack)
One little girl made Caitlin move her cell phone off of the bench to make room enough to sit next to her. We were being inspected, analyzed by their little Korean minds and their grubby little cheetoh fingers. They left us with the premonition, "you will see a bear today!"
...and up we went.
The mountain was foggy the entire weekend so we weren't fortunate enough to take in the full vistas of Jirisan but we were still gifted with beautiful virgin forests, peculiar natural oddities, and cascading rivers. The variety of trails and maturity of wilderness in this area has made it one of my favorite hiking spots in South Korea.
Upon arrival at Nogodan mountain hut after a somewhat empty hike up we were surprised to see that there were crowds of people at the top that had driven to the peak to spend the night with their families. A wonderful location indeed to do so, but we felt they had cheated the grueling demands of the mountain. Not only that, but we were late to claim a room for the night and didn't have a plan B.
On top of the mountain at 6pm with minimal food and no place to sleep: "So, Mr. Mountain Man Sir, what happens if no room opens up - where can we go?" He replies in broken Konglish, "You...uh...you, uh, must...go down." Ok? We ended up waiting for an hour and a half and a couple slots opened up for us to stay the night, thankfully.
The mountain hut is an interesting experience. There are basically two bunked up platforms, the lower one for men and the upper for women. Visitors sleep side by side beneath the number that you are designated. I was given number "73."
I slept next to an elderly Korean man whom I'd repeatedly wake up with his hand on my face. On the other side, a bulbous rolly-polly whom wreaked of Korean plum wine and couldn't keep his farts to himself. Not to add that you wake up delirious from the piping heat...a wonderful place to sleep. Seriously though, at W7,000 a night - you cannot find a cheaper sleep in Korea.
From Nogodan Peak hiking down the valley the next day was wonderful. The trail down Baemsagol Valley runs almost entirely alongside a cascading river. There are so many places to stop and eat lunch on the middle of a warm, flat rock surrounding yourself with gushing whitewater. This 5 hour hike allows plenty of time to make friends with the teams of Korean hikers. One group of fellow hikers shared with us their lunch of freshly-sliced squid, totori (acorn tofu), sticky bean rice, fish salad, and various types of Kimchi. We left them with a bag of trail mix as thanks.
"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir
If you are planning a trip to Jirisan yourself from Gwangju the bus runs to Gurye about every 30-40 minutes from U-Station, costs about W7,000, and takes 1.5 hours. From Gurye we took a 20 minute shuttle to Hwaeom-sa temple for W1,000. We entered the park from the Southwestern corner of the park at Hwaeom-Sa Temple.
From there, the hike to Nogodan Peak takes about 3.5 hours. If you are planning on staying in one of the Jirisan mountain huts be sure to have a reservation in advance, bring sleeping gear, and any food or cooking equipment you might want. Most information says they provide cooking equipment, but they don't. We had to ask the hut staff to boil us some water just so we could cook noodles. You can rent warm blankets for a chun each, which I recommend - they are very warm. The rooms are also pumped full of heat and the number of sleeping bodies crowded together can make for a sweaty night.
You can hike north through the park and come out the other side at Banseon, where you can catch a shuttle bus to Namwon (about an hour ride, W6,000). From there you can catch a bus back to U-Station. Here is a map of Jirisan:
Trail map of Jirisan National Park. Click on it for a larger view.
More Jirisan Pictures