T-shirt clinging rather disgustingly to my back and my water container bone dry, we finally made to the peak. We had been hiking for over six hours, and after getting completely lost once or twice we finally broke through the overhanging trees and were welcomed by the prominent blue sky that had stretched its way as far as the eyes could see.
With a long weekend in the offing and the need to get out of the city, a plan was needed to cleanout the lungs and breeze away the cobwebs. Korea is such a compact little country that there is always an array of places you can dart off to in a flash. With a little bit of effort you can find yourself lost in awe at some of the rustic scenery this little country has to offer. However, with the population as it is you will often find that a number of other people will have the same idea too, so we decided to try to find our own little bit of solace amongst one of the many National Parks. There are roughly 15 parks in South Korea, not including the various protected areas on the islands south of the country.
Jirisan National Park is roughly three hours from Busan. It doesn’t take that much effort to get there; it’s a simple two-journey bus ride from Busan’s Sasang station.
Going at the height of Cheosuk, we had to bear in mind that the buses were going to be packed, but in retrospect they were no more chaotic than a usual Friday evening. From Busan it’s a two and a half hour bus ride to Hadong and then another 30 minutes on to Ssanggyesa. The tickets were nicely priced at 10,000won for Busan to Hadong and another 2,500won from Hadong to Ssanggyesa – the parks main entrance. There are other routes you can get on in order to brace the park; Sasang to Jungsan-ri is an easy one-journey route and this puts you right at the foothills of Cheonwangbong (Korea’s second highest mountain, standing at 1915m, behind the ‘shoot-to-kill’ baekdu mountain in the North).
Hopping off the bus at Ssangyesa, you can pick up a few bare essentials such as Ramyun and chocolate digestives as well as a few bottles of beer, though it is also a good idea to bring the basics for camping, as you be up shit creek if you forget your sleeping bag because it does get rather chilly come nighttime. If camping isn’t really your thing then there are several cheap motels in the town and they always have a few rooms going free. It is also worth mentioning that when you are hiking the trails there are several overnight shelters where you can pitch a tent, have access to clean drinking water with areas to cook, as well as being able to use tolerable toilets, but please don’t forget your paper; Korean flora has a few spiky edges and can draw blood if used incorrectly!
Korea being Korea there are always plenty of signposts along most of the common routes and fortunately they were all in English too, but it is still advisable to get a map (2000w) and these can be picked up at the entrance of Ssanggyesa Temple, plus you can grab one from inside Hadong bus station.
The temple is located about 0.5km from the bus stop and it’s signposted all the way. This temple is one of the most popular temples in Jirisan Park and the best time to visit would be during spring when all the flowers begin to bloom. The temple itself was built in AD722 and the level of intricacy in the design is superlative.
Once you have started your hike you will begin to see the benefits good pair of boots. The paths are steep in every-which-way and the rocks littered throughout could twist your ankle without a second thought. Along the route you will start to see some incredibly long, but thin-legged spiders that will dart across your path. It takes you a few moments to adjust and realize they are harmless, but you should be forewarned.
About 2.2km up the path there is a campsite on your left where you can pitch your tent and help yourself to fresh water, also there is a little cabin alongside the ground, which is occupied by a monk who has a predilection for Elvis.
The next morning we awoke to a frozen tent and the most spectacular morning sky.
We continued our ascent and after 6km of hiking we broke through the trees and gazed in wonder at the mountains far off in the distance. There was no wind, no sound, nothing… apart from my girlfriend chomping on a juicy apple – essential!
Story by David Holt