Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gangwondo Chuseok Part Two: Odaesan National Park

Waking up after the wash-out in Wonju, we decided to take a rest day to let our kit dry, and use it to travel to within easier striking distance of Odaesan National Park. Hiking fifteen or so miles in the pouring rain meant we deserved it, we reasoned.

We had been tired and whiskified enough to have had an early night and had woken up fairly early. Breakfast came from Kripsy Kreme, a pretty rare treat if you live in Mokpo, and just across the street. Thankfully most of our gear had dried during the night, except our boots. We packed up and headed to the bus station to get on a bus to the town nearest Odaesan. Catching the bus at ten o'clock-ish, we sauntered through the lesser roads of Gangwondo and arrived in Jinbu, a sleepy, one street town, and the gateway to the park.

We walked around what little there was of the town in the increasingly chilly weather and plumped for the 알프스 (Alps) motel, the least shady-looking lodgings available. It was cheap, which was good as it was also basic and a bit grubby. We stocked up on ramyeon and other snacks at the local Lotte-Super, as we didn't know what would be open later on: nothing much was around lunch time. We managed to find one open restaurant - admittedly this was on the middle day of Chuseok - which charged us a small fortune for some rice and mountain vegetable side-dishes. Still, it filled us up, and the quality of the food, in particular the refreshingly non-fishy kimchi, wasn't bad at all.

There was nothing else to do except go back to motel room, read, wash and watch bad TV. We did this until we had to start drinking to stave off the boredom, right around the time we started watching action movies. I went out to buy some more beer at around 8 o' clock, and Jinbu had come alive. The local Family Mart was heaving, various fried chicken joints had opened their doors and numerous drunks staggered around the street, singing and laughing. In fact, after having been a somnolent one-street-town during the day, the festivities obviously caught up with some people. Our motel seemed to become a sort-of Korean flophouse of noisy, inexpertly shagging drunks, while the streets outside seemed to have degenerated into a pseudo-Bacchanalian riot of soju and greasy food. Woken up several times during the night, we were almost curious enough to go and have a look.

When six-thirty rolled around we made coffee and oatmeal, somewhat tragically, on the camping stove in our room. The problem with Odaesan is that unlike other Korean national parks, it doesn't open early enough. In fact it doesn't open until nine o' clock, which was a bit inconvenient for us, as we had to get to Sokcho later in the day. The first bus that will take you to the trailhead was at eight-thirty. We checked out of our motel, got on it and 45 minutes later we were stashing our larger bags with a kindly lady, who refused any money for doing so, at the shop by trailhead's bus stop. This is the kind of thing I really enjoy about Korea. Back home, if there were actually somebody to ask to keep your bags, too often the response would be something along the lines of (sharp intake of breath) 'Well, I can't be responsible for your belongings, I don't know how safe they'll be...', or something equally disobliging. So often I have benefited form the kindness of strangers while here, in ways that are sadly almost inconceivable back in the UK.

Not having enough time to do a whole day's hiking we chose a course a little shorter than this one. I'll describe where we hiked but bear with me, it's not as easy as it sounds. Looking at the map linked above, the trailhead is where the road (in purple) intersects with the red trail line, north (or above) Odae Mountain Villa. We followed the red line clockwise up to Birobong, then over to Sangwangbong. Where the red line hits the purple again, instead of continuing up to Durobong, we just continued down the access road, back to where we started. The hike took us about four hours.
Japanese Maple becoming autumnal

It was a shame that we didn't have more time, as Odaesan, I thought, was a particularly attractive place, and the weather was much more agreeable than the day we spent on Chiaksan. I could understand why it's sometimes called the Korean Alps. The trail up to Birobong (yes, another one) is steep and fairly hard work, but seeing as the trailhead is at about 900m a.s.l., it's only about 650m of climbing. The poster in the park optimistically declares that, at my weight, I burnt 2,000 calories on the climb. I'm  unconvinced. It took just over an hour for me, which means I was working harder than if I was chopping wood and playing tennis at the same time. It was also very pretty and quiet, as we'd overtaken almost all the hikers who had started before us. The higher we got, the more evidence there was that a change in the seasons was on the way. Leaves were beginning to turn, and although I'm pretty certain John Keats didn't walk in Korea, his 'season of mists a mellow fruitfulness' was evident on the slopes, peaks and ridge of this part of Odaesan. The forests here seemed older than most I've seen in Korea and the flora was different from what we get down south, their creaking agedness emphasized by the film of mist that ran through them, obfuscating most of the views at higher elevations. The sun was evident once we started to descend, however. The walk down the
View from Birobong
access road back to the bus stop wasn't unattractive, but was a little boring.

We got back to the start point, picked up our gear, ate ramyeon (again) and waited for the bus to take us back to Jinbu. We hustled to get on the next available bus to Gangneung, sleeping a little, before transferring through the manic bus terminal and getting the first bus we could to Sokcho.

Given that walking the entire ridge - probably a two day affair - is possible in Odaesan, I'd like to go back some time. The problem, as always, is the logistics of getting to the place and having enough time to do what I want to before having to leave. It may well end up being another place I add to the list of mountains to hike once I've finished my contract, which is okay, but I wonder how long this list will have become by the end of next April.

Flowers on the access road back to the bus stop

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