Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gyeryongsan National Park, some Drama in Daejeon

School has been fairly uneventful this week. All the kids appeared tired and broken after their exams, so I gave them the task of making group presentations about a country of their own creation. They had this week's lesson and 20 minutes next week to complete it. I told them I expected to see flags designed, laws drawn up, ideas on how their new societies will work, a national anthem and anything else they could tell me. The results, which I will post about next week, have guaranteed hilarity written all over them already. I promised, perhaps rashly, that winning groups would be bought some snacks from the school shop.

Aside from a fairly pedestrian week at school, there is, of course, the seemingly inevitable weekend hiking trip to report. We left on Friday afternoon again to get the two-and-a-half hour drive to Gyeryongsan National Park out of the way, and allow us some camping before hiking the next day. The weather forecast for Saturday wasn't great, but we were undeterred, and we arrived at the campsite in good time at about quarter to eight in the evening. Unfortunately, the campsite was run by one of those meddlesome, petty old fools who believe they are fountains of knowledge and fantastically helpful, when in fact their incompetence is only matched by the by the doggedness of their delusion and their cretinous belligerence. Usually, my tactic when faced with the demonstrably idiotic is the by now well-worn S.N.I.P. (smile, nod, ignore, proceed), however this is more difficult when someone wants to charge you money to pitch your tent on a concrete slab, or within five yards of the site's only toilet block. Learning more Korean is of course good in itself, and here it would have had great utility. However, and perhaps fortunately, I wasn't able to tell him how annoyed I was when after offering us a decent pitch, he then gave it to a couple who arrived after we did (there are no reservations at national park campsites). They flounced up to him with their vile little dog - it looked like a rat whose fur had been shaved off so they could buy it a jumper; and like them it barked like it was on an amphetamines-rich diet - and took our site because, from what I could tell, they could piss and moan in Korean far better than I can.

Finally we got a place behind two cars on some gravel, next to two families (complete with wailing kids), who rather sweetly asked me if I needed help putting our tent up. I declined. It was getting towards nine o' clock by this point, we were both hungry and tired, so I hurriedly setup up the tent and lit the barbecue. Sam sorted out the bedding, and then moved the car under the superfluous supervision of the aforementioned monkey who had somehow gained charge of this circus. It's understandable that those families offered help though. When camping, Koreans, whether as a family or not, I have noticed without fail, bring tents with more space than most apartments here; TVs, entire kitchens, generators, fridges, enough food to survive a drought or a poor harvest or both; endless amounts of fabric and poles to use as windbreaks or privacy screens, benches, cots, chairs, stools, hammocks, stoves, barbecues etc., etc. On one occasion I actually saw a kitchen sink, though I wasn't surprised. Bear in mind this is for a weekend. The expense they go to must be extraordinary. I can understand it in some respects though. If I lived in a tiny office-tel with my family I would be tempted to take up as much room as was humanly possible when I went camping, spreading my self out and enjoying the luxury of, as well as my luxuries in, the great outdoors. Don't think I'll ever see the point of bringing a TV camping though, although Koreans are hardly unique in doing this.

By the time we had shoveled some food down our throats and drank a couple of beers it was nearly half past eleven and time for bed. The alarm was set for quarter past five the next morning so turning in was a necessity.

Duly awoken before first light, we set about clearing our stuff up and having a hasty breakfast. Much to our irritation, the moron who ran place was also an early-riser and had decided that the best bet for his morning's entertainment would be to stare at us fixedly and offer occasional, puerile criticism. Our car was an inch out of alignment with the other cars in the lot, he helpfully let us know, momentarily breaking his 'I'm gonna unremittingly watch you eat that boiled egg' stare. As we left he insisted it was impossible to go to the parking lot nearer the trailhead and we would have to leave the car at the campsite. We just drove off and found out about five minutes later that this was a load of crap, as we parked the car in an empty, but very open lot.

As we started out at seven in the morning the trail was empty and quiet as we walked towards Donghaksa, the monks evidently having finished their morning prayers. I'll describe our route using this map. First of all, ignore the "you are here" bit. Find "Donghaksa Parking Lot". This is where we started. We walked straight in a westerly direction along a small road, paved all the way to Donghaksa (about a twenty minute walk), where it becomes a bit more trail-like.
On the way to Donghaksa

After ascending for about fifteen-twenty minutes we came to Eunseon waterfall, which for whatever reason was little more than a trickle.

The was a bit of an anticlimax because the water shambled down a quite large cliff-face. My guess would be that during monsoon season this is one of South Korea's more impressive waterfalls. Not in October though. After the falls we continued climbing, steeply, in places for about another twenty-five minutes before coming to the pass that led to either Gwanuembong or Yeoncheonbong. Near the pass there were some good views that were partially obscured by low, scudding cloud that looked pretty ominous to us.
The trickle of a "waterfall"
View on the way to the top

We figured however that we were early enough to climb to the further peak (Yeoncheonbong) and then go back to climb Gwaneumbong. The side trip took us about three quarters of an hour.
View from Yeoncheonbong

After summiting Gwaneumbong we headed towards Sambulbong which was a nice ridge walk, a bit blustery, and it was evident that the park was beginning to fill up with visitors. It took us about an hour, going at a pretty sedentary pace to get to the peak. People were coming from everywhere in groups of roughly forty or so, so we decided to push on.
The autumn colours that draw all the folks to the parks

Originally, we had planned a much longer hike, but by the time we got to Nammaetap Pagoda (the 'you are here' bit on the map) we were becoming discouraged by the increasing congestion we were encountering.

We decide to push on to see if we could walk in the direction of Janggunbong, but by the time we had managed to pass a group of roughly sixty middle schoolers on a single-track path our frustration got the better of us and we turned back to the Pagoda, to take the path back down to the Sejinjeong junction. We were back at the car before midday.

Perhaps it was the weather, or the guy at the campsite, or the overcrowding, or the fact that I'm writing retrospectively about what was a more difficult weekend than usual, but Gyeryongsan was not as enjoyable as other national parks we had visited. Apart from anything else, while the scenery is certainly pretty, it lacks any of the spectacle or sense of the epic and unexpected others NPs I've been to have. It's small and hiking possibilities are limited. It is easily the most commercialized of all the parks I have visited, with neon miles of restaurants, minbak, motels etc running from outer Daejeon to its car parks. It wasn't really bad, just disappointing and unsatisfactory.

Our early exit from the trail, however, gave us ample time, we thought, to do the other thing we had come to the area for: some shopping at Costco in Daejeon. We headed for the city, and after a mere hour of driving round and round we found the store. It being Saturday afternoon it was only marginally more crowded than the mountain, which doesn't help me have a relaxed shopping trip. By the time we were ready to leave, at around four, we'd had enough and wanted to go home.

We got about half a mile out of the store before the car died. The transmission was shot, and neither of us could get it into any gear. We couldn't even get it into neutral to push it to the edge of the four lane road we were now stranded in. Luckily a kindly shop owner came and called the insurance company for us, explaining where we were. I spent the next three quarters of an hour waiting for them using my hat to direct the speeding, oncoming traffic around our marooned vehicle. Predictably for Korean rozzers, two drove past and apart from asking me 'what?' in Korean did nothing.

When the tow truck came we managed to call a Korean friend to help with the interpreting. We found out, at the garage he took us to, what we already knew: the transmission was finished, essentially a new gearbox was required. The mechanic hummed and hawed and said he couldn't fix it. The friendly tow truck driver arranged for us to get another, different, tow to a different mechanic. This guy introduced himself as the 'transmission master' and immediately inspired confidence in us. He explained that he would sort it out, replacing the transmission in three hours, for KRW500,000. It sounds a lot, but it's almost exactly what you would pay in the UK or the States. More amazingly, he actually had it done it two hours after starting at half past six on a Saturday night. This would never, ever happen back home, even if you could find a mechanic who was open on a Saturday night. Your car would be in the shop for days, not hours.

We were so grateful to be able to nurse the car back down the peninsula to Mokpo that we bought the guys who had worked on the car (there were four of them) a bottle of soju each, as a small gesture of thanks. They seemed chuffed. The head guy also told us what else need doing with the car, and wrote it down as well as giving us his card so that we could him when we were with a mechanic down south.

After getting back to the 'po at 11.30pm we got uproariously drunk: it seemed the only appropriate thing to do.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No Choice but Multiple Choice and Naejangsan

Multiple choice tests are: (circle the correct answer)

(a) Almost entirely meaningless
(b) Superficial and vacuous
(c) Merely an administrative exercise
(d) Ineffective for determining academic ability
(e) All of the above

*        *        *

After the final "self-study" day on Monday, the exams proper began. The new brass at my school - a fresh principal and vice principal arrived about a month ago - have decreed that I will invigilate the exams along with the Korean teachers. This is fine, but a bit boring. It did give me a bit of insight into what goes on in these tests, however.

Every test I supervised (with a Korean teacher), was multiple choice, including the almost entirely futile exercises in vocabulary learning and grammatical nuance that constitute English assessments. Even the maths test was multiple choice, which to me seems incredibly daft. I might be wrong - maths was never my strongest subject - but equations always struck me as being similar to recipes. If you follow the recipe, putting all the ingredients in in the right order you get, for example, a cake. If you leave something out the result isn't going to be correct; you either bake a cake or you don't. Doesn't the same apply to mathematics? If you can work out the answer, you can work it out: I don't see the use in offering students the chance to guess.

Multiple choice tests abound in Korean education, and considerable, often life-changing weight is placed upon them, most obviously for entrance to higher education, but also all the hurdles prior to it. I once had a teacher, a somewhat loopy science teacher as it happens, who told us that if we didn't get five out of twenty-five on a multiple choice test where questions had five possible answers, we were statistically more stupid than a chimp who'd been taught to hold a pen and tick boxes. While I can't vouch for the veracity of his assertion, I agree with its sentiment. Being able to get full marks in an exam not merely by guess-work, but through blind luck, though improbable, is entirely possible. This ridicules students' application, perseverance and ability. It's insulting to the intelligence of the kids who, if they were given the opportunity, might be encouraged to apply the knowledge they are obliged to acquire to a situation more meaningful than checking a box.

While I was not hot-housed in private academies during my school-days, I never slept, nor saw anyone sleeping during an exam. In one test I was in on, all bar three students were asleep with fifteen minutes to go (each test lasted no more than fifty minutes), and I'm pretty sure it wasn't because they found the questions staggeringly easy. This was one of the two more disquieting things I saw while invigilating. The other was that in every exam I attended a teacher came in and either clarified or corrected the questions they had written for the students. It could have been coincidental that it happened in the six tests I was involved with. I hope so, otherwise it reflects poorly on the overworked teachers who are seemingly struggling to make multiple choice questions. I don't know why this would be so. Lack of attention to detail, perhaps, or lack of time, or more likely, I feel, is the opinion I've heard expressed by some Koreans that the high-school syllabus is too difficult for about half of the kids attempting to study it (and therefore at least tricky for some teachers as well).

Anyway, after the exams finished at lunchtime on Friday, final year students carried on with lessons, something I'm sure they relished less than usual. I'm also pretty sure most of them will have spent the time if not sleeping, then at least not really studying. The rest of the students did fitness tests, which while seeming pretty dismal was at least a rest from the dreaded studying for them, though after nearly a week of exams, why they couldn't have had the afternoon off is beyond me.

*        *        *

So after waiting around not doing very much for most of Friday afternoon Sam picked me up in the jeep and we headed up the Seohaean expressway towards Jeong-eup and nearby Naejangsan National Park. It took us about two hours from Mokpo, including a trip to a supermarket in Jeong-eup.

We found the campsite fairly easily, only driving past it once in the dark, and parked the car nearby. The rain thankfully just stopped long enough for us to get the tent up and sleeping arrangements made, the barbecue blazing and dinner on.
Fire at camp

The rain came down haltingly as soon as dinner was cooked and we wanted to eat. We just decided to sit through it and it didn't last too long: about the time it took us to throw the food down our throats. We baked potatoes in the fire, and grilled bean burgers and chicken, all of which were pretty good. We had some spuds left over, so I offered them to the Korean family camped at the other end of the site. About ten minutes after taking them, the father and son returned with a carrier bag containing scallops and clams. Exacerbated by the fact that only one of us would eat them - me - it didn't really feel like a fair exchange. I accepted them anyway and grilled them all up in the shell, covering the fire with some foil. They were, inevitably, delicious. Unlike the shellfish, the bottle of Johnny Walker we had brought along went down pretty well with both of us. In fact, it might have been the whisky, but it was surprisingly warm that night. Warm enough for me to wake up half eaten alive by mosquitoes the next morning.

The next morning was cool, with mist covering the mountains that surrounded our campsite.
Mist in the morning

We hadn't seen it, driving in during the night, the location was okay, aside from being sandwiched between two roads. Breakfast was leisurely to say the least, our heads woolly from the whisky.
View up into the park from the entrance walkway

So slow were we that we didn't bother packing the gear back into the car and headed straight for the trailhead, mistakenly walking the 2km through the park's entrance to it. This is a pretty walk meandering through planted rows of Japanese maples, one that will be choked with semi-drunk ajeossis and bimbling families enjoying what must be a spectacular leaf-changing diplay.  

The weather was gorgeous after the cool morning and even though we didn't get going on the trail until 9.30 it didn't seem to busy just yet, though I was a bit disappointed to have missed the early morning light. We decided to walk the ridge course that takes in eight of Naejangsan's peaks, the first of which, Seoraebong, got us sweating the residual alcohol out of ourselves. As we worked our way around to Bulchulbong the paths got busier, presumably a result of the cable car that takes people fairly close to the ridge. In fact the trail was approaching riotousness by the time reached Kkachibong, after having had our lunch, at about 12 at the summit of Manghaebong. Half-cut, middle-aged Korean men bellowing at each other from peak to peak, sweaty muppets playing K-pop loudly through the tinny sounding speakers on their mobile phones, and ubiquitous litter made this section of the trail less than ideal. It was a shame: this is one of my favourite day-hikes that I've done while here, and it was a bit of an effort not to let these morons ruin it. After all, I can stay in Mokpo if I want to hear drunks shouting at each other, rubbish 'music' blaring, and see garbage everywhere. That's what I come to mountains to avoid. Hiking's popularity in Korea, I suppose, means that a larger fraction of idiots end up doing it as well as the more genteel folk, and it is peak season now, meaning even more of them. Serves me right for going to one of the most popular National Parks I guess.
View from between Bulchulbong and Manghaebong

So we hurried on through to Sinseonbong, the highest peak in the park. None of the peaks are above 800m asl  - Sinseonbong is 763m asl - but that doesn't really detract form the enjoyment of what is a beautiful walk (most of the time), and a good work out. The ridge, inevitably, has its shares of ups and down, though at times its very clear that you are right on top of a 'true' ridge, with long drops just metres either side of you. The scenery had been spectacular all day and the weather was still great as we approached Janggunbong, the final peak. Just before arriving at the top we had a great view across the park.
Leaves beginning to change colour

A section of 'true' ridge
The walk around the ridge took us about six hours, including half an hour to lunch. Walking to and from where we parked the car took about another three-quarters of an hour. After we had finished and amused ourselves watching a biker convention going on in one of the car parks, we packed up all the camping gear back into the car and Sam drove us home. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Exam season and Wolchulsan re-booted

After getting back to school on the Monday, I taught all of two classes. I did a fairly standard exercise on what they did during Chuseok, with strategies for starting and finishing conversations politely and informally. After which, I was, and I love this, asked, as if the term 'rhetorical question' had never been coined, if I would 'allow' the students time to revise for their exams during my scheduled class time. The mid-term exams started on the following Tuesday which meant a whole week of turning up to the students' home-rooms and telling them to be quiet and do some work. Credit where credit is due as well; by and large that is exactly what they do. For most of them, a parentally-administered ass-whupping will swiftly follow exam results deemed below expectations. Now that's extrinsic motivation.

I'm also intrigued by the term the Korean English teachers at my school use for this, 'self-study.' Is it an American thing, I wonder? Isn't the word 'self' redundant? To me it suggests perhaps some sort of introspective analysis, a process the average Korean psyche is far from overburdened with, and something the kids at school are not really encouraged to do. As a consequence, it's gently hilarious to me, as if this revision (hardly a better word itself) is a kind of preamble to self-evaluation. It actually leads to the exact opposite, evaluation by others, via the indisputably compelling medium of multiple choice tests.

I don't want to carp on about the fatuousness of equating academic excellence with multiple test scores here - I'll save that for next week - but I did feel sorry for the diligent students who slavishly pored over their books during my class time. I also felt sorry for the disenfranchised souls who had already, at the very least on a subconscious level, opted out of the education system and just wanted to sleep, as well as those who spend so much of their putative leisure time studying, that they too appear narcoleptic during school hours. I really admire the resilience and determination, in some respects, of most the kids at my school. Their education system, to my limited view, seems a joyless procession of rote learning, tests and relentless, stifling, educational hot-housing. The kids' knowledge resembles hothouse blooms, too: often forced, twisted and abject. While some blossom spectacularly, most are deformed or stunted. My kids memorize trigonometry graphs, but some labour under the misconception that a fan in a room with all windows and doors closed will likely kill you (the Korean urban myth of fan death is worth chuckling about: read about it on Wikipedia). 

While to some degree some kids back home suffer this as well, it's neither as intense, nor as monotonous. The cookie-cutter-style personalities of a lot of the kids here is both a product of and reinforced by a system that desires, requires and rewards automatons, rather than more rounded learners. I was interested to read a while back that many of the higher-ranked universities in Korea now administer their own exams for prospective students, so fed up are they with a system that discourages talented youngsters to think creatively, or even to think of something like the English language as an organic entity without immutable rules. This is encouragingly a step in the right direction at least. I hope it filters down to the broader education system.

Anyway, boring, and worse still, probably clichéed rant over. This weekend some friends, Sam, and I hiked through Wolchulsan National Park again. This time we decided to hike from Cheonhwangbong end of the park to the Dogapsa end, the reverse to how I've done it the two times I've been there before. It was busy, as we didn't really get there early enough, but still a good day.

After writing a lot on hiking after the Chuseok break, I'm taking a break and leaving this as a photo essay.

Precarious-looking suspension bridge on the way the Cheonghwangbong, which is top left, covered in cloud

Baram falls from the suspension bridge

On the way to Cheonghwangbong

Some of Wolchulsan's more noticeably strange rock formations

I made myself unpopular by insisting we took a half hour detour to see this Buddha carved into the rock face

The eulalia fields, just before the trail down to Dogapsa

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gangwondo Chuseok Part Three: Seoraksan

After a fruitless inquiry at a Korean rarity - an actual backpacker hostel, near the city bus station - we were directed by the charming owner to a rather grotty, though at least cheap motel in the centre of town, just off Rodeo Street, Sokcho's primary thoroughfare. It would be easy to mock such a name, especially because there was no indication why it should be called that, but I'll try to resist the temptation. Perhaps there is a totally logical explanation for a small town near the North Korean border having its main street named after a motif of the American west, just that I don't know about it. Then again, as a foreigner in Korea you do become gradually inured against preposterous uses of English, or in this case, Spanglish.

That evening we planned our assault on Seoraksan over some fiercely spicy dalk galbi. After stocking up on more ramyeon, nuts, chocolate, biscuits and oranges we got an early night, after packing the bags. My bag probably weighed about 10kg (our sleeping bags and mats, spare clothes, wet weather gear, cooking equipment, flip-flops, other sundries like a knife, first aid kit etc.), and Sam's probably around 6kg, maybe 7kg with full water, (food, some utensils, her wet weather gear). While I'm aware that splitting gear this way is considered bad backpacking strategy, in Korea it doesn't seem to be as crucial. Civilization is not only always in close proximity, but the way to it is also so well sign-posted, and there's always someone, usually a lot of people, nearby to send for help if it's needed. It would be remarkable bad luck bordering on almost impossible to die in one of Korea's national parks outside of winter.

On the way to Biseondae
We got to the trailhead, just beyond Sinheungsa's enormous bronze Buddha statue, at about half past seven in the morning. It was a gorgeous autumn morning: crisp, with a bright, cloudless blue sky, and near-dazzling sunlight. Perfect weather for hiking. We walked for about 3km to Biseondae cliffs, where the morning light flecked the cracked and besmeared ochre rocks. The views up into inner Seorak were worth hanging around for here, before the more serious business of the ascent began.

Cliffs at Biseondae
The first section of climbing took us, on a steep incline with an excess of stone steps, to the turn off for Geumgang cave, a hole about 150 feet up some metal steps from the main path. We declined to go and see it. The views would be great, but our guess was that they were comparable as you continued up the trail, where there were fewer people and queues. In fact, as we decided to take fewer rest stops than the other, rather heavily-laden people climbing this part of the park, we soon broke away from them and had the mountain peacefully pretty much to ourselves.
View on the climb up to Madeungryeong pass
It took us until about half past eleven to reach Madeungryeong pass, with a few short rest stops. We idled at the pass for a half hour lunch break, enjoying our oranges with butterflies and the still, sunny warmth. 
After lunch we had a some difficulty trying to locate our trail, which appeared to be closed. Originally we had planned to follow this route, but, we were told, the trail to Suryeomdong shelter was closed, inaccessible. This was more than a little worrying, as I didn't want to have dragged the kit up here only to have to go back to a motel that night. Part of the original motivation in going to Suryeomdong was that it was out of the way - along with Yangpok shelter it is unreservable, operating on a first-come-first-served basis - and it also meant a nice easy hike down into the valley of inner Seorak after a morning of climbing. So we weighed up our choices. At the time, neither of us knew which shelters were booking only and which one was a possibility; our Korean ability didn't stretch to finding out either. So, looking at the map by the trail we decided to get across the Gongnyong ridge. The sign said it was 5.1km, so it couldn't take that long, we reasoned. That didn't quite turn out to be the case, and it's worth pointing out here some of the failings of the - for the most part impressive and useful - English website for Korea's national parks.
Gongnyong ridge. Back centre is  Daecheongbong, the tallest peak in the park
First of all, in the map linked above, it calls the course the Gongnyong ridge course, but the red trail line does not actually touch the ridge. Above the red line which goes through Suryeomdong shelter on the map are three more trails, roughly speaking parallel to it. The Gongnyong ridge is the trail second above the red line, the trail which runs between Nahanbong and Huiungak shelter (in reality, Nahanbong is actually on the ridge itself, just after its starting point, but this is less of a problem). Secondly, The website claims that 'it takes 5-6 hours to pass the 5.1km Gongnyong ridge.' Whether this is deliberately patronizing, I don't know; but it does go on to mention that 'it is a very rigorous course with changeable weather and steep paths' and that hikers 'should take thorough precautions as the place is dangerous.' Now, while I don't think that the dramatic tone is necessary, and it could be put down to bad translation, it did not strike me as any more dangerous than other hikes I've done elsewhere in Korea. 
Disappointingly, it never looks as steep in a photo
Some parts are tough, and I was grateful for the ropes or rails they'd provided. It is a very steep and undulating trail of laborious gains and heart-breaking losses. In winter, over ice and snow, it would be very hard work. You wouldn't be able to do it after a few bottles of ale. However, saying that it takes 5-6 hours to walk it is absurd. Although I got stuck into it, going as fast as I could in an effort to search for a bed for the night, it only took me three hours. Sam had it wrapped up half an hour later. We are reasonably fit, and we hike regularly, but we're certainly not competing in Iron-man triathlons. Which brings me to the naive way the park authorities seem to measure distance: I refuse to believe that I have only traveled five kilometres in three hours, while walking as fast as I can, without stopping. Their measurement of distance, I guess, is done 'as the crow flies,' not taking into account the distance you travel going up and down. My guess is that the ridge is probably about eight or maybe even nine kilometres of walking, on precipitous paths. 

Consequently, our walk ended up looking more like this one, though with a slightly different middle and ending. The ending, the next day's hike, would take us from Yangpok shelter to Daecheongbong (대청봉), then descending to Osaek (오색), the path to the right of the one marked in blue on the map. The different middle was due to our attempt to find shelter. After going on ahead, I found out at Huiungak shelter that Yangpok shelter was our best bet for a bed for the night. I waited for Sam at the Gongnyong junction and then ran off down the gorge to see if I could find a bed. The weather had been closing in during our time on the ridge, and neither of us fancied being out in the rain again. 
Oryeon waterfall

In reality though, I was happy enough to travel down to the shelter. The walk through the gorge and past the Oryeon waterfall (오련 폭포) and its aquamarine pools was spectacular, if slightly disheartening knowing that we'd be going back up that way the next day. It didn't rain either. After finding friendly staff at Yangpok shelter at just before four o' clock, and, more importantly, two berths in dorm for the night, we set about eating lots of ramyeon and other carbs. 

By the time we'd eaten, washed up and laid out our bedding it was six o' clock and nearly dark. Most of the other folk using the shelter were getting into bed, so we did as well. We had been lucky: there were maybe six people who got beds after us, and we had a corner pretty much to ourselves.

It was a markedly different experience from the shelter I stayed in on Jirisan, completely lacking any corresponding atmosphere of the carnivalsesque. The dorm was unisex as well, also unlike on Jirisan, and several families were bunking down with their kids in tow, who were mercifully some of the quieter of the peninsula's children. There was of course the orchestral snoring that you find in any dorm, and the almost constant shuffle of somebody going to the bathroom. On the whole though, and probably because we had worn ourselves out, we slept pretty well. 
Yangpok shelter
We woke early the next morning, and I rose to get breakfast underway as soon as it was light at about six. During our oatmeal and coffee it started to spit with rain, then it came more heavily just as we were finishing breakfast under the shelter of a stairwell. Thankfully it seemed to pass after about half an hour. We hastily washed up and packed, wearing wet weather gear as the rain continued to spit, and began our climb out of the gorge.

Sam waiting for me, about to climb back up through the gorge
The climb back up to Huiungak shelter took us about an hour, our bodies a bit weary from the day before, and taking some time to warm up. The path was busy, even though it was still pretty early. When I had got up in the dark at Yangpok, a large group arrived, wearing head-torches and asking me where they could buy food. They seemed surprised that the shelter staff, nor many other people, weren't up yet. 

Huiungak shelter, damp and covered in hanging cloud, was a different story, much more like my experience at Yeonhacheon on Jirisan. People abounded, the air was redolent of kimchi, huge pots of rice and various jjigae were cooking, fish and meat were being fried, from the vast culinary stores that had dragged up the mountain. It was noisy and chaotic, so we stopped only long enough to drink and refill our water and have a quick snack before pressing on, upwards again to Jungcheongbong. 

Clouds were rolling over the trail constantly at this point, though the rain and damp that we had started the day with had largely gone. The air was chillier as we climbed higher, but the paths remained busy - it was a Saturday, I suppose - wherever we were. It was a nice surprise to see all age groups represented on the mountain: groups of teenage boys jostled with folks who would soon be drawing their pensions on the narrow paths.  
View on the way up to Jungcheongbong
The clouds looked increasingly spectacular as we made our way past Jungcheongbong (중청봉) and on to the shelter that shares its name. We had taken our time this morning arriving here at about eleven, we had a cuppa-soup and loitered while the wind whipped around us. 

There was very little else to do apart from the short walk to Daecehongbong, at 1,708m asl the highest pint not only in the park, but also in the whole Taebaek mountain range. Unsurprisingly, the summit was crowded and blustery, so we took a few photos and started the descent towards Osaek. 

Going down took about two hours, the slamming downhill working our knees and ankles pretty hard. The trail was pretty and the sun was out, making it a nice way to finish. We got to the exit and walked down to the touristy village of motels and restaurants and shops selling tat. We were there at about two-thirty. 

After toying with the idea of getting a bus we splurged on a taxi, with the faint idea that we could get a bus to Seoul and the return to Mokpo that day. By the time we'd got back to Sokcho, thirty thousand won poorer form the ride, we decided to stay the night and head off early the next morning. It turned out to be a good decision. The six-and-a-half hour journey the length of South Korea would have been miserable had we done it that day.