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1915 Meters

While living in California, I became taken with all things outdoors. Since being in Korea, my love for hiking has been kicked into full gear. If I could spend every single day outdoors tackling mountains, I would do so in a heartbeat.

You may remember I took on Seoraksan in October, a trek I was in no way prepared for. However, as I had been hiking much more frequently (and not eating nearly as much pizza), I was ready for a new challenge.

The three most important mountains in Korea are Seoraksan in the northeast, Hallasan on the island of Jeju south of the mainland, and Jirisan, also south. I knew traveling down to Hallasan was going to be a bit out of reach for a weekend trip, but Jirisan sounded absolutely perfect.

On Friday night, I headed to the bus stop at 11pm, with a backpack full of kimpab, to meet Seoul Hiking Group to take a 4 hour bus ride to the base of the mountain. Surreal, right? Leaving a megacity at 11pm and beginning an epic hike at 3:30am? This was also the first trip I had taken in Korea without knowing anyone, so I particularly nervous.

We arrived at the mountain shortly after 4am, jumped off the bus and, just like that, we were off. Quick as that. The sky was totally clear and the temperature perfect, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. I anticipated a terrifyingly ascent akin to that of Seoraksan, but was pleasantly surprised to find that that was not the case. Parts of the ascent were rolling hills, some stairs and, of course, some torrentially steep climbs. However, it was nothing but wonderful.

After 2.5 hours of trekking, myself and two great gentlemen reached Cheonhwangbong, the highest peak on the Korean Penninsula. At 1915 meters, all you see in every direction is mountain after mountain after mountain.

I perched at the peak, ate a breakfast of tuna kimbap and was 100% in heaven. Not a cloud in sky, great company and an unbeatable view.  Sitting at the peak, taking in what you conquered, is the best feeling in the world.

Not only were we lucky with the weather, but due to Children’s Day, the mountain was shockingly, not crowded. On any other not-a-cloud-in-the-sky-day-in-spring, it would have been packed.

After 30 minutes at the peak, myself and three others continued on to complete our 16 kilometer hike. The descent took us through a beautiful valley, by the way of easily traversing across ridges. Apart from one miserable hour where the descent was both frighteningly steep and comprised of loose rock, it was wonderful.

With only a few kilometers to go, we popped off our shoes and sat on the stream flowing down the mountain. The water was magically clear and icy cold, perfect for our pounding feet and legs that had been abused by the mountain. I also dunked my head in the water to appease my intense desire to jump full-body into the water (which is illegal to do at National Parks, I was told).

The people I hiked with were amazing and my fears of traveling alone, at least in Korea, have been silenced. I spent 11 hours tramping around a mountain with strangers- and it couldn’t have been better.

My favorite park about hiking isn’t physical challenge, it’s not even the views, it’s the time you spend, perched on the edge of a mountain peak, or laying on the side of a stream, enjoying the out-of-this-world, magnificently beautiful nature around you. You’re no longer concerned about checking your google reader, paying your students loans- nothing. You are completely at peace.

I can’t wait for more.

Sidenote: I would highly recommend blowing up the panoramic photos!

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