Most people embrace the arrival of crisp, cool fall air. They are relieved that beads of sweat no longer form along their upper lips immediately upon stepping outside the comfort of their home. They are thankful to bid adieu to humidity, mosquitos and oppressive heat.
I am not one of these people.
Summer is my favorite hiking season of the year and the coming of fall leaves me just a little bit devastated.
But, Claire! Hiking in summer is horrible! It’s so, so hot and miserable!
Sure, there are some drawbacks to hiking in the unrelenting heat of summer. Gnats constantly slap you in the face. Mosquitos perpetuate the nasty, persistent habit of buzzing incessantly in your ears. The threat of torrential monsoon downpours arriving at a moment’s notice is ever-present. The necessary application and re-application of sunscreen is increasingly challenging due to the rivers of sweat streaming down your skin. Ah, yes, the sweat! You drip, drip, drip until it legitimately feels as though you’ve just walked out of the shower and neglected to towel-off. Due to the excessive water cascading from your open pores, it is also essential to haul copious amounts of water up the mountain, further intensifying the challenge of the climb.
I legitimately love all of this.
Seriously, I love it.
In the summer, forests are alive with a cacophony of sounds that serves as a soundtrack for your dance up boulders and around massive rocks. Insects, bugs and every imaginable creepy, crawly critter skirt around mossy overgrowth. The air is thick and pregnant with moisture that is constantly feeding the late summer greenery, transforming the woods into otherworldly shades of green. Water is everywhere: gushing, gurgling, rushing over rocks, between trees, down valleys. Waterfalls spontaneously appear anywhere and everywhere they can muster.
I can’t get enough of summer hiking.
My recent hike at Chiaksan National Park, located about an hour and a half southeast of Seoul, was the quintessential summer hike and a perfect way to end the season.
When I last hiked Chiaksan National Park, it was a completely different experience. It was late winter 2011 and I was on a day trip with Seoul Hiking Group. Due to its central location, Chiaksan was a real-life Narnia: fresh snow hung heavily onto every surface and forced us to slog through white powder to reach the summit. The temperature continued to plummet during our ascent, as sweat froze on our eyelashes and brows. This experience was in sharp contrast to my recent experience.
This August, it felt like a different mountain entirely. In the middle of winter, the hike felt arduous and challenging. I’m fairly certain I scooted down on my bum for much of the descent. This time around, the hike was a relative breeze. I was in no hurry and kept a slow pace to reach Birobong, the highest peak in the park at 1,288 meters, in about 3 hours. I experienced the full gamut of summer weather: fog, humidity, heat, sunshine and a major monsoon downpour.
From the main entrance of Chiaksan National Park at Guryongsa Temple, there are two parallel routes to Birobong that form an approximately 10 km loop. While I’ve neglected to record the names of the two paths up, the path to the left, which immediately begins with a massive, steep staircase, takes you up a rocky ridge. This route is primarily stairs and is straight forward. The park entrance attendant advised me to come down this way. However, I ascended this route. The route to the right (again, apologies for the lack of proper titles for these routes), winds up through a dense, magical valley. It was extremely challenging to descend this way in the pouring rain. The path is much less straight-forward and requires you to monkey over mossy boulders and rocks. I had to take my descent at a glacial pace down the valley to prevent a serious injury. However, the major bonus in coming down the valley was solidarity. This could have been due to the inclement weather, but I was nearly alone in my descent, which is always a major plus.
While Chiaksan National Park isn’t my favorite park in Korea, it is a wonderful day trip from Seoul for the avid hiker looking for a new mountain to conquer.
Transportation Details (Seoul to Chiaksan National Park):
I found the existing information in English from other blogs to be a bit challenging to follow. I’m a bit fan of the express bus system in Korea, so I tend to favor traveling this way. Getting the bus to Wonju, the closest city to the park, was easy enough, but when I arrived at the bus terminal, I was at a loss. Blogs said to hop on various buses to Chiaksan National Park, but I couldn’t find these buses on either side of the street outside the bus terminal. Due to my lack of even rudimentary Korean, I struggled to communicate with a very friendly 7-Eleven cashier, who attempted to give me directions to the train station to find another bus to the park.
Basically, if you take the bus from Seoul to Wonju, you unfortunately have to catch a bus that runs very infrequently to the train station where you must catch an additional bus to the park. I was unwilling to wait the 35 minutes for the bus and instead opted to hop in a cab, which was less than 10 minutes and only ₩4,500.
The 41 bus to Chiaksan National Park is clear and easy to catch outside of the train station. I would recommend ditching the bus and sticking to the train in this instance. I also failed to buy my train ticket back to Seoul at the beginning of the day because I was unsure how long I would stay on the mountain. The unfortunate result was that I had to wait two hours for a Saturday evening train back to get a standing-room ticket for the 2-hour train ride home.
Take the train from Cheongnyangni to Wonju. Buy your return ticket upon arriving at Wonju station- or even farther in advance.
Take the 41 bus directly to the park from the train station.
Follow either route up to Birobong, the summit of the park.
Enjoy for a total cost of about ₩30,000!
As always, thank you for taking time out of your busy life to take a glimpse into mine.