The plan: one weekend, two national parks.
Calling a conveniently located AirBnb studio in downtown Daejon home for the weekend, I was all set to conquer two national parks I’d yet to visit. Up first: Deogyusan National Park.
This hike reminded me of Chiaksan with Seoul Hiking Group in the deep of winter a few years ago. Both hikes begin with long walks on wide, paved paths winding through wooded valleys. While a few years ago the weather was absolutely glacial, the weather for this adventure was perfect! Somehow, it was warm enough to avoid any discomfort but still enjoy thick snow blanketing the scenery. The valley stream had melted and the sound of trickling water offered respite from the usual eerie, icy silence of winter in the mountains.
After a few kilometers traipsing along the Muju Gucheondong Valley floor, the path began to ascend, leading to Baengnyeonsa Temple. Magically nestled amongst the pines, I always find the juxtaposition of manmade objects attempting to coexist in nature to be both interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
From the temple, the pleasant path narrowed and the true ascending of the mountain commenced. The trail was covered in a deep snowpack and by this point every single decked out Korean had strapped on their crampons. Designed to tackle the iciest of conditions, it is my opinion that the use of spikes strapped to your boots in this scenario was completely unnecessary. Nevertheless, I was scolded by more than a few older Korean gentlemen who shook disapproving fingers at my spike-less hiking boots.
The narrow trail wound upwards along a ridge towards Hyangjeokbong Peak, the highest peak of the park, topping off at 1,614 meters. While the trail was pretty crowded, I find this to be less frustrating in the winter, as the walking is slower by default, slogging through the snow one tough step at a time.
As the trail opened up less than a kilometer from the peak, the sky, which had been cloudy and foggy, cleared to reveal the deepest, clearest blue! Surrounded by mountains as far as the eye could see, the final push offered up truly stunning views.
Typically, when you reach the peak of a mountain, it is cause for true celebration! High fives are exchanged, pictures are feverishly snapped and it’s smiles all around. In this case, reaching Hyangjeokbong is an anticlimactic feat. Faces concealed in expertly applied makeup, hairs flawlessly groomed into place and an absurd quantity of selfie sticks frantically being swung around swarm the peak and surrounding area. It is painfully evident that large swaths of the population atop the peak have not achieved this elevation by breaking a sweat and charging up the mountain, one step at a time.
Ah, yes, the gondola.
The gondola from Muju Deogyusan Ski Resort lands tourists of all sorts only 0.6 below Hyangjeokbong. While every Korean peak is madness, I’ve never seen anything like this! The proximity of the peak to a means of ascending requiring very little physical exertion obviously lent itself to a photo op locale of epic proportions.
I avoided the peak and walked towards Jungbong, 1.1 kilometers north along a ridge flanked on both sides by fantastic views.
This is where my experience began to get a bit chaotic. I was ready to begin descending the mountain but struggled to find the trail towards Chilbong, which I should have found near Seolchunbong, where the Gondola is situated. Difficulty finding the trailhead and concern for my knees (which are both on the fritz) lead me to foolishly opt to ride aforementioned gondola down for ₩10,000 to the ski resort.
If the top of the mountain was madness, the bottom of the mountain was pure insanity! I tried to find a bus heading back to the Muju Bus Terminal to make my way back to Daejon but failed. I landed myself in a ₩25,000 cab from Deogyusan Ski Resort to Muju Bus Terminal. From here, the bus was 4,400 from Muju Terminal to Daejon.
Certainly, a few logistical mistakes were made on this adventure, but it was totally worth it! Deogyusan National Park was wonderful in almost every aspect and would make for a perfect day trip from Seoul. It is a bit challenging to find information on this park in English. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment or shoot me a message.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to take a glimpse into mine.
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