The Saturday before Sanba, the 3rd tropical storm/typhoon of the season, we went out with the intent to hike mount Wolchul. Wolchulsan is a national park just south of Yeongam. It’s tall and rugged, beautiful and extremely popular in the busy season. We’ve heard stories that describe peak season as you going up nose to butt in a line of thousands of other hikers. Well, six hours of standing behind someone’s butt didn’t sound too great, but we figured it was 1) kind of off-season and 2) it was cool and threatening rain, what with a typhoon on the way. So off we went!
We went with our friends Amanda and Darryl, two nice folk from Wisconsin, which I (Mike) don’t mind because they don’t really talk football. We also brought the dogs, of course. We brought Remi, our trusty Springer Spaniel, and Amanda and Darryl brought along Che, a 2 year old Shetland Sheepdog. He’s smart, cute, well-trained, and almost as energetic as Remi. We arrived at the national park around 10:00 or so after getting a bit lost (a specialty of Mike’s) and started gearing up.
That was when an ajjashi (older gentleman) who was sweeping the park with one of those stick brooms approached, waving and talking energetically and pointing at the dogs. No dogs allowed, was the point. We were confused, then angry. Akasha pleaded our case. They’re nice dogs! She said. They don’t bite, and they’re on leashes! He didn’t speak any English, so Akasha called tourist information for help, and some nice bi-lingual Koreans came from the next car over to help, but there was nothing for it. No dogs allowed.
Well, we were crushed. All dressed up, a pack full of sandwiches in the bag, and no mountain to climb. We felt like we’d packed all these plans and when we got there, all we had was lemons. We stewed it over for a while, got back in the car, and left, not even asking for our 2,000 won ($1.80) entry fee back.
We drove around, out towards Jangheung. Finally, Akasha, always the optimist, asked How can we make lemonade out of this? We didn’t know, but thought about it for a while. We drove around, looking at the brown signs for inspiration. (The brown signs, in Korea, have all the points of interest on them.) There were Cypress gardens, scenic drives, and mountains, mountains mountains.
Finally, we picked a mountain. On Daum maps Akasha figured out we were near Jaemsan National Recreation Area, so that’s where we went. We followed the signs up a lonely road till we came to a small, mostly empty parking lot with a pile of hay in the middle and a lonely SUV parked in one side. Off in the far corner a lonesome road, maybe a trailhead, went off into the distance.
We got out, geared up, watered the hounds, and stretched a bit. Soon a church van showed up and eight or ten Koreans piled out in their hiking gear, so we knew we were in the right place, or a right place anyway. Up the trailhead we went, and we were pretty happy. It was a beautiful trail. Like all trails we’ve been on, it was perfectly maintained. It had a babbling brook, and purple flowers were in bloom on the forest floor. We stopped in the saddle of a ridge that led off to peaks in either direction and had lunch on map of the region that had blown down during the last typhoon. When we were done eating, we lifted the map up to see where we were, and kept going.
One of the best things was, we seemed to have the mountain to ourselves. No nose-to-butt hiking, or urgency to keep any pace but our own. When we hit the peak, a beautiful view of the valleys lay on either side. We took some pictures and rested. There was a festival on the valley floor, and we could hear the chorus of a Korean traditional “trot” song coming up to meet us. As I looked down I saw a single red firework blossom over the tents, then watched the smoke drift away. We waited for more fireworks, but they didn’t come.
We walked back down the way we’d come, the dogs eager and bounding. It was, all in all, some of the finest lemonade we’ve made out of one of the few disappointments we’ve gotten from Korea. And I’d like to thank Akasha for making it all happen, from the sandwiches, to advocating our dog’s right to hike Korean parks, to finding the recreation area, and for being generally the best ray of sunshine there ever was, she’s the best co-hiker a guy could ask for. Smooch, baby!