Friday, April 30, 2010

An exciting Hike: Lunar New Year, snow, darkness, COLD!

The hike we did on Lunar New Years is high up there with the most exciting and memorable of my experiences in Korea. It is an old Korean belief that if one watches the sun rise from a mountain peak on Lunar New Year, the year will be a lucky one!

Lunar New Year is usually a long weekend in Korea, and one is advised not to travel long distances as the roads and trains are chock-a-block with people travelling home across the country to be with their families. So many Koreans work away from their families, and national holidays are often the only opportunities for them to see each other, especially as most people work weekends as well.

So we decided to plan some 'local fun' for ourselves. There is a National Park near Sangju, Songnisan National Park, which takes just over an hour to get to. We headed over there and spent the night in a fantastic little 'mountain hut' in the park - 'Birosanjang'. It's one of my favourite places in Korea: it's really rustic, with long drops and tiny little Korean style 'ondol' (heated floor, sleep on a mat) rooms and genuine hospitality. One is surrounded by mountains and forests, and the only sounds are birds and the gushing river. We had a hearty Korean dinner and then an early night.

We woke up at 4 am and by 4:30 we were ready to go. It was pitch dark and snowy all around: it was not snowing at the time, which is fortunate, but there had been a good snowfall during the week. The plan was to hike to the top of the nearest mountain peak, from where we'd watch the sunrise. It took us, as planned, just over two hours. Walking up that mountain was so peaceful: the forest was as still as only a forest covered in snow can be, and there was not a soul to be seen. So quiet.

It was, by far, the coldest, darkest hike I've ever done! I'm willing to be the temperatures on the way up were hovering between -3 and -5 degrees celsius. Once we were up on the exposed peak, the temperature dropped dramatically, I think it may even have reached -10 degrees. Incredibly cold! It was so cold, in fact, that we couldn't stay up for the sunset, we saw the sky redden in the east, it was just pink enough to confirm that indeed that day, the sun would rise, and then we were off, down the other side of the mountain. We have been skiing in Korea, but the cold we experienced up there on that mountain was by far the coldest I have been in my life! But it was a thrilling, unforgettable adventure with a great bunch of people!

On our way down again, with a dear friend of mine, Lina, the ice angel! She is an outdoor enthusiast of note, a snowboard instructor and a lovely lady!

I told you it was pink! The sun did rise, we just didn't see it!

'Munjangdae': the peak we scaled.

On top! So wrapped up! So cold! The flecks of snow in the picture were being blown off the peak by the strong, cooold wind.

'Birosanjang': one of my favourite places in Korea

We visited Beopjusa temple before checking into our mountain hut, it looked lovely under snow!

Us on the snow!

Go Team!

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