Getting on a bus at 10:30pm to wake up at 3:00am for a hike might not be most people’s idea of a great weekend but with Jirisan on the mind it sounded great to me! I met Warren, Breanne (shoutout to you and the rest of the helpers cause you rule!) and the rest of the day’s crew at the bus; promptly fell asleep and woke to find myself entering Jirisan National Park with Seoul Hiking Group. The climb began in pitch black with numerous head lamps and flashlights. I lent my extra torch to a rookie hiker after strapping my own head lamp on. Jirisan is South Korea’s highest mainland peak (bested only by Hallasan on Jeju Island). With my first starry sky in all too long I could quickly tell the way crazy morning would be worth it. The steep hike brought us higher and higher and by our second water break the birds began to sing and the black night reced, turning into deep blue as dusk showed its head. Misty hills now visible in the distance, we kept climbing. Another hour and the sun began to crest with an orange glow. The beautiful valleys below finally illuminated for a picturesque landscape. The sun also revealed our daunting goal, Cheonwangbong, Jirisan’s illustrious highest peak! Stowing our headlamps and my tripod the hike kept going. Our climb grew even more difficult as the rocky steps gave way for staircases and the occasional pole/rope series to pull ourselves up. We took regular breaks for our legs and delicious mountain water gave everyone a chance to get to know our fellow hikers. The shining sun and light hearted spirit that nature brings out made the strain of the climb dissipate as we shared our hiking snacks and pushed upward!
Around each bend Cheonwangbong (the peak) grew closer but yet still loomed dauntingly high above! Breaks came more frequently as a descending Korean man mentioned “at best hiking, 2 more hours! Fighting!” By 6:30am the sun’s golden glow brought energy to the plants and hikers alike. The climb leveled out from time to time never failed to surprise us with a steep series of rocks and staircases. My legs were starting to tell me this was a bad idea. Up high in Jirisan the altitude makes a rough life for most plants. Elsewhere in Korea I’ve found blossoming spring at every corner but it looked more like a late winter up here. In spite of the elevation a few hints of the season were around. Suddenly there it was! The towering Cheonwangbong and our last staircase. A rope hung precariously along the stony steps and up we went. The view at 1915m was even more stunning on this clear day!
Once at the top Warren couldn’t help but remind us how lovely it was up here. Normally the wind whips around and blue skies are just a wish making a 10 minute stay the norm. Today was the opposite, we hung out at the summit for over an hour.
Snacking and relaxing. At one point Warren mentioned that a helicopter would land at the helipad below. No one took him serious until it actually showed up! A Korean hiker had sprained/broken his ankle and was taking the luxurious ₩200,000 ($200) ride down the mountain.
What a hike! Stay tuned for our descent through Jirisan’s lush forest along a babbling brook filled with waterfalls!