We did it! We finally did it! After seven months and thirteen days in this country, Elizabeth and I managed to sufficiently muster enough energy and enthusiasm to experience Korea’s national past-time – hiking. It’s been on the agenda for a few months now – “oh, we’ll just wait for that really nice Sunday you occasionally get here and then go” – but as the weekends have rolled around other, less strenous activities have been preferred: drinking, lie-ins, making sure we’re up to date with whatever TV shows we’re watching. Until now.
We set off ridiculously underprepared and overdressed – our bags were stuffed with one cheese sandwich and a few squares of chocolate between us in the way of sustenance, and with jumpers and other cold weather clothing that would remain untouched. After the walk from the bus stop to the base I had already removed as many layers as was decent, and was shocked to see climbers ascending having donned thick coats, gilets, gloves and other woolly bits and pieces. Munsunsan (Mt. Munsu) is apparently 1,205m tall, but a map told us the peak we were headed to was closer to 600m. Doable.
The climb was steep from the off and wound through bare woodland, restricting views of Ulsan below to a few clearings that provided a welcome excuse for a sit down. As such, and as nice as it was to be surrounded by trees rather than apartment blocks, the most pleasant aspect of the walk was the calm and cleanliness of it – the escape from the city rather than any kind of bird’s eye picture of it. The only times we were disturbed by noise was when one particularly keen walker overtook us with music blaring out of his rucksack; and when an old man advertised his melon and red bean ice lollies for sale about a third of the way to the top.
Another third of the way along and the path began to descend steeply, which to our minds meant only one thing: what we’d climbed already had been for nothing. We arrived at a picnic area that we wandered around, slowly and hopefully, listening out for a “ahh waegookin! Korean pizza! Kimbab! Soju!”. There wasn’t one. Feeling faint from hunger by now, we completed the rest of the journey in a kind of trance, taking rests after every ten stairs (yes – there were stairs) or so. For much of it I had to pull Eliz along, as a Siberian husky pulls a sled, but we got there in the end. It was the sweetest crust of cheese sandwich I’ve ever tasted.
It really shouldn’t have been as much of an effort as it was, but we’re both extrememly unfit and – given the prices of taxis and the fact we have bikes – haven’t walked as far as town recently, let alone up any mountains. Hence, we decided to avoid the whole hike back, up and down and up and down. Instead we walked straight to the nearest village, Anyeongchuk, I think, and indulged in some well-earned duck bulgogi and a beer in the sunshine. We were even given a lift back to the bus stop.