Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gwanak Mountain

On our seemingly never ending journey to ready ourselves for Fuji-san next week, Amanda and I headed ourselves down to the Seoul National University this weekend for a little hiking on Gwanak Mountain. Our day was rife with mishaps, as we have become accustomed to, involving such instances as getting off the Subway at Seoul National University of Education, hiking two mountains instead of one, etc... all of the little unforeseen events that we've come to expect when we make plans with each other.

(click to enlarge)

We did finally manage to make it to the right subway station, and climbed the first mountain with ease, taking some absolutely beautiful pictures. The top of the mountain provided some beautifully, breath-taking views of the city, and of the Han River which snakes through Seoul from one end to the other. The pictures taken by my inexpensive point-and-shoot camera really don't do any justice to the view from the top of the first mountain, or show how you could pretty much turn 360 degrees and see little pockets of humanity nestled in the valleys between the mountains and hills. Koreans, as a rule, build generally between the mountains, instead of on them-- it makes for beautiful scenery.

Amanda was also trying her very best to squeeze a few extra pixels of detail, or just the tiniest bit of zoom-a-bility from her little camera. I'm sad to say that she was no more successful than I was. She sure looked cute with her little pigtails though! Maybe that's why so many middle-aged Korean men stopped us along the way to say hello, or give us random snacks...

It was here at the peak of the first mountain, that our trip got a little sidetracked and caused us to climb a second neighbouring mountain, instead of climbing down and heading home, as we had originally been intending to do at this point. I blame it all on this particular Buddhist shrine that we both felt compelled to take a closer look at.

It was such an interesting sight, perched on the edge of this cliff like a sea bird, watchfully overlooking the city. How were we to know that our curiosity about this quaint little shrine would turn our planned two hour hike, into a six hour marathon? We weren't surprised of course, by the turn of events, being ourselves, and acknowledging the types of situations that we usually get ourselves into. Truly, we were all the happier for our little extension, and all of the different sights it let us see. I'm not sure if I'll ever tire of the juxtaposition of the city of Seoul, peaking through the pristine mountains to remind me that while I've hardly left the city, I'm in an almost entirely different world.

Korean people love hiking. For most of my time spent living here, I'd acknowledged it as a funny stereotype of Koreans that I didn't really understand. It only took a few weekends of trying it out for myself to convert me to their way of thinking. Some days, I feel like I'm practically Korean now.

One of the funniest points of the day was near the end of the day when we had been hiking for 4.5 hours and weren't really sure how long of a hike we had left to eventually reach the bottom and start our tired bodies towards home. Coming through the trees into a clearing I happened to glance this out of the corner of my eye.

For the briefest of milliseconds both Amanda and I panicked, thinking we had somehow walked as far as Ingwangsan! Within the same second, we would both of course realize that it was impossible, seeing as we hadn't crossed the Han. This was obviously just another helicopter pad, but we both got a fair bit of amusement out of our initial gut reactions.

Once we finally reached Seoul again, we decided that we were in need of, indeed deserving of, a treat. We managed to find ourselves an Out Back restaurant close to where the mountain finally deposited us in the city, a full six hours since we originally started climbing. It was the most delicious meal of ribs, baked potato, Aussie cheese fries and ranch dressing I think I've ever eaten. The hunger Amanda and I were both feeling, helped transport the already delicious food into something out of this world. We even ordered dessert.

A perfect way to end a long, tiring and wonderful day!

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