Hiking in Gayasan National Park

The view from the top of Gayasan.

After the Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival, we took the train back to Daegu and from there, we took the bus to Haeinsa, a temple just inside the entrance to Gayasan National Park. Craig had downloaded some information, so we knew that the buses went every forty minutes. That was correct. What was not correct was the name of the bus terminal. Daegu has several bus terminals, two of which are adjacent to the Dongdaegu train station, where we were.

Assuming we had some time to kill, we sat down for a coffee at the train station, since the train station is shiny and new and has cafe chains, while the bus terminals are old and grotty and don’t even have seat toilets, much less coffee. After a leisurely cuppa, we headed next door to the closest bus terminal. No joy. No problem, the other bus terminal is right across the street. At the second bus terminal, I didn’t see Haeinsa on the schedule, but thought it might be under a different name, since that is a temple and not a geographical location. The ticket lady informed me that Haeinsa buses depart from the West Bus Terminal and we were at the East Bus Terminal.

We jumped in a cab, but the terminal, as you may have guessed by the names, was across town. We missed that bus by a few minutes and had about 35 minutes to wait for the next one. We amused ourselves by checking out the Wanted posters. If you haven’t taken the time to read them before they are worth a look. When I was in Korean school, one of the cheekier students asked how the police handled descriptions of criminals. Lo these many years later, I have found out. They include regional accents and descriptors like “big forehead”.

Half an hour later, we had snarked enough about Korean gangsters and got on the bus. It was one of those buses that stops every couple of miles at seemingly random places, but we got there about twenty minutes faster than Craig’s semi-reliable source had estimated, despite the heavy rain.

Yes, it was still raining. Quite heavily, in fact. Given the weather conditions, we decided that the best hotel was the closest one to the bus station. Luckily, they seem to be clustered exactly in that one spot. We came upon one with a nice facade– no onion domes or spires, but as I said, it was pouring rain. As is common with Korean motels, the outside was the nicest part. The facade seemed much newer than that of the surrounding buildings. The room was another story. Due to some extreme settling (or an earthquake– the jagged line of broken tiles in the bathroom could have been cause by either), the front door of our room neither locked nor even closed properly.

We didn’t really worry about it for two reasons. One, we seemed to be the only guests. Two, the bedroom door locked. The flaw was that the bathroom door had the same problem. As I discovered when I was stepping in the shower, directly opposite the front door, and both doors opened wide at the same time. We didn’t see signs of any other guests the whole time we were there, but that was quite an incentive not to linger in the shower.

But I digress. At about seven, we headed out for dinner, only to find that seven seemed to be the closing time of all the restaurants. We did find two that were open and I was kind of hoping the proprietors would get in a punch up in their eagerness to gain our custom, but when we randomly chose one, and the other guy quietly gave up the fight.

We ordered a “mountain” Han Jeong Sik meal with an onion pancake on the side. The guy must have thought we were the biggest pigs. It was enough food for three or four people. Despite the fact that we couldn’t even finish half of it, he offered us each a banana for dessert while we were still eating. The food was delicious. I’m pretty sure the soybean paste used for the stew was homemade. However, at least half of the dishes were leafy greens. There are only so many versions of leafy greens you can have at a meal that doesn’t have a salad. IMHO

Fully stuffed, we went back to the room and were lights out by 9:00, partly due to a late night and early start that morning, but also do to the lack of anything better to do. We were awake before 6AM and were happy to see the sun shining. We were pretty worried that we would have a four-hour round trip to spend the night in a crappy room in the middle of nowhere.

At 9, we checked the bus schedule and picked up our tickets on our way to Haeinsa to start the walk. A small crowd was starting to form at the temple, but, as expected, most people didn’t go any farther than that, despite being fitted out for an extended trek in the wild. In fact, once we were on the trail, we didn’t see anyone until we reached the peak. On our way down, we passed a group of several dozen, but as far as we could tell, we were the only three groups on the trail. It was the best hike I’ve ever had in Korea. 🙂

It didn't look that steep at the time...

I am woman hear me roar!

Actually, it was a really good hike. It was such a moderate incline, that I was surprised on the way down by how steep it seemed. The only bit that was work was the final couple hundred meters which had several sets of stairs and some parts that were just giant rocks where you just had to head in the general direction of where you wanted to end up, because nothing seems like a path.

Despite all of the rain, the trial was not slick. The ratio of rock to dirt seemed help with traction, as did my awesome new shoes that Craig gave me for Christmas. Speaking of, I keep meaning to take a photo of our shoes together, because his feet are about twice the size of mine. Hehehe.

We made it! After a winter of wine and cheese, we weren't that confident...

Again, I digress. It was quite windy at the top, so we had a quick snack of Diget cookies and started the trek back down. We had toyed with the idea of continuing along the trail to another entry/ exit point roughly the same distance down, but we weren’t sure if there would be any way to get back to the bus terminal. So, we retraced our steps, in record time, as well. Our knees are not what they could be, so we usually are just as slow on the downward path as we are on the uphill climb. For some reason, we knocked about an hour off our expected time and were able to shower and have lunch before catching the 3:20 bus to Daegu.

From there, we got ourselves to Dongdaegu Station with an hour to kill before our train. So, we spent it at Starbucks, where we swiped a couple of their magazines with articles on campgrounds in Korea. We’ve had tents and other gear gathering dust for over a year– it’s time they got some use.