Foliage and Hiking in Naejangsan
As seems usual, I’m about a month behind writing this. In late October, Seoul was looking like the league champions, but Jeonbuk still had a chance, especially at home. So, we went to Jeonju for the game and then went to Jeongeup for the night before hiking up Neajangsan on the Sunday.
If you are interested in the game, you can read Craig’s write-up, but I can summarize it: Jeonbuk played terribly, missing chance after chance. The game ended in a draw, basically sewing up the championship for Seoul.
After the game, we took a fairly convoluted route to Jeongeup: taxi to Iksan and train from there. On the train, we passed a station we had seen signs for in the cab. Oh, well. Live and learn. That phrase would be repeated more than once over the remainder of the weekend.
We arrived in Jeongeup at about 7:30, but it seemed as though the town was in bed for the night. So, the first order of business was to secure a room. We could see the lights of a number of yeogwans from the station, so we didn’t think that would take too long. We stopped at the first one that looked to have been renovated in the last decade or two and were quoted 100 a night. That seemed a bit pricey for a down-market version of Motel 6, so we passed.
The next place quoted the same rate. The third had no rooms. I think you can see where this is going. When the fourth place offered us 160 for two nights, we grudgingly took it, knowing they shouldn’t really be charging more than 40-50 a night.
In the morning,it didn’t take long to find out why they were able to charge such outrageous (by Korean yeogwan standards) fees. We were out of the room just past 9 in the morning. We hopped in a cab and assumed we would be at the base of Naejangsan in about ten minutes.
It didn’t take us much longer than ten minutes, but the driver dropped us at the outermost parking lot, because traffic was at a stand still from that point. It turns out that Naejangsan is one of THE places to see the fall foliage in Korea. A tidbit of info that had passed Craig by while doing his research.
Black Friday had nothing on this crowd. We walked forty minutes to the start of the hike, already fighting our way through crowds and patting ourselves on the back for not being in the traffic jam just a few feet away. By the time we got in the park, we were being herded by rangers/ volunteers armed with vests and wands, as though they could be diverted to directing incoming aircraft at any moment.
I was starting to get more than a little agitated, when Craig saw a sign pointing to a trail no one else was on. Sold! We went that way, and were out of sight and ear shot of anyone else within a minute. No surprise, given the trail we had chosen. We felt like we were going straight uphill. Usually, there are stairs, but this hike had quite a few steep areas without them.
(According to the notes I wrote on the way home, it was the steepest hike we had ever been on together. I’m still recovering from a hike we did last weekend, which was far steeper, though, so the record was not held for very long.)
We hiked about an hour and forty-five minutes to Janggunbong Peak, where, suddenly, people appeared out of nowhere. We had planned to do a circuit which included another peak, but we had taken longer than expected to get that far, and we were almost out of water. Had we continued, there was a place almost certain to have had water for sale, but it didn’t seem a good idea to depend on that. So, we turned back the way we came and made our way to the suckling pig we had seen being roasted at the park entrance.
At the base of the trail, there were several suckling pigs to choose from, so we did what most foodies do, and chose the place farthest from the blaring music. As we were being seated, I ordered two portions of pig, which seemed to shock the waitress. She repeated it several times and made sure I understood the price before she called out our order. As we ate, I overheard other patrons ordering and realized the way to do it is to order one portion of meat for the table, then enough onion/ kimchi/ seafood pancakes to fill everyone up. That’s not how Craig and I roll, though.
After we stuffed ourselves on barbecued pork, we found a cab with only a little difficulty, and headed back to the hotel for a shower and perhaps a little rest before catching the train home. That was the plan, anyway.
The traffic jam we had so smugly avoided that morning was now headed in both directions. We would wait a couple of minutes, then travel two to three car lengths forward. Repeat for one hour. We finally got past the last parking lot, but then we were in the traffic snarl caused by a music festival a couple hundred meters down the road.
Fortunately, we had a cab driver who knew the back roads and wasn’t afraid to drive like Mario Andretti. He took the smallest gaps, passing every car on that twisty mountain lane. On the one hand, I wanted to congratulate him, on the other, I wondered if he was slightly suicidal.
In the end, our “10 minute” cab ride took 90 and would have likely been over two hours, if we had had a careful taxi driver. We got back to the hotel with just enough time for a quick shower before heading to the train station. It was a beautiful hike, and coming from a place with no fall foliage, I get very excited by colorful leaves. Next time, I hope Craig researches peak seasons, though.