JIRISAN NATIONAL PARK (지리산국립공원) is located in the heart of South Korea, spanning across four counties in three different provinces. Along with Seorak San National Park, it was one of my must-sees while teaching in Korea, so I jumped at the chance to do a sunrise hike Friday night after the work week. Who wouldn’t when there was the chance to see one of these endangered fuzzy little guys?
|Asiatic Black Bear. Photo Credit: Spencer77, http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=10552852|
Packs of other Foreign English Teachers and Koreans swamped the Seoul Hiking Group bus, about forty of us in all. The drive from Seoul down to Jirisan took about five hours, and we arrived some point at around 2:30 am. We’d ceased seeing other cars a while back, and now it was just our bus in the middle of a thick woodland. We only had a couple of hours before the sun came up, so we hefted our packs, checked our water bottles, and hit the trail.
Our plan was to hike the strenuous East Ridge, which begins at the end of Highway 20 just past Sicheon Myeon (see map). Many among the group were hardcore hikers, who planned to do the entire ridge from Daewonsa to Georim, a distance of 16.8 miles (27km), estimated 10 hours. The bus would pick them up at the other end. For the rest of us, we would take the Chibanmok-Daewonsa Trail up to the ridge to pick out Cheonwangbong, the second highest peak in all of Korea.
This is one of the lushest hikes I’ve been on. Seorak San always made me think of granite, and I saw the same unique rock formations hiking in Jirisan, but overall, it was remarkably cool and shady. Also, the elevation gain was quite gradual; there weren’t too many of the steep ascents Seorak San is known for on this ridge hike.
While any bears remained well-hidden, the overcast temperatures and pleasant company of hikers along the way made this a quiet escape from the city. Anyone planning to do more extensive hiking in the park should check out this website.
The above is depicted as fiction, not fact.