Monday, December 03, 2012

Trailing Korea . . .

Baekdu-Daegan Trail

The wanderlusting Elisabeth Eaves, whose brother, Gregory C. Eaves, lives in Korea (no, I don't know him), recently went hiking with him, his Korean wife, and her own husband along a portion of Korea's Baekdu-Daegan Trail and lived to tell about it in "Along the Trail of Korea's Mountain Spirits" for the New York Times (November 30, 2012):
In height, South Korea's mountains are more akin to the Appalachians than the Rockies -- the highest mainland peak is 6,283-foot Jirisan. They can, however, be jagged in the extreme. We planned to cover just seven miles on the first day, but the steep and constant ups and downs soon had us aching. We often had to climb using our hands, and in many places we used the chains and ropes that the forest service had helpfully attached to the rocks.

As we limped into our second morning, we decided to rethink our itinerary. Instead of sticking religiously to the trail for six days, we would weave our way on and off, stopping at villages and temples along the way. Things immediately improved. For one thing, the sun had come out. For another, we were going downhill. Soon we were following a stream, broken up by waterfalls and pools through a deciduous forest of maple, hazel and birch. We stopped to talk to a pair of Korean hikers on their way up. I would hear Gregory explain our presence so many times over the course of this trip that I began to pick up the words for sister and brother-in-law. "People look at you differently when you’re traveling with family," he said to me after another encounter with fellow hikers. "You're not a suspicious bachelor."

Two nights later we found our way to another park shelter, this one just below 5,282-foot Hyangjeok-bong. At sunset we climbed to the peak and had the 360-degree view to ourselves. To both east and west, mountain ranges in shades of gray, blue and black, each one silhouetted against the next, stretched away like waves on an ocean.
This is one of the things I love about Korea, the accessible mountains. Though they're generally twice as elevated as the Ozarks, they help make me feel at home. Clannish families also remind me a bit of my home, though we hillbillies aren't hierarchical, unlike Koreans, but I get along with Sun-Ae's kin, who all accept me for what I am . . .

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