Bukhansan National Park’s highest peak – Baegundae

Last summer I made the responsible (albeit disappointing) choice to skip mudfest in lieu of staying healthy and climbing Bukhansan National Park’s highest peak, Baegundae.  Leaving the following Thursday for an extreme trip through Vietnam  I knew that I didn’t want to fight a multi-day hangover or any bruised limbs from the alcohol supported escapades at one of the dirtiest festivals in the world.  As a result I offered to lead a hike up Baegundae with Seoul Hiking Group.  That’s how Brian and I came to meet some new hiking buddies, Heidi & Jason!

The Korean language barrier presented some difficulties finding the right entrance.  At first we ended up at the same entrance Brian & I had taken a few months back which was a 4 hour trek to the base of Baegundae.  This time we were searching for the 1.5 hour route!  Luckily my Korean was capable enough to buy a map and ask for directions so we quikcly found a cab and arrived at the Baegundae-Sogwicheon Information Center.

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When first stepping on the trail we had roughly 500m of vertical remaining in the 835m climb up Baegundae.  It began as rough cut stone steps and boulders surrounded by th_DSC6490e natural beauty of Bukhansan in the summer.  Green trees with the occasional flower flanked our path as the sweat rolled down our faces.  Jason, a first time hiker was soon converted to a naturalist and took regular breaks to get a full feel for mother nature’s splendor.

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A few minutes in we found ourselves at a “temple.”  It had none of the usual pizazz with a bland roof instead of the typical painted parapet.  We were greeted by two “mountain dogs” as a Korean woman approached.  There was a small antechamber for prayer with a spectacular buddha but otherwise this locale appeared to be the simple residence of these pleasant folk.  We played with the dogs for a few moments and said our thanks before continuing the trek.

 

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Night Hiking Achasan – Seoul Hiking Group

With the weather getting warmer night hiking keeps being a great idea!  I joined my second Seoul Hiking Group night hike to Achasan last night and had a great time.  (First hike to Bukaksan here)  Check out these awesome night shots since I finally had my tripod working!  Thanks Warren & Breanne for organizing this.  I hope I can make more night hikes soon.

 

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A mildly snowy Christmas in Bukhansan

Brian and I woke Christmas morning ready to hike Bukhansan National Park!  We met in the subway and half slept through our 70 minute ride to Dobongsan station.  The plan was to hike up the same path I took in my first excursion to Bukhansan National Park and then head over to Jubong and come down the path my brother and I took.  We hoped that the recent snows were still blanketing the forest floor in the mountains.

Our dreams of snow were quickly diminished as we started up the crowded street. It looked just like Omok-ro, our street at home with a little ice and snow on the fringes of the sidewalk.  The route looked the same as my last hike except no one was wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  We weren’t expecting it to be completely snow covered but were longing for a few traces of that wonderful white fluff!

Stopping at the ranger station to check on our trail our hopes grew a little.  The ranger’s English wasn’t that great but she highlighted the main path up.  When I showed her that I wanted to hike across the ridgeline from Juanbong to Jubong peak she glanced at our shoes.  Spouting something in Korean I shook my head; I knew she was asking if we had crampons (spikes that you can attach for extra traction).  That meant it must be icy up there which means SNOW!

Maybe we were acting like our kindergarteners playing in the snow, we really were two grown men excited for the glory of this winter treasure.  When we got on the trail we were quickly rewarded with a semi frozen stream flanked by a snowy forest.  _DSC7802

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The occasional snow-covered staircase was replaced with a bouldering path that led us to the first Buddhist temple.  Juanbong silhouetted the many buddhas in front of this vibrant shrine.

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While inside the temple we appreciated the storytelling artwork and adroitly designed meditation rooms.  A passerby invited us to join them for a light meal in an antechamber but we politely declined.

“감사합니다 gamsahabnida (thank you) we have 김밥 gimbap.  먹어요에  주안방 Mogoyoe juanbong (We eat at juanbong).”

Well, my Korean is getting better but I guess half of what I said was in English.  I think the only thing she actually understood was that we didn’t want to eat with her.  We didn’t dwell on our lack of communication skills and got back on the trail!

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Continuing upward the path crept back and forth between a beautiful white carpet and crunchy brown leaves.  At one point there was a clear divide showing where the looming mountain kept half the trail perpetually engulfed in shadow while the other side still shone with the days’ sun. Continue reading

My first apartment hunt in Seoul


Last week I signed a new contract at Young Hoon Elementary School (along with 3 other coworkers)and we decided to find our own apartment in Seoul instead of taking school housing.  The school will provide us each with ₩600,000 ($600) a month for rent and we get to pick our location instead of being 4 stops further out of the city from our school.

Before we even meet with a realtor we decide on a few things, if you are in the same position I recommend doing the same.

1) Type of rental

Apartments, Officetels , studios and all the other lingo have different meanings here in Korea than back home. An apartment usually refers to a mutli-room shindig that is better suited for a family and usually has a front desk/security guard included.  They are expensive and definitely out of our reach.  An Officetel would be nice since we’d have easy access to plenty of stores in our own building but we know they are pricey and decide to stick with the studio/1bedroom option.

Since our school provides us with ₩600,000 ($600) we all agree that is our goal for rent.  We tell our first realtor ₩500,000 ($500) and know that we will be willing to go as high as ₩700,000 ($700).  Within each type of rental there are further subdivisions based on how you pay for them with everything from zero rent each month but an exuberantly high Key Money (similar to security deposit). These can be anywhere from ₩40 million to ₩100 million ($40,000-$100,000).  Remember this option provides you with ZERO rent and in Korea Key Money is always returned at the end of your contract (I hope).

Most rentals fall under a second category which we decide on.  Key money is much lower at about ₩10,000,000 ($10,000) and there is a nominal rent fee of about ₩500,000 ($500) for a small room. This option usually allows room for negotiating a higher rent for lower key money or vice versa.

I have heard of other situations where you can use the traditional western standard but they are quite limited to specific international areas like Itaewon where we don’t want to live.  For those on an even tighter budget I’ve read about tiny rooms that are more like a converted closet where you can pay as little as ₩200,000 ($200) a month with little or no key money.

2) Location

This one is obvious.  Where do you want to live?  How far from the subway/bus do you want to be?  We want to be a 10 minute walk or less to the subway and ideally in the Hyewha area.  We’ve heard good things about it as a fun area to go out in with a college and international hospital nearby.  It also happens to be 4 subway stops away from our new job at Miasamgeori and a quick ride to a number of other attractions like Hongdae and for me Ichon, where I fence.

3) Which Korean will you bring with you?

I read all over the internet to steer clear of any realtors advertising in English and to foreigners.  They all try to scam you and rip you off. We enlisted Vicky (coworker Brian’s girlfriend) and Haley (former coworker who lives at Miasamgeori) to join us.  They were both eager to help and prove to be our most valuable asset in this hunt.  I reiterate, If you are looking for an apartment in Seoul you MUST bring a fluent Korean speaker with you, preferably a native speaker!
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Back to Bukhansan National Park

Ben and I decided that our last big excursion would be to Bukhansan National Park.  He had visited earlier in the week doing the same hike I did on my first time in Bukhansan.  We were excited to see if any of the fall foliage was popping its head and planned on heading to Songchu Falls.  I hadn’t heard anything about them other than seeing them on the trail map so we picked a route that led us to Obong peak after Songchu Falls.

We got up bright and early having packed our bags and picked out lunch already.  I was bringing Gimbap that I made in cooking class and Ben grabbed a meal at 7-11; we had plenty of trail mix and grabbed our camelbacks out of the fridge before jumping on the subway.  Just over an hour later we arrived at Hoeryong Station.  You could immediately see the mountain range and we started out for Hoeryong Crossing.

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The hike started along a paved path; we were quiet surprised to share the road with a few vehicles, stepping aside as it grew more vertical.  Before long we came across a Buddhist temple at the end of the road.  There was a small celebration for what appeared to be a new monk with paintings and plenty of Koreans.  Ben and I focused on the gorgeous view in the background and were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a hummingbird in the garden.

 


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