Hiking, Korea, Mountains
Comments 8

The Big Rock Candy Wrapper Mountain

So, where was I?

Oh yeah, I left the big gold Buddha to his eternal contemplations, and climbed the steep hillside path behind his shoulder, up through the forest towards the summit I later learned is called Yongji-bong, a subsidiary peak (I now know) of the ridge complex known as Bulmo-San (Buddha-Mother Mountain).

I know her name now, because I spent the week studying the Korean alphabet, but last Saturday I only knew she was called…

..and I tried to memorise those mysterious hieroglyphs and carry them in my head.

Some beautiful people were hanging out in the woods — the kind you never actually meet outside outdoor-product advertising:

The path was littered with candy wrappers and every few steps there would be a bloody business card with a picture of the same glasses-wearing, smiling jackass, a business address, a phone number. There were literally hundreds of these things, all the way to the top, and I got madder with every step.

And the other rubbish — I used to see lots of trash on the trails in Japan, but I have to say that, sadly, so far Korea has even Japan beat in this regard.

But I don’t want to detract from the beauty of the woods, which was still magnificent, that killer blue sky and the drifts of brown, crunching leaves underfoot.

I reached the ridge in half an hour or less. More mysterious signposts — taking a hunch, I swung right, and pretty soon left the forest, climbed a little and was a-top Yongji-bong herself.

As you can see, you don’t come to easily accessible north-Asian mountain-tops for the serenity:

But again, I’m used to this phenomenon from Japan.

Hiking is often described as Korea’s unofficial national sport, which makes sense considering it’s over 70% mountains. Although crowded, it was fascinating to observe this microcosm of Korean group behaviour. Few people hike alone, and many of the groups are company “hiking clubs” who do  regular weekend outings.

(Can you imagine being forced to climb mountains with your colleagues on weekends? The horror…)

There was much jostling for summit shots with expensively attired partners. I was offered a mandarin, a chocolate. Someone asked in good English where I was from.

“Ah, Brisbane!” he responded. “My sister-in-law lives there. She spent one year studying English, and now she’s at university.”

I told him she may well have been one of my students.

He was hiking with some company colleagues, a monthly occurrence. “But the young ones don’t like it,” he added. Rather be shopping, playing computer games or sleeping, I figured.

Down the valley, the plains bristled with white towers like fresh crops of concrete fungi:

But I was looking the other way. I decided to head out along that ridge and see where it took me:

First, though, I was hungry, and rather chilly, so I bought noodles and an instant coffee from this vendor, who lugs all this stuff up here every weekend:

Refreshed and re-caffeinated, I took off with what Bob Dylan might describe as a soulful, bounding leap.

There followed an hour of splendid ridge-hopping, with a brief stop at this first fantastic cairn…

..where I carefully added another rock:

In another section, one of my favourite places in Korea so far, there’s an “alleyway” of giant stone sentinels, like fossilised Daleks guarding the path:

There’s my destination, past this lovely patch of long grass:

I neared the summit…

..just as one party was leaving.

See the dog on the woman’s back? It’s real.Well, relatively speaking:

And there I was, on the summit, with the utterly amazing (to these eyes anyway) sprawl of Changwon below:

“What’s the name of this mountain?” I asked a hiker.

“Daeam-San,” he replied. “It means Big Stone“.

Here’s my favourite shot from Korea so far. I love how the man (on the big stone) appears to be wearing a business suit. And that perfect bent-over pine:

Changwon, capital of Gyeongsangnam Province, is where I spent my first night in Korea, just over two weeks ago.

It’s the eighth-largest city in the country, and was planned, beginning in the early 70s and reputedly based on Australia’s planned capital, Canberra. There’s even a Canberra Hotel!

At least one source claims that Changwon was designed as an alternative capital in the event Seoul was invaded. Completely ringed by mountains, it’s those ubiquitous ranks of white apartment blocks that blow my mind. With a population of almost 50 million in an area the size of Indiana, the only way is up.

As I commented to some Australian friends, the cities I’ve seen here aren’t pretty, but they have a certain visual…power:

It’s mandarin season, and please forgive another brief bitch here about the vast quantities of citrus peel just tossed on the ground around summits, including this one, where it was everywhere, among the discarded tissues and wrappers and butts.

Korea has a long way to go before Leave No Trace ethics sink in, it seems, though a Korean teacher told me “It’s getting better.”

This bloke, a fellow disgruntled loner, dropped a paper cup and made the effort to climb down and retrieve it — hopefully not just because I was watching, ready to pounce:

Bieom-San lies further along the ridge, but it could wait. A self-portrait and a Snickers…

..and it was time to retrace my steps towards Yongji-bong…

..where the evening chill was descending and the crowds and the noodle vendor had departed:

Just some raucous crows feasting on the discarded food scraps:

I started down a different way, thought twice, backtracked, and took the same route down to the silent temple…

..and down the empty mountain road through the Daecheong Valley, feeling calm and content, while a gibbous moon extricated itself from the snare of electrical cables:

Dedicated to my friends Granite & Terrapin, in fond memory of good times on the PCT, where they played me this song in the woods one night:

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. That photo of the guy surveying the city from the pine is unreal, but I also felt a voracious pride in seeing you adding a stone to the “sentinel”!
    Great post, I am looking forward to seeing more

    • Thanks, Carl. That photo is my pride and joy at present. And there are sentinels all over Gyeongsangnamdo that are growing, centimetre by centimetre, with my travels…

  2. Kristin says

    I really enjoyed reading this! Bless the fella that lugs the canteen up the mountain each week, hey? G’night 😉

    • Thanks, Kristin! Yeah, one of those fringe benefits of Asian hiking. I don’t recall too many noodle stands in the Sierra Nevada. Now, if I could just convince him to lug up a decent espresso machine…

  3. I enjoyed this, Goat. Changwon looks like the male ends of a stack of gigantic parallel printer cables — or a phalanx of printed circuits (before they went flat). And that man in the suit — a great image. I’m fantasising whether he actually jumped or not?

    • Nah, he made it down alive I believe, SW. I don’t think that city is going to lose its visual impact on these eyes for quite some time. First time I saw Korea from the air was en route to Japan in 2000. I still recall the image of endless mountains with those “printer cables” in every valley between them…

  4. Oh dear, it’s kind of crazy, but definitely fascinating at the same time. Those apartment blocks look completely bizarre from elevation! Well written as always and the photos are looking great! Did you feel like picking up one of those million business cards and pranking the tool who ‘distributed’ them?

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