Hiking, Korea, Mountains
Comments 12

The Lost Valley

Part Two of the Birthday Epiphany saga.

I was absurdly comfortable and warm in my down bag and bivy. I woke a few times in the night with a delicious breeze sweeping up from the valley and over my face; each time the far-off sirens and car horns had thinned out a little more. Finally all was silent and dark. The city slept.

I got up feeling rested and still tingling with that magical feeling of peace and rightness from the night before. It was 4:45. I packed quickly and headed up to an intersecting ridge…

..where I’d spied a lookout pergola yesterday.

Breakfasted there on bakery stuff and an iced coffee — a stroke of genius, Goat — and was ready to explore. I spent a terrific couple of hours ambling back along the ridge-top, stopping frequently to climb to the edge and get my bearings. I had no map, as usual, and the odd Korean signposts told me nothing except that I was now within the bounds of Jinhae City.

What a pleasure it is, sometimes, getting lost in a small country where all you have to do is head down.

I decided to aim for this valley where that little white tower in the bottom left beckoned intriguingly. I figured I would then round the mountain on the left and shoot for Jangyu. I got a phone signal here and actually sat a while reading my mail. Heartened by all the great comments and birthday wishes on this blog — sincere thanks, everyone  — I bounded along, listening to the Stones and passing a single hiker, the first and last of the day.

I knew I was approaching army property and wasn’t surprised to hit a dead end, where I veered left and followed the barbed wire down through the forest…

..on steep and slippery clay…

..till I reached a plantation forest.

Then I was in wilder woods again and found this wonderful section of cascades and rock pools where I spent a very pleasant hour, feeling utterly free and at ease…

..and decided to get still more free with a dip in the icy water.

Regrettably, my euphoria was tempered by the usual filth that sullies just about every corner of Korea. The attitude here is: eat, drink, have a good time, and move on, leaving all your shit behind. This was what I scooped up to take out with me — about 10% of what I could see:

(Now, indulge a quick rant from the birthday boy. You see that water pistol? That means there were kids here, which means there were parents, which means they had no qualms about dumping their crap in front of the kids — which is depressing but unfortunately nothing new. I once witnessed a family setting off fireworks on a beach near Busan, then walk up and get into their car, leaving all their refuse lying there at the water’s edge. I’ve also seen kids drop shit on the ground or even throw it in the river without a second thought. My country ain’t perfect but most kids there would regard such behaviour as utterly reprehensible…)

Well, thanks. I feel better now.

Descending, I soon found myself among dozens of families enjoying the lower reaches of the stream. I dread to imagine what the place looked like when they left.

Nearby was this beautiful temple, Seongheungsa…

..dating from 833 but rebuilt twice and moved here in 1789 after fires in 1109 and 1668. A complicated story involving Japanese pirates was behind its origins; the white tower I’d seen was the stone pagoda at its front. A signboard informed me that the mystical mountain I’d been enjoying was called Palpan-San.

I dig that name.

Nearby, this magnificent elderly zelkova tree leaned gratefully onto its crutches:

Some temple scenes:

The valley below Palpan-San was beautiful — at first. Rice paddies carpeted much of its floor, and a farmer puttered between them on a motorbike.

I’ve mentioned these remnant giants before. I rested briefly beneath this one, another venerable zelkova:

I had a great time around here trying to find my way through narrow lanes, having to backtrack, totally unconcerned with time. It was barely midday, and I’d soon be on the homeward stretch.

But unfortunately the dream was almost over. I entered a construction zone — they’re plentiful over here — where roads and bridges and tunnels seemed destined to render my lost valley un-lost.

Repeatedly bamboozled by concrete impediments, I found my way into the side-valley at last…

..where it seemed I wasn’t the only one who’d envisaged a way out towards Jangyu.

My way involved no overpass or tunnel, but a really quite perilous ascent of that gorge wall…

..followed by some serious bushwhacking till I found myself, scratched and exhausted, euphoria evaporating, nearing an army training camp.

A guard was eyeing me nervously and talking on the phone; I beat a hasty retreat down an empty road, anticipating a Jeep-ful of the boys in their camo playsuits, but I made it safely into a sad and scrappy town — with a heavenly bakery. It started raining as I drank my coffee.

I made a second assault on the valley wall just out of town, trying to hack my way through thick, pathless scrub to the ridge. At last I stopped and asked myself a question I’m struggled with repeatedly over the years.

Goat, what the hell do you think you’re doing?

And at that point I abandoned my goal of walking a perfect, if rather misshapen circle, and when I asked a cab driver if he’d take me to Jangyu, I didn’t even balk when he said in Korean, “Thirty thousand won.” $30, and an outlandishly convoluted route, but I didn’t care. I figured I’d had way more than $30 worth of fun.

“Drop me at Lotteria,” — a junk-food chain here and in Japan — I told him.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. I think most would have found a taxi rather sooner than you. I admire your perseverance. Korea seems a land of such contrast, from nature defiled to trees supported on crutches.

  2. Love the landmine warning sign. Maybe you should stick a few of them around places you don’t want the locals to defile.

    • It did occur to me to, er, “souvenir” one for my “Trail Treasures” tab, but that would feel a little but selfish and potentially awkward if revealed at Customs!

  3. Alice says

    Magnificent photos. Sad about the kids’ indifference to nature–it means another generation of carelessness.

    • Thanks, Alice. Yes, it blows my mind. There are so many areas that have been neglected here in Korea’s oft-lauded haste to modernise.

  4. Nice photos again! I think you’ve covered a number of hiking points in this post; hills, temples, rubbish, injury, do not enter signs and a taxi. You’ve got it all!

    Nice work going on an unstructured walk. I can’t remember if you’ve said before, but is that hill you slept on covered in snow in winter?

    • Thanks, Greg. I really enjoy a ramble in the true sense of the word when time and danger aren’t factors! I don’t think you’d ever see much snow on that hill (by the way, I’ve christened the cliff top where I slept Moonlight Point) as this is the most temperate corner of Korea. I did see one light dusting of snow on the hills behind my apartment, but it didn’t linger very long.

  5. a strawberry patch says

    Love the black and white shots! It sounds like someone needs to translate Emily Post into Korean, I can’t believe in a country with such beautiful natural surroundings everybody litters so much :(!

    • Thank you. Yes, one of the recurrent mysteries for me is why in countries like Japan and Korea which supposedly value harmony and the rights of the group, there is often an utter lack of consideration for others. And these are also countries where the “love of nature” is often cited…

      Something’s broken. I don’t enjoy griping about such stuff but I think in the long run it’s good for them to have outsiders point out what they seem to be missing.

  6. What an adventure. I love experiencing your random rambles from the comfort of my bed Goat. Tomorrow we’ll it the trail again.

    • Thanks, Georgie. Sometimes I wish I could experience them from bed as well! We’re enduring a bit of a deluge here in south-eastern Korea this weekend, but I hope to hit a trail myself tomorrow regardless.

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