For about a month now my weekends have followed the same pattern. I go into Busan on the Saturday, do the civilised urban thing with lots of coffee and an obscene amount of clothes shopping (trying to make Winter fun); the Sunday is for hiking, photos, music and, well, more coffee.
This last one fit the template perfectly. I’d lucked upon a nice variation in my Bulmo-San explorations the previous Sunday, a new route down via a hillside boulder field adorned with cairns both modest and majestic, and just below them on a col, where a dirt road zigzagged up and down the mountain, a new path marked Bulmo-San, 2.7km.
On that occasion I was content to walk down the road and eventually find my way into Jangyu — but that sign was intriguing. Bulmo-San was an actual peak? I’d thought all along it was the name given to the entire ridge complex, with Yongji-Bong its crowning mountain. Mystery, mystery, one of the pleasures of hiking mapless in a strange land.
Well, mystery solved.
Again I started in the dark. Been sleeping badly even by my standards; gave up at 3:40am and was out the door by 5:00. A can of cold coffee had my nerves tingling, and it was just chilly enough to keep me on the happy side of hypothermia, so long as I kept pounding up the surfaced road that begins my Bulmo-San walks.
The silence, as Alice Cooper once noted, was speaking, so why was I weeping? (Well, my eyes were a little red.) The world is beautiful on a dark Winter morning with an adventure in the making.
I dawdled over a few photo ops — somehow managing some focus in near-total darkness — there was no contrast sharp enough for the NEX but a single distant streetlight pole. It worked alright.
So the tarmac ended, I crunched up the dirt, came to the sign and removed one of my several layers before I overheated.
The sky was lightening as I started up the path proper. I was above the Changwon Tunnel, bored through Bulmo’s base to link that city with mine. Here are the lights of Changwon, the main drag sparkling like a runway:
Up to my left, a foretaste of dawn:
And then, underfoot, a familiar crunchiness. A short stretch of trail, up where it was exposed to the wind, seemed to glow like a smear of starlight.
Snow is not my favourite thing, but I had to marvel at the Korean efficiency of its arrival: second day of Winter, and it may well have landed there on the first, some time before midnight. If last Winter is any guide, we won’t get more than one or more light dustings like this down in the lowlands, but I’ll bet there’s a few inches up here some mornings.
Half an hour of steady climbing and then right there on the summit — Bulmo-San! — was the dirt road and a great, forbidding cluster of concrete buildings, antennae and satellite dishes ringed by barbed wire fences and some abandoned machine-gun nests.
No people in sight, and just outside the gates this solitary, wind-topiaried pine with views of the coast:
And even better, a great curving ridge snaking out there into unknown territory, with this incredible looking lump of rock like a Stetson perched on the end, or a giant cairn — or a crumbling watchtower. Right away I knew I had to get closer.
The one small problem was that I’d brought no food and I was powerfully hungry. From this point I could not get food out of my thoughts. My stomach was growling, and it was like those times on American trails when I’d arrive in a town with an empty food bag and feverish visions of orgiastic breakfasting swirling in my head.
I’m a breakfast guy. All the other meals are just fuel stops. But breakfast is a reason to be grateful you made it to another day…
I was now looking down 650m or so to the port town of Jinhae, where they’ve had a cherry blossom festival most Springs since the Japanese planted them down there during their enslavement of the country. I didn’t go this year (legendary crowds and traffic) — to think I could have walked there:
See that weird lump on the extreme right?
I really liked this path even on this grey, chilly morning.
Getting closer, with the approach to that weird outcrop, now identified on signs as Shiru-Bong, looking like a wide, well-trampled road:
That “road” was actually recently trimmed grass. Wooden steps and walkways encircled the sheer-sided outcrop. An old man was doing the obligatory stretches; a kid local woman talked to me softly, pointing out features in the landscape. I couldn’t believe this whole section had eluded me in about a year of walking.
The view back. You can see the communications facility back near the road:
Then a few sprinkles of rain, a few snowflakes. Time to head back. BREAKFAST…
The food fantasies were bordering on gastronomic pornography. Meanwhile the weather worsened and a great bank of cloud squeezed against the ridge.
I was starting to tire when, camera sheltered beneath my windshirt, I reached the tree, where a fresh rime of snow decorated the ridge top.
I took the road down. It was a long descent, one of those ones where you can’t believe you could have really climbed that high. In my head, painful ecstatic visions of pancakes, coffee, sausage, bacon, eggs, hamburgers (hey, it’s my breakfast).
I used to be vegan. But that’s another story.
Anyway, I got none of that when, a long while later, after a wrong turn and a depressing half-hour backtrack, I made it, half-crazed, to a swanky roadside tourist cafe — just an excellent coffee and the first of an obscene succession of bakery treats.
Then I went home and slept, got up, hit another cafe and resumed eating…
That was my 114th walk in Korea.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote