Hiking, Korea, Mountains
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Blood & Blossoms on Sineo-San

[Folks, this post, published earlier this month, recently disappeared from my site. Like, utterly — it’s not even in my WordPress trash folder. How is this possible?

Thanks to Kate, my diligent blog monitor and number-one fan, for alerting me — I had no idea! Don’t understand how this could happen but am CERTAIN it wasn’t me. Anyway I’ve recovered it from Google Cache and backdated it to the original date. Apologies if I can’t get the original comments back as well…let’s see…]

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The wreckage looked like shredded pieces of paper. The plane’s broken tail and nose came to rest near the top of the mountain, where a lack of access roads slowed rescuers’ efforts to reach the scene of the disaster… The plane hit one side of the mountain and then plowed toward the peak, catching fire and cutting a trail of fallen trees 100 yards long and 30 yards wide ~ CBS News, April 15, 2002

Ever have one of those hikes where you find yourself running out of both path and mountain?

Let me tell you, it’s disorientating — and this was five minutes into the walk! Check out the scene on Saturday when I started up the ridge on the south-eastern outskirts of Gimhae that leads to Mt Sineo (pronounced “Sheen-uh”):


“Excuse me, anybody seen my mountain?”

I’ve bitched about the roadwork mania over here countless times. There seems to be one voracious, multi-headed behemoth snaking through the land, gouging out highways and tunnels and spewing forth overpasses and concreted embankments — and I’m lucky enough to keep wandering into its path.

I retreated into tree cover, unsure of the legality or otherwise of my presence, and after some trespassing through a hillside berry plot found another path up. I’d done this route once before, in Summer; this time I found the ridge utterly transformed and decided, pounding happily through the azalea-dappled woods, that it was my favourite ridge-walk in the South-East. (I hope the mountain’s still there next time.)

But there would be blood. I was thinking about my girlfriend. As I told Kate later, daydreaming about a woman while walking kills the time but impairs concentration. It’s second only to thinking, Damn, I’m hiking like a champion today! for inviting an unpleasant communion with the dirt. Slipping on the sandy surface while going uphill, my camera swung into the ground with a sickening crack; I followed.

Down I went. Up came a lump that could just about cast its own shadow:


The essence of Mountain Punk

I dug out my tiny first aid kit (aspirin, a few Band Aids, a tube of Neosporin and a cyanide pill), and somewhat shakily patched myself up, after first attending to my camera, now sporting a fresh battle scar on its battered lens hood. This is one reason I always hike with a lens blower.

Sineo-San is known for its ancient temples, but the first time I walked the ridge I didn’t know its bloodier recent history. A simple cairn just off the path bearing a date and the number 129 hinted at something ominous; the strips of fuselage and an old-fashioned stretcher lying nearby were less ambiguous. At work, a colleague translated the inscription in my photo, and I soon realised I had lucked upon the site of the worst aviation disaster in Korean history (it even has a Wikipedia entry), which claimed the lives of 122 people on April 15, 2002 when an Air China flight tore into the ridge not far from where I had.

I stopped in for another look. The woods were serene and sunny, nothing like the scene 11 years earlier:



Gimhae International Airport (Busan) is very close to this 500m mountain — from the ridge you can see the runways from which I departed for New York last time. The crash occurred in heavy rain and fog: the Boeing 767 had aborted one landing, and was circling to approach from the opposite direction when the rear section of the plane struck the ridge. Most of the survivors were seated in the front; the pilot survived, though his co-pilots and most of the attendants did not.

There seems to be no definitive explanation. The Koreans blamed (Chinese) human error, the Chinese report pointed to (Korean) failings on the ground (including an unlicensed air traffic control officer!).

I’m not fond of flying. If my holidays were longer and there wasn’t an ocean in the way I’d much prefer to walk to America. At least with walking your fate — the odd scrape included — is mostly in your own hands.

On I walked. In places gaenari (forsythia) bordered the trail…


..but overall the ridge belonged to the azaleas.

I walked it for a couple of hours, taking my time. There were a few short climbs and extensive (if hazy) views of the Gimhae plain, distant Busan — and the runways.



Yet again I’d brought no food and only a half-litre of water. I drained a couple of dippers from this excellent spring…


..not far before the final ascent to the summit.

Crows swooped and frolicked way down the slope; a grimy haze had settled over the rice paddies of Gimhae. Busan lies beyond that river on the left. I’ve walked most of what you can see several times:


I was called over to photograph a group of hikers. But it was chilly in the breeze; nobody lingered. The descent from Sineo is fun, steep and fast, with convoluted flights of steps hugging the cliff-face, and a short stop at this crumbling hermitage perched high above the valley:


Note the dilapidated roof

Then it’s a quick trot down a stone-stepped path through quiet woods…


Three Wise Men


Yellow Lantern

..before you meet the road at Eunha Temple.

I’ve hiked to Eunha-Sa a few times and was going to give it a miss today, but a glimpse of those lanterns drew me in:


This a very old temple — or a reconstruction of one, since the Japanese thoughtfully razed the original. I have some great shots from earlier visits I’ll share sometime.


Looking up at the ridge

A priest began pounding the temple gong: my cue to depart. A long walk to my bus lay ahead.


An excellent day all up. Then, in the dusk, very tired, daydreaming of cheesecake and and an ill-advised-but-thoroughly-deserved coffee, I trudged down a mile of steep road and was half a mile from the coffee shop when…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


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